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Decorated Tenement: An Illustrated History

Historian and author Zachary J. Violette joined FRIENDS virtually on July 16th to discuss how the work of immigrant builders and architects shaped architectural streetscapes. In his recent book, The Decorated Tenement: How Immigrant Builders And Architects Transformed The Slum In The Gilded Age, Violette focuses on what he calls the “decorated tenement,” a wave of new buildings constructed by immigrant builders and architects who remade the slum landscapes of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the North and West Ends of Boston in the late nineteenth century. Drawing on research and fieldwork of more than three thousand extant tenement buildings, Violette uses ornament as an entry point to reconsider the role of tenement architects and builders (many of whom had deep roots in immigrant communities) in improving housing for the working poor.

Utilizing specially commissioned contemporary photography, and many never-before-published historical images, The Decorated Tenement weaves together monolithic notions of architectural taste and housing standards while broadening our understanding of the diversity of cultural and economic positions of those responsible for shaping American architecture and urban landscapes.

This program was supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.