by Zachary J. Violette
To read period observers, the tenement landscape of major American cities at the turn of the twentieth century was one of unbroken want, poverty, dirt, despair and decay. Ramshackle buildings—some old and formerly dignified, others little more than hastily built barracks—were sites of desperate struggles by the thousands of recent immigrants who passed through them—the ‘shadows’ amidst the ‘sunshine’ of the Gilded Age.1 Reform-minded citizens intervened, we are told, vanquishing the slums with parks, model tenements and strict building codes. But, when one actually tries to find the landscapes associated with this popular narrative, a different picture emerges. Previous scholars have pointed us to the reform tenements.2 The facades of these buildings are cold, dour and grim, appropriate to the material culture of the Progressive Protestant culture that built them (Figure 1a). But, instead of fitting in to a landscape of poverty, these buildings contrast with their surroundings. Most of the tenements in these neighborhoods are actually dignified, solid, and perhaps most surprising, elaborately ornamented (Figure 1b).
A little historical research reveals the vast majority of these ornamented tenements were not only occupied by, but also built by first- or second-generation immigrants. These buildings, I posit, represent a distinct and identifiable building type—what I call the ‘decorated tenement’.3 These buildings complicate our notion of the ‘slum’ as a site of unmitigated and continuing squalor, the tenement builder as only interested in quick profits,and decorative forms as available only to the Gilded Age elite.4 I believe that ornament is key to this reinterpretation. At the height of the anti-slum campaigns of the 1880s to the 1910s, immigrant builders and architects—many of whom were residents of the neighborhoods they were investing in—carried out a reform program of their own. They replaced the earlier landscape, poorly suited to the needs of urban tenancy, with large, purpose-built structures, profuse with industrially-produced ornament. These buildings, scorned when they were new, are an important cultural contact zone which confounds the usual class-based hierarchy in which elaborate decorative forms are associated with the wealthy and elite. As many of these buildings were built by the very people the reformers were trying to reform, they represent an important example of a more-or-less ‘bottom-up’ solution to a key urban problem of the nineteenth century. But the type of reform represented by the decorated tenements was not the kind of tightly-controlled paternalistic institution—glorifying bourgeois notions of home, family and private property—that Progressive reformers had in mind. Indeed, as their experiments in reform housing reflect, they quite insistently preached a ‘gospel’ of strict simplicity for the material culture of the working class.5 They were loathe to acknowledge the decorated tenement at all, and when they did they usually treated them as cheap shams little better than what they replaced. The decorated tenement, therefore, is a site of contested meaning, embodying questions of taste and propriety, workmanship and honesty, class, ethnicity, and control of the built environment.
Within each apartment in these buildings lived a new style of the working poor. Not just recent immigrants negotiating their assimilation into American culture, many of these residents were also arbiters of a new way of interacting with material culture—what Henry James dubbed the “New Style of Poverty.” The rough, the austere—and therefore distinct—material culture formerly associated with the poor and working class was replaced with items more elaborate and more fashionable, thanks to industrial production.6 The formerly stable association of stylish and elaborate material goods with the wealthy and elite was destabilized. It seemed that with mass production material goods might no longer be markers of class position, at least on the streets of the city. An anonymous, though clearly upper-class writer, commenting in the New York Tribune in 1898, saw little problem with this phenomenon:
If my lady wears a velvet gown, put together for her in an East Side sweatshop, may not the girl whose fingers fashioned it rejoice her soul by astonishing Grand Street with a copy of it next Sunday? My lady’s in velvet and the East Side girl’s in the cheapest [sic], but it’s the style that counts. In this land of equality, shall not one wear what the other wears? Shall not Fifth Avenue and Grand Street walk hand in hand?7
So, while the ‘other half’ down on Grand Street may not have lived like those on Fifth Avenue, in material terms the two places looked a lot more similar than they ever had previously. To many in these neighborhoods it was, indeed, the style that counted. While this phenomenon has been understood, to a certain extent, in terms of furniture, interior decoration and clothing, its manifestation in architecture is less well understood.8 In part this oversight is due to a lack of clarity in the class and ethnic position of those involved in the creation of the working-class landscape of American cities. It is a goal of this study, therefore, to situate the decorated tenement as the architectural manifestation of the ‘new style of poverty’.
