On Tuesday, November 19, 2013, Cultures of Conservation Postdoctoral Fellow Gabrielle Berlinger presented her research project on the occasion of the work in progress seminar entitled ‘Sometimes, Only Memory Holds It Up!’: Historic Preservation of The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

An exceptional illustration of change in the historic, social, and physical landscapes of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the tenement building at 97 Orchard Street was home to over 7,000 working-class immigrants from 1863, when it was constructed, until 1935, when it was sealed shut for the next half century. In 1988, historian and social activist Ruth Abram discovered the abandoned building and rented it as a base for her newly formed Lower East Side Historical Conservancy. Abram began partial restoration of the dilapidated “urban time capsule” that soon became the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LESTM), and, in 1992, opened its first restored apartment to the public. Conservation and interpretation of the building’s architecture and its former residents’ material culture and social histories continue to today as its visitorship soars to nearly 1,000 visitors per day.

The presentation examined the interrelated issues that inform the ongoing process of historic preservation at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Guided by the findings of a recently installed Preservation Action Committee, the Museum staff must reconcile the claims of its institutional mission and the restorative intervention necessary for conservation of the structure, while the museum remains open to the public. This project investigates the questions and compromises (and their social, cultural, economic, and political implications) that arise in the conservation of an historic structure still in use, and now turned museum.

Congratulations, Gabrielle — we look forward to hearing more about this really exciting project!