Lower East Side Tenement Museum

The untouched rooms of the Tenement Museum tell an interesting story about the lives and living conditions of 1000s of NYC immigrants

Entrance sign outside the Tenement Museum in NYC
Entrance sign outside the Tenement Museum in NYC cc licensed photo by Shelley Panzarella

This museum has quite an interesting story to tell. What makes it unique is the way the untouched rooms seem to speak to today's visitors from the immigrant families that lived there many years ago telling tales about their lives and the living and working conditions they had to face every day.

The building housed approximately 7,000 people from over 20 different nations world wide between 1863-1935. It had 22 apartments about 325 square feet each and a staircase on the outside of the building that lead down to a saloon in the basement.

The Tenement Museums co-founders, Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson, were friends with similar interests in what they wanted to experience when visiting a museum. They were more interested in the social aspect of society and what one can learn from the experiences and traditions brought over from the immigrants that first came to New York City. Finding out how as a society we are affected today and what we can learn from one another in the future by understanding, tolerating and embracing differences from many backgrounds without fear and prejudice.

They set out to look for a old building that was left untouched to house their museum in. Shortly, they discovered this was an almost impossible task as in 1934 a law was put in place in New York City that all public buildings had to pass updates such as fireproofing them. This was very expensive to the landlords. Either they put the money into the renovations and rented the building out to make up for the loss of the updates or they closed them up for good. Those that updated them changed the character of the building, making it very hard to find one that wasn't updated and changed. It was very unusual that the landlord of this apartment building decided to evict his tenants and board up the windows and close off the apartments only keeping the storefront open for business.

It was by pure accident that the two woman came across this unique building. After two years of searching for the right building to house their museum, they nearly gave up and decided to tell about the lives of the immigrants on the Lower East Side by giving walking tours and plays needing only a storefront. Anita Jacobson spotted the storefront at 97 Orchard Street and knocked on the door. The young woman that answered it told Anita that her family had owned the 5 storey brick building since 1905 and it really had minimal changes.

The storefront had nothing in it. However when asking to use the washroom and being directed down the hall, Anita soon realized what a gem she had discovered. She knew enough about the decor of old buildings from that era as she had studied them while looking for old unique structures to house their museum. Realizing she had stumbled on something great she called Ruth right away and told her they had to purchase this building. It took Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson 5 years to convince the owner to sell the place to them. In 1988 the Tenement Museum was founded. On April 19th 1994 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There are educational tours to choose from where you can learn so much about the residence and get a real inside look at the way the immigrants to America lived, worked and survived in the early days of old. Over 200,000 people enjoy these tours every year.

Most tours are about an hour and a half to two hours long. Reservations are recommended for all tours.

Note: If you are taking a child along it is best to phone and find out if the tour you are interested in is suitable for his or her age.

Facts For Your Visit

Fee: Yes

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Hours:
Opening hours may differ on holidays

  • Monday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Tuesday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Wednesday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Thursday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Friday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Saturday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
  • Sunday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Address: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002, USA

Phone: (877) 975-3786

Official Website: Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Reviews

Rated 4.5 out of 5 Star Rating

5 Star Rating If you love storytelling, you've come to the right place! The Tenement Museum specializes in uncovering immigrant stories of the past. I recommend reserving tickets online ahead of time, especially if you're interested in a specific tour since tickets can sell out pretty fast. I purchased tickets for the "100 Years Apart" apartment tour, and it was amazing. Our tour guide was very engaging, and beautifully wove in the stories of Natalie Gumpertz (1880s) and Mrs. Wong (1980s). I was locked in the entire time, and had so much fun getting to walk through an old tenement building. As a history nerd, it was surreal to be walking up the stairs, holding onto an original railing from the 1800s time period. The museum gift shop is also really nice. If you are a tourist, there are a lot of NYC themed gifts for purchase. I also really loved how they had bookmarks for each of the tours near the check-in desk that were free to take. It was a nice memento! Overall, I plan on visiting the Tenement Museum again. I'm particularly excited to do more apartment tours specifically Tenement Women: 1902 and After the Famine: 1869. If apartment tours aren't your thing, they also have walking tours as well and food experiences!
Jasmine - a month ago

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5 Star Rating Really great experience! I was initially a little disappointed that I couldn’t just wander around and look at my own pace but having listened to our educator, I totally appreciate this approach. The educator gave us so much depth of information and context and the experience would have been far less without it. I visited the Irish family apartment and the detail around the reality of life for Irish immigrants was fascinating. The building itself is wonderful and the founders have done a great job of preserving an important piece of history.
Impact Tuition - a month ago

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5 Star Rating Went on a class trip with my 4th graders. Amy was an excellent tour guide. She was very informative, and completely understood the children's needs. So much history. Excellent place to go and learn so much about how people lived in NYC 100 years ago
Sandra Pellegrini - a week ago

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4 Star Rating We did the 100 years apart tour. It's nice and interesting to see these real apartments people lived in. I think it's a bit boring for kids. They need to address that to get a younger crowd. All in all, I liked it. About 70 minutes total.
Yuval K - a month ago

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5 Star Rating I loved this so much!! I will remember this forever, and tell everyone they have to go experience if they can. They offer different tours, and I need to go back someday! Our tour guide was amazing, and you could tell he truly enjoyed giving the tour. Highly recommend. Should be top of the list for things to do in NYC.
Adam Borland - 4 weeks ago

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Directions

Subway Line Nearest Station Walking Time
B or DGrand Street6 Minutes
FDelancey Street3 Minutes
J, M or ZEssex Street4 Minutes

How to get to Lower East Side Tenement Museum by Subway

From Grand Street on the B or D line exit onto Grand and Chrystie and go east on Grand Street for four blocks, then go left (north) on Orchard Street two blocks to the Museum Shop at 103 Orchard Street.

From Delancey Street on the F line or from Essex Street on the J, M or Z line, exit and walk west (away from the bridge) on Delancy Street, then left (south) on Orchard to the Museum Shop.

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