Re-Crossing Delancey

In a signed editorial by Francis X. Clines in today’s New York Times, we learn that gentrification is changing the Lower East Side. While Mr. Clines concedes that this is an old story—”Hasn’t that been the case ever since this sliver of Manhattan was laid bare more than a century ago as the crammed tenement haven for immigrants?” he asks—he does seem to feel that the changes in the neighborhood are once again a pressing crisis:

As gentrification rushes in, the neighborhood is fortunate to have the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, so tourists can still walk through the way things were. A preservationist urge is also evident on the streets — from demands for tighter zoning to an “egg rolls and egg creams” block party this Sunday by The Museum at Eldridge Street.

As coincidence would have it, the blog EV Grieve recently posted a scan of Craig Unger‘s May 28, 1984, New York Magazine cover story “The Lower East Side: There Goes the Neighborhood.” (This comes via Gothamist.)

The story is a great time capsule of the era, featuring disappeared artifacts like three-figure rents, Limbo Lounge, French cuisine and Conran’s. (The latter two were included because New York was forced to mention them in every issue in the ’80s due to some obscure city bylaw to promote French food and “modern, urban living” solutions.)

As Mr. Unger wrote 24 years ago:

Gentrification is a familiar story in New York City. Spurred by an epic shortage in rental housing, tens of thousands of young, middle-class professionals have moved into and spruced up sagging neighborhoods—Park Slope, Chelsea, the Upper West Side, SoHo. But nowhere have the tensions been more starkly displayed than in the area known variously as the Lower East Side and the East Village.

Toward the end of the piece, Mr. Unger notes, “[E]ven the new gentry has begun to have mixed feelings about the boom. Some of the so-called pioneers have become infected with a certain nostalgie de la boue. ‘I much prefer the Puerto Rican families to the secretaries who just moved here and are pissed off that they can’t afford the Upper East Side,’ says Patti Astor, of the Fun Gallery.”

How things have changed. Also, what’s a “secretary”? Can you get one at Conran’s?

Re-Crossing Delancey