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122-124 Orchard: The Home of Reverend Jen’s Troll Museum and…
It was 2006 and in my ever-expanding Rolodex of kickass people in my life, I had yet to befriend a Reverend or an elf, so when I met Jen Miller, my mission was realized. Ordained, Jen is known to her friends and fans alike as Rev. or Reverend Jen. She is a prosthetic-elf-ear wearing, Sixties-era-swag-rocking, tiny Chihuahua (Rev. Jen Junior aka JJ) carrying, author, painter, poet, founder of the Troll Museum, Art Star, ASS Studios co-founder, onetime host of the Anti-Slam at the now-defunct Bowery Poetry Club and the Mr. Lower East Side Contest.
Like my Rolodex, her resume is infinitely expanding. For instance, Rev.- you are now the inspiration for this Bowery Boogie into 122-124 Orchard’s past.
Before I continue, I should preface – if you are already a fan of Rev. and/or the Troll Museum, there is simply no stalking allowed.
The Troll Museum is by appointment only and besides that, it’s a major faux pas for humans, elves or dogs. Don’t do it or you may find yourself one finger short. Rev Jen Jr., won’t play that. You’ve been warned.
I began my research, as always, trying to determine the year the building was built and I hit a snag on this one. According to several sources including the buildings owner, Misrahi Realty, 122-124 was built in 1910, however, I was unable to locate any information attesting to that, in fact, everything I found was to the contrary.
Oh and about Misrahi? The Misrahi family has history in 122-124; from the New York Times, June 3, 2007:
It was 1956 when Mr. Misrahi’s father, Jay Misrahi, moved his pregnant wife and the young Sion from Larissa, Greece, to the neighborhood with the aid of a Jewish charity. Jay Misrahi ran Daniel’s Clothing at 122 Orchard Street, where Sion would work on Sundays. At the age of 26, the younger Mr. Misrahi opened his own shop at 125 Orchard Street, Breakaway Fashions…
In 1994, taking a new tack, he opened Misrahi Realty…Although Mr. Misrahi has had a hand in many deals — as a rental and property broker, and as an arranger of meetings between neighborhood movers and shakers — he does not own any of the new hotel or condominium towers. His neighborhood holdings are limited to eight tenement buildings, most of which he bought for less than $1 million (and could sell for eight times that).
He also openly opposes landmarking, claiming that the landmark status of buildings in the neighborhood would be too costly for landlords. Interesting and telling.
Anyway, snags generally require help so I enlisted my friend and architectural historian, Diane De Fazio, to help solve this quandary. You can read her blog here.
Standing across from the tenement, one can see that 122 spans five windows across. Thing is, most pre-law tenements (pre-1879) were standard 25 feet [across], four windows wide.
Also, the lintels and posts are fairly ornamented. Exterior ornamentation is typically old law (1879-1901) and old law tenements were a standard six stories as is 122-124. We concluded, then, pre-law this was not.
Back in front of my computer, from Bing’s aerial view- the shape is a dumbbell (which has been altered) but mostly matches the shape on the Bromley map from 1899. Dumbbells are a key feature when determining building type. They are almost always an archetype of old law.
Looking from the top down, the sixth building. See it?
Okay, so now all I had to do was rule out new law, and with only one lot (new laws tended to be built on multiple lots to allow for the courtyard) and no courtyard, this building was built before 1901.
That leaves us in the old law time period, but what year? Are you guys still with me?
As I write this, I receive an urgent message from Diane. She had located her pocket copy of Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide and dun dun dunnaaaah!
Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide.
Feb. 19, 1898.
Orchard st., Nos 122 and 124
6-sty brk stores and flats, 33.21/2 x78; cost, $30,000.
And then, of course, right after she found that, I found this:
So there you have it – 1898 confirmed by two sources. Always trust your gut, peeps and if you happen to have a proclivity for history, make sure you have friends that feel the same.
If you’ve read my other pieces, you may have noticed that I adore newspaper archives. They are a treasure trove (or a mine field depending on how you look at it) and digging into 122-124 Orchard was no different.
By the by, big shout out to New York for having more newspapers and periodicals on microfilm and digital than a gal could ever dream of!
I came across several newspaper articles about the residents of the original 122-124 Orchard before the current structure was built (before 1898).
First up? Pinochle Pete and Rachel Burns:
“Able counsel as well as counsel that are not able” Gosh, Judge Cowing, that was clever.
So Rachel Burns, an ex-convict herself and Pete’s live-in lover?
Nobody likes a snitch, Rachel.
It appears that the current home of the Troll Museum, despite being rebuilt, would continue to house inhabitants with an affinity for burglary and the like.
Next up? Edward Riley, an impressionable 19-year-old also held at the Essex Market Police Court (there was a street running from Essex to Ludlow Street called Essex Market Place. The Court House was next door to the Ludlow Street Jail, now the location of old Seward High School):
122-124 held the storefront auction house of Finkelstein and Sosnowksy and they liked dolls. A foreshadowing of the Troll (dolls) Museum?
And then some more theft; Jacob Saul of 122:
Moving away from the insalubrious: Mr. Flug and Mural Fabrics:
And finally, an immigrant nation:
Exploring Jen’s building with Diane was a historian’s dream: false walls hiding bathtubs, more false walls creating toilets, a sloping stairwell with a curved wooden banister and ornate iron balustrades, tubercular windows, transoms above all the doors, Mezuzahs covered in layers of paints and even depressions illuminating where doorways once stood.
This building has undergone some serious renovation (building permits show alterations in 1934, 1935, 1938 and 1946) to modernize it for comfortable residential use. Although, upon viewing the wicked step from the floor up into the tiny room that holds her bathtub/shower (sans windows), I’d say Jen might not agree with the comfortable part.
The Troll Museum is layers upon layers (many put up by Jen herself) of paint upon history upon more paint. The building still maintains of all its interior wooden window sashes and they really are beautiful.
Even the chimney is visible from the tiny back alley that now holds the tenants’ refuse and a swarm of flies.
Jen has said that her building is haunted. I don’t doubt it.
Like most buildings in NYC, 122-124 is a never-ending story; Jen, you are now a part of its history.
Forever etched in the walls you painted, the memories you’ve made and the piece you inspired me to write.
As always…Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis – you were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time. Bless up.