This paper outlines some of the issues surrounding the decorated tenement. It represents a portion of the preliminary results of a project to document, regularize, and digitize the ornamental schemes, interior arrangement, construction histories and occupancy patterns of nearly 3000 surviving tenements in the North and West End of Boston and on the Lower East Side of New York as well as the examination and regularization of over 100 period trade catalogs of architectural ornament producers. Conceived in the spirit of digital humanities, the questions posed by this project relied on a scope of investigation with a scale of data that would have been difficult or impossible to answer without advanced digital tools. Central to the project was a web-based, interactive database application, custom built by the author, that allowed the various data points about those involved in the construction to be parsed and correlated with architectural data from field examinations, trade catalogs and other historical documents, allowing these questions to be answered with precision. Unless otherwise referenced, most facts and figures cited in this paper come out of analysis from this database.9
I use ‘tenement’ to describe any sort of multi-family building in working-class immigrant neighborhoods. This follows the period convention, which suggests that in New York the difference between a respectable flat and a tenement apartment was whether it was above or below Fourteenth Street. The buildings discussed in this study are single-lot masonry structures with one or two party walls—that is, filling most or all of its lot frontage. Standing from four to seven stories tall these flat-roofed structures contained between one and four apartment units per floor, and often storefronts in the basement or ground level. Typologically, then, these buildings are related to, but distinct from other common working-class housing types including the three-decker, the large wood-frame barracks tenement block common in mill cities, and the store-and-flats building on commercial streets in diverse types of settlements. Indeed, while the decorated tenement is not necessarily exclusive to Boston and New York, they are quite rare elsewhere and are definitely a product of the complex economies of metropolitan settlements on geographically constrained sites. In Boston and New York they are the most common working-class housing type in the center city. For purposes of clarity, this paper only discusses issues related to the construction and ornamentation of these buildings; describing the attitudes of the tenants and their occupancy patterns is largely outside the scope of this paper.
The Warehouse Tenement: Anglo-American Attitudes toward Tenement Ornament
Despite their relative ubiquity, the roots of the tenement are not particularly well understood. The first tenements, which appear in New York by the 1820s and Boston by the 1850s, were brutally austere. For instance, the seven-story building at 65 Mott Street in New York is often cited as one of the first purpose-built tenements in that city. It may date from as early as 1824 and may have been built by prominent realtor Samuel Weeks, who is associated with a number of earlier tenements (Figure 2a).10 With its unarticulated facade and flat lintels it is illustrative of the austerity of the earliest experiments in tenement construction in both cities.11 This mode of exterior simplicity is closely related to the contemporary utilitarian construction of the workshop and loft structures that were found throughout commercial streets of the same period. These buildings, almost certainly associated with Anglo-American investors, act as an important contrast to the later decorated tenement. Additionally, since buildings of this sort were constructed with little stylistic evolution as late as the 1910s in both cities, they represent the mainstream view of what a tenement should look like.
In keeping with this view, many important families assiduously avoided ornament in their tenement investments, while freely employing it on other types of buildings. This phenomenon is clearly demonstrated, for example, by a block of tenements built for the estate of A. B. Schumerhorn at 302-304 East Third Street in New York in 1885, through its agent, prominent realtor William C. Cruickshank.12 Twenty-five feet wide, each building only had tiny light wells; a year later buildings with this little light would be outlawed. These buildings cannot be confused with the philanthropic housing then becoming fashionable. Instead, these buildings were planned to meet the minimal standards of speculator-built tenements. Unlike most standard tenements, however, this block was designed by George B. Post, then a favored architect of the city’s elite. Post was well versed in architectural ornament, which he used in buildings of all types. Among other high-profile commissions, while planning the Schumerhorn tenement, Post was finishing the design of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s house on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, perhaps the most lavishly ornamented house in America at the time (Figure 2B).13
No ornament was left over from that project for East Third Street, however. In fact, Post’s facade is among the most austere of any of the tenements documented as part of this project. Each of the four windows on the facade was supported by a flat, limestone lintel, flush with the surface of the pressed brick wall. A flush, flat limestone belt course connected both the sills and lintels. The cornice was modest brick corbel work. This building, like most tenements built by elite families, was warehouse-like in its appearance.
Despite all of the dynamic changes experienced in architecture during the late nineteenth century, warehouse-like tenements continued to be built by Anglo-American investors throughout the period under investigation, although the bulk of them were built before 1886 in New York and before 1912 in Boston. They have a longer trajectory than any other ornament mode in this study. About 225 documented buildings in this study can be classified as warehouse tenements. That represents about 7 percent of the total number of buildings examined. They are far more common in Boston, where they represent about 10 percent of the total, whereas in New York they are just over one percent of those identified. Well over 50 percent of them, between the two cities, were built by Anglo-Americans or second-generation Irish developers, then well on their way to assimilation. As late as the turn of the century, even after the widespread availability of industrially-made ornament, tenements in both cities continued to be built in this mode. All of these buildings were built by people who had little more than a monetary investment in these communities. It should come as no surprise, then, that when tenement house reform became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, reformers, drawn from the same Anglo-American Protestant stock, argued that “What is to be said to the tenement population is to be said plainly … flourishes are not wanted any more than they can be afforded.”14
The Roots of the Decorated Tenement
We have to look to the speculative builders of more precarious social position, therefore, to find the emergence of the decorated tenement. They were the ones who, in New York in the 1860s, started employing stock ornament on their buildings.15 These buildings feature items such as molded brownstone or cast iron window supports and sills, and cast iron or sheet metal cornices—almost universally made up of acanthus leaf consoles and panels. No essential changes could be made to the form of the tenement, which was dictated by the economics of the speculatively built tenement and the constraints of the standard 25 x 100 foot lot. Additionally, these early decorated tenements are severely limited by the availability of decorative material.
