In the early years of the 20th century, the streets near Bowling Green—the oldest public park in the city, at the foot of Broadway in Lower Manhattan—were home to thousands of families, “crowded into tenements made out of old warehouses and former fashionable houses now fallen into decay,” explains Valentine’s City of New York Guidebook, published in 1920.
These are some of the kids growing up in that neighborhood, which at the time was a melting pot of Irish, Polish, Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, and “people from Palestine and Mesopotamia,” the book notes.
This is the era of settlement work, when wealthier New Yorkers began donating time and money to help poorer neighborhoods with schools, health care, and other social services. As the book explains:
“Both the children and the mothers have found a great friend in the Bowling Green Neighborhood Association, an organization which has voluntarily taken up settlement work. They have provided a playground, a little hall where dances and social affairs can be had, a modest little library, a babies clinic, and other desirable attributes.
“The infant mortality, from an abnormally high rate, has been reduced to correspond to the average of the city at large, and in other ways the neighborhood association has made for itself a warm spot in the heart of these friendless foreigners.”