Theses Master's

Building Community in Kleindeutschland: The Role of German Immigration in Shaping New York City's Seventeenth Ward

Kuhnert, Matthew J.

The German immigrants who settled in Manhattan's Seventeenth Ward during the nineteenth century profoundly shaped the social and cultural framework of the neighborhood's built fabric and community life, establishing the area's distinct character as a working-class residential district. The array of dwellings and institutions that were designed and constructed for the needs of German immigrants provided a vital infrastructure as they have been adapted by successive generations of inhabitants. This thesis explores three aspects of the influence of German migration on the physical fabric of New York in the city's Seventeenth Ward. Chapter One investigates the impact of German immigration on residential real estate development and how it produced a dense tenement district whose fabric would become the dominant characteristic of the neighborhood. Chapter Two examines the meeting halls and social clubs built to house German voluntary organizations in order to illustrate how immigrants used these buildings to shape community, create meaning, and navigate the nuances of a new life in a foreign country. Finally, Chapter Three explores the values inherent in this historic built fabric as understood by the later residents of the neighborhood, and describes the efforts of tenant organizers to preserve social cohesion and a sense of place in the face of urban renewal after the Second World War. This research allows for a better appreciation of how a distinct German-American presence helped to shape the modern American city, and provides a window by which we can also better understand the role of immigrants in the formation of a vibrant urbanism. Furthermore, this narrative suggests that the traditional tools by which historic preservation safeguards historic buildings may be inadequate for places like the East Village where social and economic values also underlie the visible surfaces of the vernacular urban landscape and endow it with special meaning.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2012