The longtime home of the Jewish Daily Forward sits on East Broadway between Rutgers and Jefferson Streets. Since its construction in 1912, the Forward Newspaper building has been a staple of the Lower East Side. Today, it is a testament to the neighborhood’s changing landscape.
The Forward Newspaper
Under the leadership of its founding editor Abraham Cahan, the Forward not only served as the Jewish immigrant community’s most significant news source, but also granted the community a voice. Starting in 1902, Cahan invited readers to send their stories and responses to topical questions such as ‘May a women wear rouge?’ and ‘Can a socialist go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah?’
The newspaper’s most popular section was an advice column titled ‘The Bintel Brief.’ Readers posed questions to the editors on lighthearted and serious themes. One struggling reader, who was losing his job, wrote the paper wondering whether he should keep a portion of his income or give it to his blind father in Russia. The editors advised him to give the money to his ailing father as the reader, a young man, remained employable.
The Forward building exemplified the newspaper’s importance. It continues to be one of the tallest buildings in the neighborhood and arguably one of the most beautiful. Elegant terra-cotta designs and classical figures adorn its facade. Neighborhood lore claims that Abraham Cahan wanted the entire neighborhood to see the building.
After Word War II, the newspaper declined as the worldwide population of Yiddish speaking people shrank and assimilation took hold in the United States. In 1983, to save the paper, an English language supplement was created. Today, The Forward exists with a rich on-line presence of over one million monthly visitors. The newspaper is no longer Socialist leaning, but continues to report on politics, art and culture.
A Chinese Church and Bible Factory
Just as the newspaper was forced to adapt, so has the building. In 1974, with falling readership, the newspaper sold it to the Lau family, who transformed the bottom floors into a Chinese church and the top floors into a bible factory.
In 2004, developers Ronald Castellano and Christopher Hayes took over the building and converted it into luxury apartments. A one bedroom apartment recently sold for 1.545 million dollars, and Oscar winning actress Tatum O’Neal once owned an apartment in the building. Amenities include 24 hour doorman, roof deck and a refrigerator in the lobby to store perishable deliveries. Fortunately, the facade is a landmark. Relics of its previous life remain, including the decorative busts of Socialist leaders Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who gaze down on today’s capitalist tenants.
The Forward building epitomizes the changing landscape of the Lower East Side. The neighborhood first took shape with the arrival of immigrants at the turn of the 20th century and became a bustling and crowded hub. But as gentrification spread across New York City, the area underwent transformation. Instead of the classic Jewish delicatessen and other Jewish stores, there are art galleries, vegan restaurants and organic supermarkets. The neighborhood once housed the city’s most impoverished communities; now, it inhabits the city’s most affluent. The Museum At Eldridge Street, preserves the Lower East Side’s history, while as a cultural institution it is also arguably part of the gentrification equation.
By Julia Echikson, Museum At Eldridge Street Intern