Neighborhoods Podcasts The Immigrant Experience

The Changing Lower East Side: A View From Seward Park

In this special episode, we look at the history of New York City as seen through one corner of the Lower East Side. Created by the intersections of several streets, this is a place that has gone by many names — in the past and even today.

At its center is Seward Park, the first municipal playground in the United States, and Straus Square, named for Nathan Straus, philanthropist and co-owner (with his brother Isidor) of Macy’s department store.

Straus Square — with the 1953 war memorial and the Forward Building looking down from above.

Those looking for delicious food may go to Little Fuzhou, an eastern extension of Chinatown located along East Broadway. Trendy artists and influencers instead spend their weekends in Dimes Square, just one block (and seemingly one world) away.

The intersection of Division and Canal, with the glamorous Nine Orchard (aka the old Jarmulowsky Bank Building). Photo by Greg Young

But throughout New York’s history, people have come here for community, shared values and even intellectual enlightenment.

As Rutgers Square, this area became a small portion of a large German immigrant community called Kleindeutschland. In an inconceivable historical moment, a statue was almost raised here — to William ‘Boss’ Tweed, leader of Tammany Hall.

By the late 19th century, this place was the center for American Jewish culture, with a line of cafes serving religious thinkers, political activist and stars of the Yiddish stage.

Tribute to the old tenement blocks in a Seward Park mosaic.

East Broadway became a Yiddish publishers’ row, hosting newspapers and magazines from a host of perspectives.

In 1912 the Jewish Daily Forward, the nation’s most well-known Yiddish paper, built “the Lower East Side’s first skyscraper,” a landmarked building that was once the beating heart of the neighborhood. The paper’s long-running column “A Bintel Brief” illuminated the everyday stories of people in the neighborhood.

A hidden 1920s cinema treasure. Photo by Greg Young

In the 20th century it became the southern edge of Loisaida, the Puerto Rican Lower East Side.And thanks to a mid-century housing boom (fueled partially by the labor unions firmly rooted to this place), some also called it Cooperative Village, with hundreds of old, deteriorating tenements replaced with new high rises.

But we call it our old home. For it was here — call it what you will — that the Bowery Boys Podcast was created 15 years ago this year.

From the window of Wu’s Wonton King, the former location of the Garden Cafeteria. Photo by Greg Young

And so to wrap up our 15th anniversary celebration — and to set up our big 400th episode — we take a fond look at the section of New York City which taught us to love local history.

PLUS: We’re join by staff members of the Forward, celebrating its 125th year of publication. Forward archivist Chana Pollack joins us along with Ginna Green and Lynn Harris, hosts of the the newspaper column-turned-podcast version A Bintel Brief.


Photograph by Lewis Hine, taken March 1913. The caption: “Waiting for the “Forwards” – Jewish paper – at 1 A.M. Group includes boys 10 years old. Taken on steps of the Forward Building at 1:15 A.M. just as the papers were being issued.”

Listen to A Bintel Brief on the same podcast players where you found our show. And if you have a quandary for Ginna and Lynn, email them at or leave a voice message at (201) 540-9728 

Here are a few of our favorite episodes of A Bintel Brief:

 Necktie workshop in a Division Street tenement, taken by Jacob Riis, 1889. (Library of Congress)
A model of a playground used in the design of Seward Park. (Library of Congress)
A rather unrecognizable view of Seward Park, taken between 1900 and 1910. (Library of Congress)
Seward Park and the new library (NYPL)
Lawn-tennis and volley-ball games as played by girls in the William H. Seward Park, 1905 clipping (Courtesy New York Public Library)
Just a’swingin’ in Seward Park, between 1910 and ca. 1915, Library of Congress
between 1910 and ca. 1915, Library of Congress
Seward Park with the Forward Building, taken November 9, 1940 (Dept of Records)
Overhead view of the district, 1940 (NYC Dept of Records)


After listening to this show on Seward Park, head over to one of these older podcast to follow the various histories briefly mentioned this week:

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