Friday, March 15, 2013

A Look at St. Patrick's Day Parade’s Lower East Side Roots

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Union Square, c. 1874. Source: Library of Congress.

St. Patrick holds a special place in the hearts of many New Yorkers. Not only is he the primary patron saint of Ireland, he is also the adopted patron saint of the Archdiocese of New York, so it is no surprise that tens of thousands of people show up every year just to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade—while spectators run into the millions.

Though very little documentation exists about the life of St. Patrick, the narrative which has become universally accepted is that the former slave rose to great prominence in the 5th century, bringing Christianity to Ireland. One famous legend states that St. Patrick taught the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) utilizing the symbol of the three-leaf shamrock.

By the 10th century, a Roman Catholic holiday in honor of St. Patrick was celebrated in Ireland annually on what is considered to be the anniversary of his death, March 17. It wasn’t until the 18th century that an official parade was organized in St. Patrick’s honor and that took place over 3,000 miles from his homeland, here in Lower Manhattan.

Though it is thought of as the oldest and largest non-military parade in the nation, details about when New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade started are just as fluid as the legend of St. Patrick itself.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Brief History of Public Housing on the Lower East Side

New York Times, February 1938.

[This is our latest article written exclusively for the Lo-Down.]

When the City Planning Commission formed on January 1, 1938, one of its primary initiatives was to revitalize the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods of New York City. After identifying the Lower East Side waterfront as one of the Big Apple’s neediest districts, the commission proposed amending long-standing zoning regulations in order to restore property values, to encourage new construction and to raise the standard of living for thousands of families.

Plans were drawn to rezone a stretch of Manhattan coastline—extending half a mile inland—between the Brooklyn Bridge and East 14th Street. This area served as the city’s primary industrial district for over a century, at various times hosting the largest concentration of stables, factories, warehouses, and coal, lumber and iron yards in the city. However, by the 1930s, these industries had moved on, leaving the long-neglected “Dry Dock District” an unsightly amalgam of abandoned piers and crumbling tenements, where some of the New York’s poorest families lived in hazardous, unsanitary conditions.