‘Their spirit is in us’; Museum center work starts


By Albert Amateau

Officials and friends of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum celebrated the groundbreaking last Thursday for a new visitors and education center at the corner of Delancey and Orchard Sts.

The five-story building, at 103 Orchard St., is a few doors north of the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard St. After a renovation, the building will have new exhibition space, classrooms, an auditorium, a museum shop and a demonstration kitchen, in addition to a new ground-floor visitors center.

Morris Vogel, Temple University history professor and president of the museum, and Bruce Menin, a developer and chairperson of the museum’s board, welcomed the crowd of well-wishers to the site of the future Sadie Samuelson Levy Immigrant Heritage Center. The center is named for the mother of Leon Levy, the late financier and namesake of the foundation that raised funds to acquire the building in 2007.

“Their spirit is in us,” said Menin, referring to the thousands of immigrants who came from all over the world to the teeming Lower East Side to make homes for themselves and their families in the New World.

Borough President Scott Stringer noted that the museum attracts many thousands of visitors from all 50 states and 30 countries.

“You really need a new visitors center,” he remarked. The much smaller existing center, at 108 Orchard St. across from the new site, will be closed after the new one opens. Stringer paid tribute to the museum staff for educating visitors about the history of the immigration era that was crucial to the development of the city and the nation.

“We are a museum of a country in process,” said Vogel.

Anne Levy, a granddaughter of Sadie Samuelson Levy, and John Samuelson, a nephew of Sadie, recalled the grandmother and aunt who typified the strong immigrant matriarchs whose character helped shape a generation.

The Leon Levy Foundation, established in 2004 by Shelby White, Leon Levy’s widow, helped fund the $15 million endowment for the new building.

Representatives of the New York State Council on the Arts, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs and the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs were also on hand at the ceremony.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum was founded in 1988 by Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson, who organized a group to acquire and restore the tenement at 97 Orchard St. with a ground-floor storefront and apartments that had not been used as residences for more than 50 years. The museum staff leads tours of six apartments in the building restored to the way that immigrant families lived in them between 1863 and 1935.