Lower East Side photograph collection
Language of Materials
Photographs show the neighborhood surrounding Delancey Street in New York City; the buildings and streets shown, many serving a Jewish immigrant population, were subsequently demolished during the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge.
When New York City's Williamsburg Bridge, originally called the East River Bridge, was designed, a plaza was provided at each end. It was decided that a clear space, at least 32 feet wide, was needed on each side of the bridge to protect the structure from fire, as well as to prevent accident to adjoining buildings. This design required the city to clear all existing properties from an area measuring 150 feet, along the south side of Delancey Street, from the East River, west to Clinton Street.
Construction of the bridge began on November 7, 1896. The following year, the East River Bridge Commission began to purchase the needed properties from their owners. However, after some legal issues, the commission was forced to acquire the majority of land through condemnation. An estimated 10,000 people in the Lower East Side neighborhood were displaced by the project.
Photographs are first alphabetized by street and then arranged by address.
Scope and Content Note
The Lower East Side Photograph Collection spans the period from March to June 1901 and contains sixty-three silver gelatin photographs of buildings, on and around Delancey Street, before they were demolished to build the Williamsburg Bridge. The photographs show the markets, shops, saloons, and other businesses in the area, signs for many of these are in Hebrew. The images also capture the residents of the neighborhood, including several children, on the street and peering from windows. This neighborhood survey provides a unique view of life in this predominately Jewish neighborhood.
N. L. Coe, a photographer with a studio located at 681 Broadway, took all but two photographs in the collection. The remaining two images are marked "A. J. Drummond." They are all mounted on board and hand labeled, with the addresses written on the board, and sometimes directly on the image itself. While they may have been commissioned by the city, or made for personal use, it is not known why these photographs were taken.
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This collection should be cited as Lower East Side Photograph Collection, PR 251, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of John W. Judge, May 11, 1905.
On-line Access to Digital Copies
The photographs in the collection are all available on-line via the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library