People About Our Cause!
fear museum will make them history
Jennifer Jensen; Villager photo by Jake Price
Tenement Museum, 97 Orchard St., with historic sign, at left,
seeks to acquire the building just right of it, 99 Orchard.
an effort to expand its successful tourist haunt, the Lower East Side
Tenement Museum may be have to resort to a measure that's a sad chapter
in so many of its exhibits: eviction.
|About 15 tenants
living in 99 Orchard St., which abuts the museum, could lose their homes
if museum officials, in conjunction with the Empire State Development
Corporation, succeed in condemning the site, a newly renovated,
turn-of-the-century building. About 45 employees at the Congee Village
Restaurant, located on the ground floor of 99 Orchard, could also lose
their jobs, according to Jenny Ngo, a manager at the restaurant. E.S.D.C.,
a governmental economic development agency, is in the process of trying
to force the sale of 99 Orchard through eminent domain, a process by
which a property owner must sell because the government has decided it
is in the public's best interest for them to do so.
Expanding the already-cramped museum will allow the state to move ahead
with three-year-old plans to affiliate the Tenement Museum with two
other important symbols of the city's immigrant history: Ellis Island
and the Statue of Liberty. The Tenement Museum, at 79 Orchard St., is
dedicated to telling the story of the living conditions of immigrant
families on the Lower East Side.
Mimi Holtzman, who owns 99 Orchard St. with her husband, Lou, and Peter
Liang, owner of Congee Village and a principal in the building, are
fighting its condemnation. In a faxed statement, Liang called the
project a "farce" and said it would cost him a major
investment in the restaurant and "scores of men and women"
Holtzman lambasted the museum and its director, Ruth Abram, saying
Empire State's effort was part of the Tenement Museum's broader agenda
"Four generations of my husband's family lived and worked in that
building [99 Orchard St.]," said Holtzman. "It's financial
ruin for us and it's just so mean."
Holtzman wouldn't say how much she and her husband are spending on the
ongoing renovation of the building, but she did say it was a major
investment. She said that, after being asked by the Tenement Museum,
they made an offer to sell the building - she wouldn't say for how much
- but that no one ever responded to the offer.
Abram said that the owners of 99 Orchard offered to sell the building
for $6 million.
Abram claims a total renovation of 99 Orchard St. caused damage to the
Tenement Museum. She described the pending condemnation of the building
and the possible sale of it to the museum as a fortunate consequence of
their concerns over the neighbor's construction. She said they never had
to close the museum because of the damage.
"The problem is that we have an owner who has no regard for
building next to a historic site," said Abram, who said that
E.S.D.C. got involved only after Tenement Museum officials reached out
to various agencies to complain about construction they claim has
damaged their building. "We called out for help to stop this
The project is nearly finished and tenants have been living in the
apartments since September, according to Holtzman.
Michael Mar, an E.S.D.C. spokesperson, said the condemnation of 99
Orchard was being pursued in order to allow the Tenement Museum to
expand. He would not say whether Abram's claim that a three-year
renovation of the building next door and expansion of the restaurant
below undermined the structure of the Tenement Museum, as Abram claimed.
When asked what would happen with the building's tenants or whether
E.S.D.C. had been asked by Tenement Museum officials to proceed with
condemnation, an E.S.D.C. spokesperson would not comment.
According to New York City Department of Buildings records, 98 Allen
Realty Inc., Liang's company, was issued violations by the D.O.B. and
the city's Environmental Control Board on Nov. 16, 2000 after Tenement
Museum officials complained that construction there was damaging their
building. According to the D.O.B. report, an inspector saw vertical
cracks at the northwest corner of the Tenement Museum.
A similar complaint made on Nov. 2, 2000, resulted in no action after a
D.O.B. inspector could find no evidence of damage (alleged cracks and
bulging of the rear wall) at 97 Orchard, as was claimed by Tenement
A stop-work order was served on the site again on Nov. 29, 2000, for
Liang's failure to submit an engineer's report of the adjacent property.
Holtzman called the construction complaints "harassment" and
an effort by the Tenement Museum to acquire the property for less than
what the owners had offered. Of the 15 complaints made to the Department
of Buildings between Nov. 2, 2000, and Nov. 29, 2001, no action was
taken in nine cases. Citing confidentiality policies, the D.O.B. will
not disclose who made the complaints. Violations were issued on six
different cases, and most of those were for violations of previous
stop-work orders. Most of the complaints made were for work without a
permit or after-hours construction.
A public hearing on the proposed condemnation plan will take place at 6
p.m. tonight at 184 Eldridge St., between Delancey and Rivington Sts.