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Tenement Museum Planning Major Expansion

The $8 million project means more space for the Lower East Side institution

Stephanie Butnick
January 16, 2014
Tenement Museum Visitor Center.(Tenement Museum)
Tenement Museum Visitor Center.(Tenement Museum)

Lower East Side historic institution the Tenement Museum is about to get a whole lot bigger. They’ve announced an $8 million expansion, which will include a new, 10,000-square-foot space at 103 Orchard St, two doors down from the museum’s 97 Orchard St location, Crain’s reports. Construction on the project will begin in 2016.

Last month, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praised the museum, which is located in a five-story former tenement that housed 7,000 people between 1863 and 1935. Several of the real apartments have been recreated, and Ingall recently toured the museum with her daughter Maxie, going from apartment to apartment meeting actors playing the roles of the tenement’s original residents.

There’s something visceral about actually seeing what life was like for immigrants a century ago. We can read books like All-of-a-Kind Family and Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 to our kids. We can look at family photos of our great-great-bubbes and zaydes and tell stories about what life was like when they first came to this country. But there’s a deep-rooted, emotional power in being plunked into an actual vintage apartment and getting to talk to (a simulacrum of) the actual human being who lived there. It’s as close to stepping into a time machine as a modern-day kid can get.

Hopefully this new addition will allow for more young people to experience the museum’s charm and history.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.