Lower East Side (Downtown Manhattan) Cultural Roots

Lower East Side, sometimes called LES, is located in the southeastern section of NYC’s borough of Manhattan. It is within the areas of the Bowery and the East River and Canal Street and Houston Street.Google Map With Arrow Pointing At Lower East Side Area

Where Does Lower East Side Really Lie?

As mentioned above, Lower East Side is in the perimeters of the Bowery which is in the west, East Houston which is
in the north, to its east is the F.D.R. Drive and Canal Street which is in the south.

From a political standpoint the LES is situated in the 8th, 12th, and 14th New York congressional districts, and in the 64th districts of New York State Assembly, as well as in the New York State Senate’s 26th district, and the 1st and 2nd districts of New York City Council.

The Lower East has been generally known as an immigrant, working-class neighborhood but has seen a wave of gentrification since the mid-2000s.

Jewish Culture In The Neighborhood

Along with being known as a predominantly lower working-class neighborhood, the Lower East Side is also really known as being the center of Jewish culture. The neighborhood holds an Orthodox Jewish community. There are a number of Judaica shops found along Essex Street, as well as a few Jewish scribes. Kosher delis like the famous Katz’s Delicatessen are also found in this neighborhood.Katz's Delicatessen Manhattan

In the early part of the twentieth century, LES had a number of Yiddish theater productions in the Yiddish Theater District which was located on Second Avenue, called the Yiddish Broadway. To date, most of the theaters have all but gone and has been resettled by Latin American immigrants.

The area still holds numerous historic synagogues like the Bialystoker Synagogue, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, as well as the only Greek synagogue found in the Western Hemisphere called the Kehila Kedosha Janina, among others.

Regardless of the number of immigrants who have come and gone in this area, American Jews relate particularly strongly to this neighborhood.

Arts & Culture Attractions

LES is another one of New York’s art hubs and is home to a variety of contemporary art galleries. Some of the places you can see art Lower East Side style are as follows:

The New Museum

The New Museum is famous for looking like a stack of boxes towering over the Bowery and presents its contemporary work of art from the outside as well the inside. The New Museum also houses over 6,000 exhibition images, exhibition descriptions, publications, as well as a database with over 3,700 searchable artists, curators, and other institutions linked to the Museum’s programming.

Some of the exhibitions you can see at the moment include “Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits“. Rossi’s exhibition includes her enigmatic graphite and colored pencil drawings from the late 1960s.

The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum is known to portray immigrant life in the 19th and early 20th century New York City. Located on 97 Orchard Street, Tenement Museum was an apartment building that was home to almost 7,000 working class immigrants.

The building has been restored and preserved to highlight the personal experiences of the early settlers who came and built their lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; all the while enhancing the role that immigrants played and still play in shaping America’s constantly changing identity.

Museum at Elderidge Street Synagogue

Elderidge Street Synagogue has been restored and preserved as a 19th-century landmark of a synagogue that first opened its doors to a wave of Eastern Europe, Jewish immigrants. Now, the synagogue holds tours, school programs, concerts, festivals and cultural events.

The synagogue is worth a visit to experience what the New York Times has said leaves you “awestruck by the exotic splendor of this meticulously restored sanctuary”.  In essence, and not only limited to, you can expect to see awe-inspiring architecture that has become part of this landmark site.

Popular LES Residents

Lower East Side is another one of New York’s gems that have been cemented in popular culture through children’s literature, novels, songs, music videos, plays, films, television shows, even in video games. There are also some pretty remarkable people who were born and or have lived in LES. Here are some of them:

  • Lady Gaga: The “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” singer-songwriter once lived in a one bedroom apartment on Lady Gaga In ConcertStanton Street, closer to the Lower East Side clubs where she first got her start. If you are interested in renting that apartment you can for $2,000 a month.
  • Michael Che: Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update co-anchor, Michael Che, was born and raised in the Lower East Side.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal: The Golden Globe Award-winning and Emmy Award-nominated actress was born in LES to a Jewish family from Russia and Poland.
  • Walter Matthau: The Odd Couple actor, born Walter Matthau was born in LES to a Lithuanian Jewish mother and a Russian Jewish father. Matthau grew up poor and sold soft drinks and playing small parts at the aforementioned Yiddish Theater.
  • Adrienne Bailon: The Real’s co-host and singer-songwriter was born and raised on the Lower East Side to Puerto Rican/Ecuadorian parents.

Getting In

You can get to LES via NYC subway stations Grand Street (BD), Bowery (JZ), Second Avenue (F), Delancey Street-Essex Street (FJMZ) and East Broadway (F). Bus routes to the neighborhood are M9, M14A, M14D, MI15, SBS, M21, M103, B39.

Emergency Services

For situations where you need to go to the hospital or contact the police departments the following are services you can contact:

Gouverneur A Gotham Health Center

227 Madison Street New York,
New York 10002
(212) 238-7897

NYPD 7th Precinct

19 1/2 Pitt Street, New York, NY, 10002
(212) 477-7311

By | 2018-01-16T13:14:16+00:00 December 2nd, 2015|New York|

About the Author:

Laurence P. Banville is the managing partner of Banville Law. As an experienced personal injury attorney, Mr. Banville helps clients recover compensation from those responsible for his clients' injuries. Our firm is located in New York City, serving clients from the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.

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