Remnants of a Historical Lower East Side
By Luna Goldberg, Museum at Eldridge Street Summer Intern
Earlier this week, we received an interesting call from a woman in Connecticut. Over the last 18 years, Dorrie Johnson has been collecting vintage hangers from all over the United States. At one point, her collection grew up to 3,000 hangers. When she found that a number of them had come from the Lower East Side, she contacted Eldridge Street about donating the two dozen hangers.
As a summer intern at the Museum at Eldridge Street, I’ve been particularly interested in the way that the Eldridge Street Synagogue embodies the past and tells historical narratives. What I had not realized however, was the extent to which old restaurants, storefronts and factories in the area have similarly become fixtures of the Lower East Side. Walking through the streets of the Lower East Side, it isn’t uncommon to come across these remnants of the past, whether it be an old deli, bakery or building facade. Among the many clothing companies and tailor shops the hangers came from, two of them in particular caught my eye; the Witty Brothers Clothier and Louis Zuflacht & Sons. Upon visiting their addresses, I was surprised to find that the old storefront signs had remained untouched for over a century.
The Witty Brothers Clothier, an elegant men’s fashion store originally located at 52 Eldridge Street, was founded in 1888 by David Witty. They were known for their use of luxurious fabrics and their unwavering high quality through the Great Depression. In 1939, the company was taken over by Mr. Witty’s grandsons- Spencer, Ephraim, Frederic, Arthur and Irving Witty before being sold to Eagle Clothes in 1967. By the time Eagle Clothes company took over, the Witty Brothers had expanded to 5 stores around Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn. Today, the Witty Brothers storefront functions as a chinese restaurant, Sunrise Restaurant.
Similarly, Louis Zuflacht & Sons came to the Lower East side in the early 1920s though the building, located at 154 Stanton Street, was erected in the early 1860s. Zuflacht and his sons Jack and Joe ran the garment and tailor shop for decades. According to a 2001 New York Times article, Zuflacht “provided Bar Mitvah suits to loyal customers, many of whom patronized the shop for as many as 50 years and saved his hangers.” Over time, the building has undergone a number of transformations from an artist’s private home and artisan shop to a gallery. Still, the signs remain as a marker of time and reminder of the early 20th century.