The area of New York City that makes up the Lower East Side comprises only four square miles, but is one of the city's most densely historical spots. Bounded by 14th Street on the north, Catherine Street on the south, Broadway on the west and the East River making up the eastern border, one doesn't have to walk far to get a feel of the neighborhood. From turn-of-the-last-century tenement buildings to the rapidly expanding condominium market today, on the Lower East Side, only one thing remains the same: the neighborhood is always changing.
During the 1880s, the Lower East Side became a mecca for millions of immigrants from over 20 nations. African Americans freed from slavery, Irish immigrants forced out of their homeland by the potato famine, Jews seeking asylum from religious persecution, and Germans and Southern Italians are just a few of the groups that fled their countries to find a better way of life in America.
For over forty years, the Lower East Side saw a mind-boggling increase in population until harsh laws limiting immigrant migration were put into place. By that time, however, the face of the area (and all of New York City) had changed forever.
According to Nikia Redhead, public relations and marketing coordinator for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the reason so many immigrants chose the Lower East Side was obvious. "In nineteenth and early-twentieth-century, New York had the highest concentration of jobs - especially unskilled jobs, and especially on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. With its relatively low rents and close proximity to work, the Lower East Side was the perfect place for newly arrived immigrants to settle."
The physical landscape of the Lower East Side changed as fast as its ethnic composition. The wooden buildings and dirt streets passed with the American-born residents. In the 1850s and 1860s, five-and six-story brick and stone tenements were built in large numbers to accommodate poor immigrants in search of cheap housing. Omnibus horse lines traversed the neighborhood carrying passengers between uptown and downtown, and east and west.