See the Last Days of Streit’s Matzo Factory Through Somber Black-and-White Photos

Posted On Thu, April 16, 2015 By

Posted On Thu, April 16, 2015 By In History, Lower East Side, photography

© Joseph O. Holmes 

Whether you celebrate Passover or not, you’ve undoubtedly seen the pink boxes of Streit’s Matzo in the grocery store each spring. For 90 years, Streit’s has been churning out this iconic product at the rate of almost 900 pounds of matzo an hour on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. But at the beginning of the year, New Yorkers received the sad news that the last family-owned matzo factory in the U.S. was purchased by a developer and the company would be moving its operations to New Jersey (a move also echoed this week by Junior’s Cheesecake).

But before they head across the Hudson, photographer Joseph O. Holmes has captured the final days of this fifth-generation working-class landmark, which Fast Co. Design aptly describes as “New York’s Jewish Willy Wonka Factory.” His black-and-white photos are somber, telling of his personal feelings about the loss of Streit’s and the gentrification of the Lower East Side.

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history
Farfel holding tank

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history
Matzo dough

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history
Baskets of matzo

When Holmes first came to New York in 1984, he said it was “filled with old cramped neighborhoods and kooky factories and workspaces.” As Fast Co. reports, “he grew especially fond of Streit’s, where you could see, right through the first-floor window, the matzo being cooked, and where, if you were lucky, a yarmulke-wearing Streit’s baker might break off a still-warm piece of matzo and hand it to you through the window with a wink.” So of course when he found out Streit’s was closing he asked the managers to photograph their final days. It took him five weeks to capture every nook and cranny of the space.

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history
The first-floor oven

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history
The first-floor cutter

The factory encompasses four tenement building and six floors, “a maze of pneumatic tubes zip around everywhere, while strange conveyor belts carry flour and matzo meal disappear through holes in the ceiling, or the floor.” But this very layout that makes Streit’s so whimsical is one of the reasons they’re leaving. Much of their equipment is almost as old as the company itself, and by selling the properties (they were listed for $25 million) they’ll be able to afford a new, top-of-the-line factory to continue supplying 40% of the country’s matzo.

Streit's Matzo Factory, Joseph O. Holmes, NYC photography, Lower East Side history

Holmes laments: “There’s just so few places you can see factory workers and machines in Manhattan anymore. That’s very sad to me. New York is becoming a less varied, and more homogenous environment. The diversity is going away. It used to be a melting pot. Now it’s an island of banks and residential high rises.”

[Via Fast Co. Design]

All photos © Joseph O. Holmes

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Neighborhoods : Lower East Side

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