A Walking Tour Through New York City’s Historic Lower East Side

If you have a few free hours and perhaps some calories to burn, consider embarking on one of New York City’s guided walking tours. Many are inexpensive or even free and some of them offer interactive history lessons on specific New York City neighborhoods.

I went on a guided tour of the Lower East Side entitled Immigrant New York this past Wednesday. The tour offered a unique glimpse into the history of the area: information that would have been impossible to uncover during a casual, uninformed stroll through the neighborhood.

The tour began in what historians refer to as the “Civic District,” home to the Tweed Courthouse, and from there we passed through Chinatown and Little Italy.

The photos below depict some of the visual highlights from the tour and for each one I’ve included a snippet of the historical background I learned along the way. Click on any of the photos to view them as a slide show:

The Tweed Courthouse is named after William M. Tweed, the Tammany Hall boss who more or less was the embodiment of political corruption in the late 1800’s. “Boss” Tweed embezzled large sums of money associated with the construction of the courthouse. He was convicted and jailed in 1873.

The corner of Mulberry and Mosco Streets: Italian funeral parlors once line Mulberry Street but they transitioned to Chinese parlors in the 1970’s and 1980’s. There were once 300,000 Italian-born immigrants living in Little Italy; today there are less than 1,000.

The Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church and School on Mott Street was a Lutheran church up until the early 1800’s. The school came into being in 1832 and offered free education to immigrant children.

Decades ago, the current site of the United States Postal Service on Doyers Street housed the Irish pub “Callahan’s.” It drew in clientele by hiring scantily clad waitresses and singing waiters.

The Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Chinatown, dating back to the 1920’s.

This statue of Confucious was donated by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and dedicated to immigrants coming to America. The statue looks away from Chinatown and towards Wall Street, encouraging assimilation and a respect for diverse values and customs.

Employment agencies line this underpass beneath the Manhattan Bridge. Their aim is to assist immigrants entering the country to find work.

The Forward Building on East Broadway became headquarters to The Daily Forward, an influential daily Jewish newspaper, in the early 1900’s. Today the building is home to luxury apartments, a sign of persistent gentrification in the area. The building was recently sold for about $25 million.

A pear-shaped package of provolone dangles inside a storefront window at Di Palo’s in Little Italy. The seller of cheeses, meats and other Italian specialties was established in 1925. In Little Italy there are laws that say any new business that opens within its limits must sell Italian goods or serve Italian foods.

A fine line: these storefronts on the corner of Grand and Mott Streets demonstrate a necessary harmony between the Italian shops in Little Italy and the Chinese shops in Chinatown.

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