Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments

Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments

Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments

Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments

Synopsis

Describes how the apartment building developed in the late nineteenth century and gradually achieved acceptance as middle-class housing in New York City.

Excerpt

The apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan provided rental homes to many young parents with small children when I first lived there in the mid-1960s. The fathers went to their paid jobs early each morning, while we mothers organized days of housekeeping, child care, and plans for the evening, when the breadwinners would return. Mothers met in the lobby in the morning to take kids to the park, ending up eating lunch together. Once or twice a week a play group met in someone's apartment, mothers taking their turns overseeing the kids one week in order to free a couple of afternoons the next week. Because there was never quite enough money, we organized a food co-op whose members all lived in the same apartment building. Every two weeks we took turns going to the wholesale markets, turning someone's apartment into a greengrocer's for the afternoon. Since going out in the evening required a baby- sitter, most evenings were spent at home, but the apartment house once again provided an expanded field. Friendships begun in the playground grew over the dinner table. Real evenings out could be managed by exchanging baby-sitting services. The apartment house served us young wives in countless essential ways: as a family home, a day-care center and play group, a mothers' network for services and information, a shopping co-op, and a social circle. With all the benefits of apartment life, why would anyone choose to live in a private house?

These virtues are not ones that architectural historians have usually identified as significant. But when I began to study the American apartment house as a specific building type with a particular architectural history, such qualities inexorably entered the picture. Indeed, the successful development of built-for-the- purpose apartment houses hinged on such issues as who the neighbors would be, how much privacy could be had under a roof sheltering many families, and what services could be gained by living with others. Thus my own experience of the 1960s and 1970s led me back to a century before that time to discover what . . .

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