Delancey Street

Art & Culture | History

From a Loyalist Farm, to Sketchy Gangland, to a Discount District, to Hip Hood, this Street is Full of Interesting History

Delancey Street Sign Lower East Side

About Delancey Street

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Delancey Street has gone from a cherry grove to a gangland nightmare, to a discount haven to gentrifying hipster thoroughfare…walk down the long, wide history of Delancey Street.
  • Delancey Street is the central artery of the Lower East Side, running from the Bowery all the way out to the East River (while also carrying everyone to Brooklyn via the Williamsburg Bridge)
  • What you see before you today is a major eight-lane traffic artery, where new bars, clubs and restaurants hang next to old-school LES holdouts…
  • But, eons ago, this was farmland.
    • This entire area was one remarkable estate (a whopping 300 acres) that belonged to the De Lancey family. It stretched east of the Bowery, covering most of what is today the Lower East Side.
  • The De Lanceys were an immensely powerful family of Loyalist landowners.
    • First to arrive in New York was Stephen De Lancey, who became a highly successful merchant. You can still see one of his original homes today on Pearl Street, now called Fraunces Tavern.
    • He had five (of ten!) children survive infancy. One of whom was James De Lancey (for whom the Street is named.) James served as Colonial Governor of New York and granted the charter to create King’s College, which is now Columbia University.
    • James also served as Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court and presided over the famous Zenger Trial, which became a landmark case for freedom of the press in the US.
    • Stephen’s daughter Susannah married Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who owned pretty much the entire area of what we today call Greenwich Village.
  • Because the De Lanceys served with the British during the American Revolution, their land was seized after the war, and starting in 1803, it was subdivided into lots and streets.
  • By the late 19th century, those were some mean streets!
    • In the 1880s, the notorious gang, The Short Tails, terrorized Delancey Street, and were such a fearsome group that the NYPD took to patrolling Delancey Street in twos so that one cop would always have the protection of another.
  • By the early 20th century, Delancey became a main shopping street within the Jewish LES.
    • The bargains to be had on Delancey Street helped lead to the birth of Hip Hop… More on this below!
  • Today the street is a mishmash of bodegas, generic fast food and banks intermixed with hip gentrified spots like the new Essex Street MarketCocoronSel RroseJames Fuentes GalleryThe Bowery Ballroom and a myriad of street art.

Carpe City Trivia

How did Delancey Street have a role in the creation of Hip Hop?

  • DJ Cool Herc officially invented hip hop at a party on August 11, 1973, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.
  • What does that have to do with Delancey Street? Well, Cool Herc’s party was a “Back to School Jam” organized by Herc’s younger sister, Cindy.
    • She had asked Herc to DJ the party to help her raise money for back-to-school clothes, which she was planning to buy on… you guessed it… Delancey Street.
      • Cindy said, “I was saving my money, because what you want to do for back to school is go down to Delancey Street instead of going to Fordham Road [in the Bronx], because you can get the newest things that a lot of people don’t have. And when you go back to school, you want to go with things that nobody has so you could look nice and fresh…”

By: Christi Scofield & Lucie Levine

New York City Tours

Great Places Near Delancey Street

Street Art Stik Mural
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The Tenement Museum NYC
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Orchard Street sign lower east side

Orchard Street

At Only Eight Blocks Long, Orchard Street is Short on Space but Long on History.

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Street Art 132 Allen St Sara Erenthal
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Allen Street Art

Block after Block of Ever-Changing Street Art

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James Fuentes Art Lower East Side
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James Fuentes

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Attaboy Bar Lower East Side


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russ and daughters cafe

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