The Third Annual L.E.S. History Month Kicks Off May First

Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima 2015

Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima 2015

For the third year in a row, the month of May will be officially dedicated to Lower East Side History. The list of local organizations participating in LES History Month is growing and new community events have been added.

This year’s lineup will include a  LES Volunteer Fair on Saturday, May 14, 11AM-2PM at Manny Cantor Center. A variety of community, arts, and service groups will be on hand offering opportunities for local residents  to connect with organizations in the Lower East Side.

Also in the works is the LOISAIDA video project series.  Co-produced by LOISAIDA Inc, Nuyorican Poets Café, and FABnyc, the series “serves as a mini-pilot towards a potential fuller-length spotlight series showcasing the rich community, culture, and histories within the Lower East Side.”

The popular “LES Stories – Chalking The LES” project kicks off the festivities on May 1st and 2nd. Volunteers, local organizations, and residents of all ages are invited to participate in chalking LES history, memories and trivia on the pavements of the LES. For more info email



A Brief History of Public Housing on the LES

New York Times, February 1938.

Editor’s note: The New York City Housing Authority’s decision to lease some of its property for luxury development has focused new attention on public housing on the Lower East Side. Eric Ferrara of the LES History project takes a look back at the origins of public housing, which can be traced to our neighborhood.

When the City Planning Commission formed on January 1, 1938, one of its primary initiatives was to revitalize the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods of New York City. After identifying the Lower East Side waterfront as one of the Big Apple’s neediest districts, the commission proposed amending long-standing zoning regulations in order to restore property values, to encourage new construction and to raise the standard of living for thousands of families.

Plans were drawn to rezone a stretch of Manhattan coastline—extending half a mile inland—between the Brooklyn Bridge and East 14th Street. This area served as the city’s primary industrial district for over a century, at various times hosting the largest concentration of stables, factories, warehouses, and coal, lumber and iron yards in the city. However, by the 1930s, these industries had moved on, leaving the long-neglected “Dry Dock District” an unsightly amalgam of abandoned piers and crumbling tenements, where some of the New York’s poorest families lived in hazardous, unsanitary conditions.

LES History: The Food Riots of 1917

da Harris leading protestors at City Hall in February, 1917. Source: International Socialist Review, April 1917/Library of Congress.

Editor’s note: Today we have the second installment of our new LES history series with Eric Ferrara, the founder of the Lower East Side History Project:

It is hard for us to imagine not having a C-Town nearby or a 24-hour bodega on every corner to satisfy our cravings at a moment’s notice. In a world before supermarkets—let alone packaged foods, microwaves and refrigerators—families had to purchase fresh groceries on a near daily basis from separate vendors and regularly prepare meals from raw materials. This responsibility usually fell on the wives and mothers of the house, who spent much of their days planning and preparing family meals based on a nominal budget of a few cents.

Lower East Side Scenes, 1967-1968

Lower East Side from Django’s Ghost on Vimeo.

There’s an interesting video that was just posted on Vimeo by Marc Campbell, who was the lead singer of New Wave band, “The Nails.”  According to Marc, these scenes are from the film,”Last Summer Won’t Happen,” an examination of the anti-war movement in New York shot in 1967 and 1968.

The five minute reel is set to the song, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” by the Velvet Underground. On the web site, Dangerous Minds, Marc offers the following set up:

I visited the East Village in 1967 and when I moved there 10 years later not much had changed. The East Village, Tompkins Square and Alphabet City were in decay, whole areas were virtual urban wastelands. But, out of the ruins great things were rising in the arts and culture. During the mid-70s through the 1980s, the area was vibrant with a bohemian vibe. Then came gentrification and many of us were pushed out, along with the poor and elderly. The area is thriving now with fine restaurants, fashion boutiques and trendy bar after bar after bar. It’s still a wasteland – an expensive, well-maintained, cultural wasteland. Where once were bookstores, rock clubs and shops filled with hip affordable clothing there are now fast food chains, designer brand boutiques and banks popping up like a bad case of corporate herpes. Yes, I know I sound like a disgruntled ex-New Yorker. I am one.