Cindy and I just went to see the interesting tour at the New York Tenement Museum called “Piecing It Together: Immigrants in the Garment Industry,” which details the lives of a couple of families around the turn of the century who ran little factories in their homes. It makes me wonder how this compares with modern “SOHO” (Small Office/Home Office) arrangements.
The Tenement Museum tour gives a vivid account of the lives of the Levine and the Rogarshevsky families who both lived in the tenement building at 97 Orchard Street. The Levine and Rogarshevsky families did piecework for a department store, assembling dresses in a time before assembly line manufacture was common.
As living spaces, the tenement apartments were already cramped quarters, measuring 325 square feet in area, with families of on average six people! Much of the tour leaves you thinking, “how the hell did people live like that?” I.e. no heating, no AC, no running water, no toilets, people living on top of each other, etc.
On top of all the viccitudes of living in those confined spaces, people often worked out of their homes, usually in the garment industry. The Levine residence was also a little factory during the day and much of the evening, with one corner set-up for stitching, another for ironing, and another for final assembly on a dress model.
Then I thought about my own apartment, with my own SOHO along one wall of the living room. I’ve got all my business files, my two computers, random electronic equipment, and office supplies taking up my living space. I have no AC and the heat is spotty at best. A couple of mice are my only pets. From the street you hear the usual New York symphony — car horns and alarms, people yelling, sirens, yadda yadda. Loud booming noises routinely come through one wall from the parking garage next door.
Maybe someday people will look back on my apartment and think “How the hell did people live like that?”