The tenement at 342 East 11th Street has quite an attractive façade, for those who can will themselves to look up past the delightful display of pastries in the window of Veniero’s, the Italian bakery and café on the ground floor. The building was constructed 1865-66. Because it was built to house multiple families before the first tenement law of 1879, it is considered a pre-law tenement.
While the building is fairly attractive and it does house delicious pastries, there is another reason why I find the history of this East Village tenement so compelling. A young girl who lived in this tenement, Conjetta (or Jenne) Franco, is not exactly a household name. But as you learn more details about her life—and untimely death— her story may become quite familiar to you.
Jenne Franco was born in the United States to Italian immigrants Carmelo Franco and Amelia Crito. We know that she lived here with her parents and seven siblings from the 1910 census. We also know from that census that Jenne, who was the oldest, was the only one of her siblings who worked outside the home. Her profession is listed in the census as “operator.” She died at the age of 16, on March 25, 1911. She was one of 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The fire was considered one of the worst industrial accidents in the United States for many years. The fire ushered in new building and fire code laws and many historians consider the event as giving added credence to a struggling labor movement.
Most people are familiar with the site of the fire, which was located in the Brown Building at 23-29 Washington Place. There are several plaques on that building and plans to build a permanent memorial there as well. The group undertaking that effort, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, also developed a map that shows where the victims of the fire lived at the time of their deaths. Each year, hundreds of people participate in a project called Chalk, where the names of the Triangle victims are written in front of their past homes. Jenne’s name has been chalked in the last several years by one of the current owners of Veniero’s and Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace correspondent at the New York Times. Interestingly, each have found connections to their own family histories through this place.
Of course Jenne’s name will never be remembered as well as some other historical actors. But this building, however unassuming, serves as a reminder that all of us, famous or no, make a contribution to our shared history.
GVSHP continues to support the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition as they work to memorialize the fire. You can learn more about the fire on our website.