New York’s distinctive tenement tiles

The city is filled with them: 6-story walkup “new-law” tenement buildings, usually four or six apartments per floor with the stairwell in the middle. Built in the early years of the 20th century after the 1901 Tenement House Act was passed, they were a vast improvement over the “old-law” tenements that didn’t always have ventilation, water, or indoor toilets.

They all seem to have one decorative feature in common: colored tile patterns in the lobby and on each stairwell landing. I’ve lived in a few of these buildings, and I often wonder if the patterns are symbols of some kind. Probably not; perhaps the builders simply wanted to give these solid, no-nonsense structures a small, ornamental touch.


A tenement lobby on Bank Street, above, and a 5th-floor landing on 13th Street. What do these similar-yet-slightly-different patterns mean?


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2 Responses to “New York’s distinctive tenement tiles”

  1. kay Says:

    maybe the greek key design relates to greek revival?

  2. anne raso Says:

    What is the exact address of the Bank Street tenement? Thanks for answering.

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