The Orchard Street building now housing the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a good example of this type. Built in 1863 by a German immigrant, the building features brownstone molded window supports and an elaborate iron cornice made up of acanthus consoles.16 In the 280 similar pre-1880 tenements examined for this study there are only about a dozen different types of window support, and an equal number of cornice configurations. So, while these buildings can be fairly dignified and indeed quite ornamental in appearance, they do so by following a limited template. Little effort was made to break up the flat plane of the facade, belt course are rarely provided and window caps almost never varied from floor to floor. Nonetheless, these buildings represent an important step toward the full ornamentation of tenement facades that began to occur in the 1880s.
The Decorated Tenement and Its Design
After about 1885 in New York and about a decade later in Boston, tenement builders began to heavily elaborate their facades. Although they still concentrated on the cornice, window supports and door surround, they often tried to provide a complex silhouette through cornice lines broken by pediments and the addition of oriel windows, where allowed. Pilasters and belt courses broke the relentlessly flat facades of the earlier tenements. Window supports and other ornamental items were frequently varied by floor (Figures 3 a-b).
Indeed, these builders arrayed a dizzying variety of ornamental forms, sometimes well over 30 different items applied to a single building. Nearly two thousand different ornamental items have been cataloged between the two cities. These items were arrayed across facades in ways that were highly varied, richly sculptural, and as picturesque in outline as the program—still constrained by the lot size—would allow. It is quite typical in these buildings to employ highly symbolic forms. These include shields, crowns and eagles, but also Stars of David and a preponderance of human figural sculpture, including grotesques on keystones and caryatids on door surrounds (Figure 4).
All of these forms have traditionally been associated with power. In Boston, where metal-clad oriel windows were permitted to extend over the sidewalk, facades took on a broken, picturesque appearance. [Figure 3b] While such ornamentation was made substantially cheaper thanks to mass production, it was not exactly cheap. Period trade catalogs prove that the addition of such ornament represented a substantial investment in buildings that were built under extremely limited budgets for the city’s poorest residents.17
How, then, was the decorated tenement designed? More precisely, whose taste was represented in this ornament? The answer may lie in the cultural pretentions of the small number of architectural firms that specialized in tenement design. Since building codes in both cities required a full set of building plans be filed with a building permit application as early as the 1870s, an architect is listed for each of these buildings. Tenement house design was a specialized business and a small number of firms—all of them relatively unknown—designed the vast majority of tenements in each city. In Boston four firms designed 73% of the tenements studied, while in New York the field was a bit wider, with the top 10 firms responsible for only 54% of tenements. The common assumption, of both period observers and subsequent scholars, has been that these firms were simply designed by ‘plan mills’ which quickly, cheaply and formulaically put together blueprints that were acceptable to city building inspectors and could be easily executed with unskilled labor. Yet it is clear that these firms, particularly the New York firms, possessed their own aesthetic priorities. Each developed an individualized style that complicates the apparent similarity of these buildings when you examine them closely. In New York, for example, the work of the Herter Brothers, whose use of ornament was among the most profuse and creative, can be distinguished from the somewhat more staid work of Charles Rentz.18 Each firm’s output displays a fair amount of consistency in the amount and patterns of ornament used and the ways in which it was employed and can be seen evolving along with trends in popular architecture. These architects did not arbitrarily select material that was readily available in trade catalogs, but used stock architectural elements consciously and deliberately toward specific ends.
The decorated tenement remained a distinct building type in these neighborhoods until the first decades of the twentieth century. At that time stricter building codes, rising building costs, and easier rapid transportation sharply curtailed the amount of new construction in the dense center-city tenement neighborhoods. Some of the largest builders of the decorated tenement continued to build similar buildings—at times becoming indistinguishable from lower-middle-class flats—in the outer neighborhoods of both cities until shortly after the First World War.
Understanding Tenement House Ornament
Perhaps the biggest struggle in looking for clarity in understanding these buildings is trying to determine if the tenement developer was truly as bad as the reformers would have you believe he or she was.19 The supposed cupidity of these individuals was often said to be at the root of many of the central urban problems of this period—the high rent and overcrowding, as well as perceived threats to bourgeois morality posed by close quarters, shared halls and noisy air shafts. While reformers did not necessarily hide the fact that most tenement house developers were immigrants, the implication in much of their writing is that the tenement is an imposition on the neighborhood from wealthy individuals solely interested in profit.
