What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street

When Joseph Sherly Sheppard painted these three scenes of Orchard Street in the 1950s, this eight-block stretch of the Lower East Side was devoted to cut-rate commerce.

Unglamorous tenement storefronts jockey for space, merchandise spills onto the sidewalk, and sign after colorful sign advertised such utilitarian items like coats, linens, eyeglasses, and hosiery.

Orchard in the 1950s seems emptier than it had been in the early decades of the 20th century, when it was a packed Jewish immigrant enclave.

Commerce continues to reign on Orchard today, and some blocks still have the feel of a mid-20th century flashback.

But like so much of today’s Lower East Side, this old city street (named for the orchards that once graced the 18th century DeLancey estate) is glammed up with new condos, restaurants, and trendier, higher-end stores. Older ladies carrying bulging shopping bags are a rarer sight these days.

Born in Maryland in 1930, Sheppard has had a long career as a realist painter. He painted unique scenes of humanity, from sunbathers to circus performers to grape pickers. Most of his work depicts places other than New York City. But something drew him to Orchard Street.

Sheppard once again painted Orchard Street in 1982: it’s a scene outside a clothing store that displays its wares like an open-air market.

The 1982 painting is similar to those from the 1950s (the “I Love NY” shirt confirms its era): clothes hang over the sidewalk, pedestrians and delivery people go about their business, and the occasional curious customer contemplates a deal.

[First and second images: Artnet.com; third image: Invaluable.com; fourth image: Artnet.com]

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28 Responses to “What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    What’s Orchard Street like in 2021?

    • chas1133 Says:

      Still has the flavor for me, although as most places, there is change.
      Artnet is a great place to see various artists and many cityscapes. Unfortunately it’s subscription driven

  2. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    My mom used to drag me there in the 1950s. How I hated going there with store owners trying to sell you everything imaginable! I don’t know how my mother resisted, but next week we’d do it again. Now looking back I realize what a beautiful but painful era it was. Being a young kid on the streets of old NY was no joke either.

    • boxwoodbooks Says:

      please say some more! Did you and your mom live near there? Did she buy things or was did she go there just for the colorful experience?

      • Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

        We lived on 5th St & 1st Ave, a short walk away. I recall her buying shirts and shoes for me. I remember one incident, I was in the 5th grade or so and wanted the Elvis Presley pointy toed shoes, which were the rage in those days, they haggled over the price until they agreed. My mother was very happy over it. But that Monday, in a school, Sister Emelia didn’t like it at all and warned me not to wear devil shoes again, or else! I have no recollection after that. Ah, old NY…

      • boxwoodbooks Says:

        Ah, devil shoes! Can you think that any child today can imagine how licentious and toxic Elvis was. Yes, I agree, ah old NY although I haven’t been back since 1976. Weren’t we lucky!

    • Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

      Also these paintings must have been done in the early morning hours, too artistic. I remember the street was closed off from traffic, with mobs of shoppers going this and that. I have no idea where he would sit undisturbed,

  3. NYborn Says:

    Thanks so much for these. My grandmother lived on The top floor of a tenement on Orchard until the 1960s (when she was in her 70s). What memories!

  4. Dave Richard Says:

    Wonderful paintings, remind me of John Sloane’s work.

  5. Nancy Himmelfarb Says:

    This brought back memories of my mom (who grew up near Orchard St) bringing me here, from where we lived in Queens, at the start of every school year, to buy clothes – during the 1960’s! I vaguely recall a large dressing room where lots of other girls and their mother’s were doing the same thing. I think it was called Nathan Borlan’s.

  6. Nancy Himmelfarb Says:

    Oh I just found this – they are still around!! Natan Borlam. Now in Brooklyn apparently.

  7. thalassa plateia Says:

    Reblogged this on yellow in grey.

  8. Kenny Says:

    They finally removed the scaffolding from the Jarmulowski Bank near Canal Street.

  9. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I always the paintings you post. I’ve discovered many good artists here.

  10. Maxine Cady Says:

    Went there frequently with my parents. Loved going into stores like that. Fascinated by the variety of languages we heard.

  11. What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street - The New York Beacon Says:

    […] Source: What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street […]

  12. Kiwiwriter Says:

    Wonderful paintings…great human depictions. I remember walking around Orchard Street in the 1960s with my parents, and it looked like that, although the lampposts had changed.

    We’d eat at Katz’s, under the WW2 signs that said, “Send A Salami To Your Boy in the Army.”

    The lampposts in the top two paintings have their crossbar to enable repairmen to place ladders against them and climb up the bar to clean the luminaire. That is likely a 6BC.

    The third lamppost lacks that crossbar, so you can tell it is a later style, probably a Type 24, the most common type.

    They look too tall…the real cast-iron lampposts were only 18 feet high. The fiberglass reproductions are 30 feet high, in keeping with federal Department of Transportation regulations.

    • boxwoodbooks Says:

      fascinating observations. Thanks.

      • Kiwiwriter Says:

        Youse is very welcome.

        It’s funny how I remember stuff that happened 45 years ago.

      • boxwoodbooks Says:

        All of these word portraits are as potent as the paint on the canvas.

      • Kiwiwriter Says:

        A good writer should be able to render a scene as well as an artist with paints.

        Which is why I’m astonished that the publishing industry has seen fit to provide us with the memoirs of such deep thinkers as Lenny Dykstra, Vanna White, a collection of Kardashians, Stacey Dash, and something called “Snooki.”

  13. What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street – The Philadelphia Observer Says:

    […] Source: What an artist captured on 1950s Orchard Street […]

  14. Geri C Says:

    My dad had a store on Orchard Street in the late 50’s to about 1964. We would go by train and stay the whole day. I remember the deli on the corner. There was a toy store near us and across the street was a lamp store. All the stores had their wares outside and in the store. It was always busy. The block he was on is all condominiums now. What a change!

  15. A piece of the cut-rate Lower East Side remains on Orchard Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] you’ll feel like a time machine has delivered you back to the 1920s Lower East Side—when Orchard Street meant cut-rate shopping, not pricy […]

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