owned by German New Yorkers, including the popular Staats-Zeitung. While German singing societies and choral groups were generally identified with the middle and working classes, German musicians predominated in the New York Philharmonic and provided it with many of its directors, including Leopold Damrosch. German businessman Otto H. Kahn was one of the city’s leading philanthropists. German-derived food, particularly hamburgers, frankfurters, and sauerkraut, became popular for mass consumption. There were also German theater groups, social clubs, sickness- and death-benefit societies, and lodges. Many Germans worked in factories and shops in what came to be regarded as German trades – tailors, bakers, grocers, shoemakers, brewers, cigar makers, piano and furniture makers, and dressmakers. In Ridgewood, German- American social organizations represented in the early- and mid-20th century included the First German Sports Club, the Schwaebischer Saengerbund, the Steuben Society of America, the Rheinpfaelzer Volkfest Vereins, the German-American School Association, and the Gottscheer Gedenkstsette. 17
Low-cost Housing in New York and Tenement House Construction18
By the middle of the 19th century, New York had developed into a world metropolis. Restricted by geography and by the lack of affordable transit, its burgeoning worker population crowded into a few wards in Lower Manhattan near the major centers of employment. At first, the need for low-cost housing was met by partitioning existing rowhouses into one- and two- room units. By the 1840s, builders began erecting the city’s first tenements. About fifty feet deep, these four and five-story buildings were arranged in a double line of rooms with windowless bedrooms and stairs at the center of the building. Usually a second tenement was erected at the rear of the same lot, with families in both buildings sharing the same backyard pump and privy. Larger buildings, known as double-deckers or railroad flats, began appearing in the 1860s. These occupied as much as 90% of a standard 25 x 100 foot lot, and had twelve to sixteen rooms per floor, only four of which (two front, two back) had direct access to light and air.
Living conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary in all these buildings. Plumbing remained inadequate: water rarely reached above the first floor and was often only available from a tap in the yard; sewers and privies frequently overflowed, making these shared facilities unusable. Construction was flimsy and highly flammable; fires were a frequent occurrence. The streets were strewn with garbage and animal refuse; factories, slaughterhouses, and bone and fat rendering establishments operated side by side with tenements.
Under these conditions such infectious diseases as cholera, diphtheria, and typhus were rampant. While some medical experts believed that infection could be linked to specific bacteria, most subscribed to the popular notion that unsanitary conditions were the chief source of disease. Many social commentators also believed that bad housing contributed to the social degradation that led to crime, delinquency, pauperism, alcoholism, and prostitution.
Motivated, therefore, both by fear of disease and by humanitarian concerns, reformers began organizing as early as the 1840s to attack the problems of the slums. The only attempts at
17 The Gottscheers were Austrians who emigrated to the Balkans in the fourteenth century. In the 1880s, many Gottscheers, fleeing upheaval in the Balkans, moved to the United States and were among those who later settled in the developing neighborhood of Ridgewood in the early twentieth century. During the World War II era, Gottscheers were again forced to flee Yugoslavia; the largest number of these refugees - about 3,000 - settled in Ridgewood, Queens.
18 Portion of this section are adapted from: Landmarks Preservation Commission, City and Suburban Homes Company, First Avenue Estate Designation Report (LP-1692), report prepared by Gale Harris (New York: City of New York, 1990); Landmarks Preservation Commission, Sunnyside Gardens Historic District Designation Report (LP-2258), report prepared by Virginia Kurshan (New York: City of New York, 2007).