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Apartment Houses of the Metropolis
August 18, 2014 4:58 PM   Subscribe


 
OH GOD OH GOD I am writing something that takes place in a tenement building in Manhattan and THE LAYOUTS THE LAWS THE TRANSOMES THE LIGHT AND AIR REGULATIONS.

Fun fact. My first illustration and writing job was for a magazine located in a 3rd floor walk up shotgun apartment in the tenement building above the store of the owner.
posted by The Whelk at 5:01 PM on August 18 [6 favorites]


Some of these you could use as a new Clue game board. Hell, a few you could use as a Risk game board: I launch my armies from the second sitting room and attack your seventh westerly bedroom.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:04 PM on August 18 [16 favorites]


Of course I saw the rambling layout with the courtyards and round corner rooms and went " wait is that the Ansonia?" and lo it was.
posted by The Whelk at 5:13 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Also Park Ave apartments built around the same peroid still have these crazy, hallway-less layouts and they never get enough light or flow through. It's like always twilight despite the high ceilings.
posted by The Whelk at 5:15 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Also my place, pre-renovation, was another pre-war ( well pre second war) mutant apartment made from bits of other apartments so there where two bathrooms next to each other and two kitchens at opposite ends but only one bedroom that somehow opened via French doors into the largerish kitchen.
posted by The Whelk at 5:18 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Dear god, how many dining rooms and parlours does one apartment need?
posted by LN at 5:21 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Like I'm going to eat supper in the same room I had breakfast in 12 hours ago I mean c'mon.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:28 PM on August 18 [33 favorites]


One of my favourite parts of the Sunday NY Times magazine are the apartments ads with floorplans illustrated exactly like these.
posted by Keith Talent at 5:34 PM on August 18 [7 favorites]


Very cool, but the image sizes are super frustrating. I want to zoom in and see these in all their glory!
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 5:34 PM on August 18 [30 favorites]


Actually in traditional house layouts making sure you got e maximum light during each part of day was important so you'd breakfast in one room and eat dinner in another ( although calling it dinner would be misleading, if you could afford a larger house you probably had the biggest meal at four or five and a light snack at dinner.)

But pre industrial revolution, rooms where more modular overall. You'd move furniture from room to room or set chairs aside so your bedroom was also sometimes an office and bathroom. A whole house full of Rooms that are totally specific in use is an odd modern thing.
posted by The Whelk at 5:35 PM on August 18 [12 favorites]


Call of Cthulhu layouts, here we come. Surely one of these can be worked in a module called "The Sudden Reclusiveness of Robber Baron Greenfellow."
posted by adipocere at 5:36 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


11. The Cavendish

Taking the concept of the "vertical mansion" to a new height, as it were, the designers of the Cavendish allotted one entire floor to every room. The bathroom in one tenant's "suite" thus occupied the area of an entire city block. The space was filled with saunas, swimming pools, claw footed tubs, silk cabanas, hothouses, icehouses, fountains, toilets, bidets, fish ponds, wet bars, the first "lazy river" east of the Alleghenies, and a kennel. All were arrayed around the soaring porphyry staircase which mounted to the parlor-cum-library-cum-study-cum-drawing room-cum-billiards hall-cum-ball room-cum operating theater on the next floor.

The Cavendish was 12 stories tall and accommodated three tenants, each paying a princely rent of $1400, collected twice per annum.
posted by Iridic at 5:44 PM on August 18 [6 favorites]


HAD a certain comics project actually reached fruition it would have been about the INTENSE DRAMA surrounding the construction of Apartment buildings in Manhattan. People associated them with lodging hotels or tenements or DECADANT continental ideas ("imagine a baby in a flat! The idea is absurd." was my choice peroid quote.) So to get across the idea that apartments could be respectable houses for the well-off developed tried to make them as luxurious and hoity-toity as possible.
posted by The Whelk at 5:48 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Very cool, but the image sizes are super frustrating. I want to zoom in and see these in all their glory!

Hi! I work at this library, and my group is literally working this month on trying make the digital collections experience better.

We have zoom enabled on many (but sadly not all) of these on the newer version of our Digital Collections site -- for example, the 1908 and the 1910 items mentioned in this post.

Another tip: if you find one of the images on the old gallery site, click the link at the top of the page to try it on the newer beta site -- the zoom and overall experience should be better there for sure (but let me know if not).
posted by Hadroed at 5:51 PM on August 18 [47 favorites]


Also the brownstone townhouse was orginally for a single middle class family.

Of course people still built tenement apartment blocks, but to distinguish them from slums* and set themselves up as legit enterprises, lots of was spent on ornamentation, interior paintings, sandstone lions, etc. often the outside looked a lot better than the inside. You can still see these exteriors all over the Lower East Side.

