Posts Tagged ‘dumbbell tenement’

What life was like in a rundown city tenement

April 12, 2011

If you were a poor city resident in the late 19th century, you may have called an old-law tenement home.

These were dumbbell-shaped buildings with four apartments to each floor, three rooms in each, one after the other.

As you can see here, your living quarters probably were probably dark and dank.

That’s because before 1901, tenements were only required to have one window per apartment or a tiny air shaft for ventilation.

The kitchen may have looked like this. It came equipped with a bathtub and stove. A spigot for water may have been in the hall.

As for toilet facilities, they were communal. You either went in the hall or in an outhouse between tenements (as seen below), or on the roof.

Tenement life improved somewhat after 1901, when new-law tenements were mandated by the city: These were required to have bathroom facilities and running water in each apartment, and a window in every room.

A major improvement, but not for the thousands of people still stuck in hot, stinky, firetrap old-law units.

[All photos courtesy of the NYPL digital collection]

Mystery messages on tenement buildings

September 10, 2010

New York City’s ubiquitous six-story walkups often¬†have what I think of as mystery monikers: a name, initials, or word carved into the facade.¬†

But what’s the story behind them? Like these four letters above, strangely placed at the upper right of a Hell’s Kitchen tenement.

ELSW, shorthand for the name of the builder? Or a term whose meaning has been lost to the ages?

“Progress” proclaims the entrance to this walkup in Astoria. Compared to the kind of housing people lived in before this type of dumbbell tenement hit the scene, it definitely qualifies.

Women’s first names are all over city residences, like this one on St. Mark’s Place. Who was Juliette, the builder’s daughter? Or a lost love?