14 August 2006

The Immigrant Experience—at $275 a Pop

The Tenament Museum on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side always seemed a worthy affair. I remember when it opened, more than a decade ago. There was a perfunctory ticket office across the street from a restored walk-up, wherein historical tours were conducted. (I still recall with a shiver the story of the 19th century father who left for work one day, leaving his large family behind, never to return.)

Well, the enterprise and the block has taken off some since then. The ticket office has moved a few doors over and is now surrounded by a largish gift shop, with snippy help and ample opportunities for buying ghetto-chic t-shirts, fridge magnets, calendars, wrapping paper, dishware and Metrocard holders, as well as tons of expensive books on what it was like to be dirt poor. Let's just say the place's sense of opportunism is creepy.

Creepier still, however, is the nearby Blue Moon Hotel. While it's true that there's no gaul like New York gaul, this is something special: a luxury, boutique hotel converted from an old tenament, and furnished with restored period furniture. ("Boutique," by the way, is hotel code in this city for "smaller, but still just as expensive.") It's a beautiful piece of refurbishment. But if you want to stay on former pushcart lane, you have a pony up a minimum of $275 a night; for more comfort, prices soar to $500.

I'm sorry, but this is perverse, and there's no other decent word for it. $275 for what?—to be closer to the haunted house across the street full of the tortured souls of immigrant dead? Why not just don a top hat, crush some urchins under your hansom cab wheels and be done with it? I'm all for preserving old New York, but when that preservation is just another scam for the money-grubbers, I'll pass.

The hotel, by the way, also boasts about "breathtaking" views of "the Williamsburg Bridge, Lower Manhattan, and Old Orchard Street." Yeah. I bet 1880s sweat shop workers got a good view of those just before they jumped.

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