*a real slum would be the muddy wooden shacks and goat farms on the west side or the basement barracks of lower manhattan.
posted by The Whelk at 5:52 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


I have cousins who have an apartment in the Langham. Their place is truly nuts, and with the exception of some modifications to the "servant's rooms" it's laid out exactly as it's represented in the floor plan here. Every year I eat Thanksgiving dinner there, and every year it is the highlight of my social calendar. Sitting in an overstuffed chair, sipping Calvados and looking out over Central Park is such a completely different experience of New York than the one I live every other day of the year... it's the goddammed best.
posted by saladin at 6:01 PM on August 18 [11 favorites]


$4500 in 1910 dollars is about $110,000 in 2014 dollars. I wonder what kind of apartment $110,000 a year would get you now.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:17 PM on August 18 [9 favorites]


Damn it, Evelyn - how many foyers does a woman need? WILL THERE EVER BE ENOUGH?
posted by angerbot at 6:26 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


44 West 77th Street

All of the other buildings, used to laugh and call him names, they never let poor 44 West 77th Street play in all their building games....
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:35 PM on August 18 [3 favorites]


$110,000 per year is ~$9,100 per month. For that rent you can get a 4 bedroom in a nice, modern condo in one of the new developments in downtown Manhattan, which I much prefer to the old pre-war buildings (spent some time living in one of those buildings.)

Here is a list of available rentals for between $9,000 and $10,000 per month.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I always wondered where Jeeves lived in Jeeves and Wooster. Wooster seemed to have a one-bedroom and the idea of Jeeves having his own bedroom in the same apartment seemed wrong somehow. Apparently he lived in the basement servants quarters?
posted by bleep at 7:41 PM on August 18


UM I LOVE THIS THIS BEST, I am hooked on floorplans, this is my favorite MetaFilter post ever.

This Chicago blog (Ultra Local Geography) covers the development of many Chicago apartment buildings and their floor plans over time, if you like this sort of thing. The author is primarily interested in the development of exteriors but posts lots and lots of floorplans, many of which are similar to these!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:59 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


HOW ABOUT ~200 more of these floorplans courtesy of columbia university

hint:useful for real estate research when the photos and floorplans of brokers suck!
posted by lalochezia at 8:06 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Those are all relatively basic, middle and upper middle class apartments of their era. Here are some higher end prewar apartment floor plans from relatively recent sales listings:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/6/17809606.gif
https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/46/70732646.gif
https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/33/3510333.gif
https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/24/42972824.gif
https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/97/38838097.gif
https://s3.amazonaws.com/img.streeteasy.com/nyc/image/34/2500634.jpg

Most of these ones are from a slightly later era, 1920s and early 1930s
posted by knoyers at 8:13 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]




To add a little more substance, The Dakota is where John Lennon lived and also where Rosemary's Baby was filmed - remember the creepy hidden room Mia Farrow found? Very Gothic to find hidden rooms.

(Some more notable residents.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:17 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Most of these buildings are in my neighborhood and still pretty posh -- the Apthorp is where Nora Ephron lived in a sprawling 5 bedroom apartment that was still rent-controlled (!!!) when she moved in. I wouldn't be surprised if both the Apthorp and the Ansonia still have some apartments that fit those floor plans. The Belnord is mostly families now, so I suspect it has been more carved up.

Also, Fish's Eddy floorplan dinnerware FTW (sadly no longer available at Fish's Eddy).
posted by Mchelly at 8:48 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I love how these all have libraries included in the apartments. I would love to live in a place like that.

Also YAY FLOORPLAN PORN.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:37 AM on August 19


This is a great post; thanks for making it. Am now busily examining a few of these in detail to add more context to Nero Wolfe novels in my head.
posted by seyirci at 3:02 AM on August 19


Hi! I work at this library, and my group is literally working this month on trying make the digital collections experience better.

We have zoom enabled on many (but sadly not all) of these on the newer version of our Digital Collections site -- for example, the 1908 and the 1910 items mentioned in this post.


Are your bosses locked in to that "use javascript to zoom rather than having a handy high-res .img file" stuff?
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:10 AM on August 19


Just responding to the article's premise, "...upper and middle class still lived in private stand-alone homes [...] developers began introducing the idea of "French flats" to monied Manhattanites."

These two layouts, The Ansonia (3) and The Apthorp (4), visually have the form of city street plans.
posted by xtian at 5:54 AM on August 19


Minor point, the Ansonia was a hotel for most of its life.
posted by The Whelk at 6:10 AM on August 19


| Very cool, but the image sizes are super frustrating. I want to zoom in and see these in all their glory!

Try this: http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-9e9a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

You'll have to hunt around for the rest, but it's a place to start.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 10:34 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Among the modern luxuries—like laundry facilities—that each apartment in the Wyoming came with was an "air vacuum dust-removing apparatus," which likely refers to a built-in predecessor to the handheld vacuum that cropped up for a short time in the very early 1900s.

Central vacuum cleaners have waxed and waned in popularity, but they're still around.
posted by Jahaza at 10:59 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


OH in case you're wondering why 44 West 77th street is facing "Manhattan Square" yet you've never heard of such a square, the land was given over to the Natural History Museum which slowly grew to take it over.

Fun fact, the groundbreaking for the Museum of Natural History took place when there where still shanty farmers on the land and the first plot of land was turned over by the mayor with a silver spade made by Tiffany.

It went missing immediately afterwards.
posted by The Whelk at 1:59 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


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