The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is in a five-story brick tenement located at 97 Orchard Street in New York City. Between its construction in 1863 and closure in 1935, nearly 7,000 people from over 20 countries lived in the tiny apartments. The building remained uninhabited until 1988 when the museum was founded. These apartments became a time capsule of immigrant life in America. The museum is unique in its interpretation of the building and occupants, and its treatment of the ruined apartments in a state of “arrested decay.”

In this presentation, Stephanie M. Hoagland from Jablonski Building Conservation will discuss the variety of conservation methods used for both the museum’s multiple layers of torn, curled, sagging, and stained wallpaper as well as the plaster supporting it, which was cracked, crumbling, and displaced. Together these conditions could easily mean the loss of historic fabric critical to the interpretation of the museum. The conservation methods for wallpaper have evolved over time and have ranged from mechanical interventions like acrylic washers to conservation grade adhesives. The consolidation of the plaster substrate has led to further complications, such as how to deal with the heavy staining caused by conservation materials. This presentation will discuss the numerous technical challenges and philosophical issues behind stabilization and conservation of these vernacular finishes, including if they should even be preserved.