Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll look at a museum whose reopening amid the migrant crisis seems particularly timely. We’ll also see why the man who controls the Knicks and the Rangers is not focused on New York right now.
The scaffolding had finally come off after a $7 million renovation, and Annie Polland was talking about the building.
It’s a conversation-starter, she said, and its reopening today comes amid new urgency for the conversations she imagines taking place there.
Polland is the president and chief executive of the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which documents the long history of immigration in New York — one that seems all the more timely because of the influx of migrants in the last year and a half. Mayor Eric Adams has called it a humanitarian crisis, and it has strained the city’s shelter system, even as more than 200 new sites and relief centers have opened.
Any hope for a conversation between the mayor and President Biden, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, was dashed on Tuesday at a reception the president hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Adams did not attend. “Everybody knows where I am,” he had said earlier in the day, suggesting that the president could find him if he wanted to.
Polland maintains that at a moment of intense polarization, the Tenement Museum can provide a more expansive look at American history.
“This is a dynamic place for people to exchange ideas and think about how learning about the past helps approach the issues we face today,” she told me. “History isn’t a grab-bag of solutions. You can’t just open it up and say, ‘Hey, we have a problem, what did they do with this in 1872’ or whatever.”
But looking back “gives us this opportunity to absorb more complexities” — and to understand the tensions. “In the 1850s people were saying Irish shouldn’t be here and the Germans drank too much,” she said. “Not all people, but some New Yorkers were nervous about a city that in 1855 had just become majority immigrant.”
What the Tenement Museum can do — “better than most places,” she said — is to show how ordinary people were engaged in the debates of their day. “If you find out that ordinary people in the past made changes and adapted and put forward new ideas,” she said, “you, too, have a foundation to put your own ideas and solutions out there.”
The museum has worked to broaden its core programming to spotlight more immigrant groups. The tenement apartments recreated at the museum now include not just one lived in by German and Irish families in the 19th century but also one that housed a Puerto Rican family in the 1960s and one that a Chinese family had lived in during the 1970s. In December, another apartment will join the group, a recreation of one where a Black waiter lived with his wife.
If the museum’s take on the past has not changed since it opened 35 years ago, its outlook for the future has brightened considerably. In mid-2020, when the pandemic wreaked havoc on cultural institutions — particularly smaller ones — they faced what Polland called an “existential crisis.” The Center for an Urban Future, a public policy research institute, cited the Tenement Museum as one of the hardest hit, in part because it drew more than 75 percent of its revenue from admissions and gift shop sales. The museum says the revenue component of its budget is now 60 percent, with 40 percent coming from donations.
The museum went ahead with the renovation despite the pandemic, though it had to close its landmark building at 97 Orchard Street to do so.
“The building wasn’t built in 1863 with the idea that it would be a museum 160 years later, even that it would exist 160 years later,” Polland said, and needed some modernizing. (Some exhibits were set up down the street in the museum’s other building, at 103 Orchard Street. Today is the first day in 13 months that the full museum will be open for tours.)
The renovation, designed by Li • Saltzman Architects, was deliberately “a multimillion-dollar effort” to make the building “look like it did,” she said, adding that the reopening would be “completely opposite from those HGTV shows where there’s a big reveal at the end.”
One change, noticeable to a regular like Polland, is that the newly reinforced stairs no longer creak underfoot. She sounded as if she had yet to adjust.
“I can’t lie,” she said. “I miss the creak.”
Enjoy a sunny sky with high temperatures around 74. At night, it will be partly cloudy with a low near 60.
In effect until Monday (Yom Kippur).
The latest New York news
ICMYI: Prince William waded into the East River to learn about efforts to grow oysters in New York Harbor.
Van Cortlandt Park cricket stadium canceled: A contentious plan backed by Mayor Eric Adams for the International Cricket Council to build a temporary, 34,000-seat stadium in a Bronx park is dead, following heated opposition from local elected officials and some amateur cricket players.
Health and wellness
Unapproved treatment: A product made from umbilical cord blood and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration was used in spine surgeries at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Bacteria moves north: As oceans warm, pathogenic bacteria like the one that killed three people in the New York area this summer are turning up more frequently in northern regions, scientists say.
Arts and culture
Theater president to step down: Carole Rothman, the president and artistic director of Second Stage Theater, will step down next spring after 45 years with the organization.
Anniversary homage: New York City Ballet kicked off its 75th anniversary season with George Balanchine’s full-length triptych “Jewels” and a poignant onstage tribute.
Why James Dolan’s eye is on Las Vegas
James Dolan oversees a family empire that includes the Knicks and the Rangers, as well as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. New York loves to hate him, but New York is not the focus of his attention right now. He is preoccupied with an arena that is about to open 2,500 miles away, in Las Vegas.
It cost $2.3 billion to build, with Dolan’s legendary stubbornness driving it to completion two years late and $1 billion over budget. It has more than 700,000 square feet of programmable video screens.
In New York, Dolan has been caught up in a controversy over a different technology — facial recognition software used to bar people from his venues, like lawyers who are suing companies he controls. Dolan said he did not understand why anyone would expect him to welcome “troll attorneys,” as he called them. “What do you mean I shouldn’t be upset?” he said in an interview.
Dolan’s “attorney exclusion list” drew widespread criticism after a lawyer from New Jersey arrived with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop for the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall last year, only to be spotted by the software. Her law firm was representing a client in a slip-and-fall claim against a restaurant group that was at the time owned by a company under Dolan’s control.
Larry Hutcher, a Knicks fan, also learned that he was on the exclusion list. His law firm represented ticket resellers who were suing Madison Square Garden Entertainment. Hutcher then sued the Garden for barring him.
But after a judge dismissed the ticket resellers’ case, only one thing stood between Hutcher and his ability to watch his beloved Knicks in person: the lawsuit he had filed because he was barred.
Earlier this month, he dropped it. My colleague Katie Rosman writes that in essence, Dolan’s tactics succeeded.
At the counter
I was sitting at the counter at my neighborhood diner, having a toasted (well-done) corn muffin and coffee, when a man in his 40s came in. He was dressed casually but nicely. He asked if he could take the seat next to mine.
“Sure,” I said.
He ordered an omelet with spinach and tomatoes.
“That looks good,” I said when it arrived. “And healthy.”
“Yeah, but your corn muffin looks good, too,” he said. “I love cornbread.”
I don’t know why, but I said, “Do you want a piece?”
“I’d love it,” he said.
So I gave him a piece of my muffin, which he gobbled up.
Can you imagine — taking food from a stranger’s plate in a diner? Somehow, we both knew it was OK.
— Aimee Lee Ball
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Kellina Moore and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].