The facts determined by this and other studies suggest a different reality. Over 80% of the decorated tenements in both cities were built by immigrants or—less commonly—by children of immigrants, particularly from Germany, Poland, Russia and Italy—almost always the dominant ethnic group on the block where the building site was located. The typical investor in such builders built just a single building in the neighborhood. The investment was steep, though not unattainable. Construction costs alone ran between $18,000 and $20,000 in New York and around $7000 for the generally smaller buildings in Boston. In both cities that works out to an average of roughly $2 per square foot, about the same figure, incidentally, as a laborer’s daily wages. Heavily leveraged, these projects were financed through an elaborate network of community institutions. They were typically built with casual labor drawn from within the community. While it was claimed that the return on such projects could be great—25 percent was typical and 100 percent was not unheard of —real estate historian Jared Day and others have demonstrated that such profits were far from guaranteed, and builders were often bankrupted by fluctuations in the market, increases in material costs, or unexpected competition.20 Beyond these mundane business factors, however, it is significant to note that a large number of these builders lived within the neighborhood, and in fact the average distance between these builders’ homes and the site of their tenements is less than two miles. And maybe most tellingly, many of them made their own homes in tenements very similar to the ones they built.
Their tenants were often very much people like themselves. In one sense, most tenement residents had little leeway. As Jared Day points out, the traditions of property law and mainstream opinion placed the rights of property owners over those of tenants.21 But more immediately, the precarious nature of their work and their low wages meant they needed to be as close as possible to the employment opportunities of the central city. Plenty relied on the close networks of community support, and preferred the options for entertainment and shopping. Before effective mass transit became available in the early part of the twentieth century in both cities, few had the option of living outside the tenement neighborhoods. On the other hand, particularly during periods of robust construction activity, tenants could exercise a fair amount of choice, and frequently traded up for better apartments. As most tenancy was at will, many tenants moved frequently, in search of a better deal and better spaces. In order to quickly fill their buildings, speculators often offered below-market rent, months of free rent, or other bonuses as an inducement to new tenants. If the new landlord raised the rent, they could simply move to another speculator’s new building. But even at market rates newly-constructed buildings were frequently offered for rent at little more than the rent on apartments in the tumble-down buildings they were used to; the rationale to build new buildings was that they were larger, generating more revenue, and attracted a more stable class of tenants. For much of the period, before the building laws put a stop to this sort of speculation, these neighborhoods were indeed a renter’s market. And landlords knew even the best new building did not excite tenants for long; they figured on making as much of their money back as possible in the first few years before the building became less attractive. Tenements were said to depreciate at about three percent a year.22 That is why Peter Herter suggested that a landlord plan to make his money back in the first few years of ownership, before his tenants could be attracted away by newer buildings.23
If any sort of period interpretation of the appearance of ornament on these structures can be identified, it centers on the tenement builders’ supposed desire to use ornament as a mask to obscure the social approbation of owning such ‘wicked’ buildings.24 In 1901, for example, we find reformer Laurence Veiller fighting the “pride of the architect and the owner” who were reluctant to install fire escapes that would interfere with the ‘artistic’ quality of their buildings.25 Similarly in 1889 we find Jacob Riis reading malice in the facial expressions in the keystones of a Madison Street tenement he was watching being built—probably the building at 86, built by a first-generation German immigrant Albert Stake to the designs of Alexander Finkle (next to the building in Figure 3a):
Here, as we stroll along Madison Street, workmen are busy putting the finishing touches on the brown-stone front of a tall new tenement…They are carving satyrs’ heads in the stone, with a crowd of gaping youngsters looking on in admiring wonder. Next door are two other tenements, likewise with brown-stone fronts, fair to look at… Is it only in our fancy that the sardonic leer on the stone faces seems to list that way? Or is it an introspective grin? We will not ask if the new house belongs to the same builder. He too may have reformed.26
In this and similar passages, Riis insists that the elaborate facades of these tenements do not obscure the problematic living conditions found behind them. Indeed, this rhetoric appears repeatedly in the reformers’ literature. If the tenement builders were employing ornament to avoid the scrutiny of the reformers and building inspectors, they were failing. In fact, by ornamenting them so heavily, they were making their buildings more prominent and subject to greater scrutiny. Surely, this does not fully explain such lavish treatment. And it was not just the reformers who looked askance on ornament. The consensus in many commercial real estate publications seems to be against it as well. So, while Cecil C. Evers, vice-president of the Lawyers’ Mortgage Company of New York, acknowledged the role of ornament on many structures in his popular guidebook on real estate developing, he was insistent that tenement houses “should be devoid of all unnecessary cheap ornamentation” because it made such buildings look “shabby” and “objectionable.”27
In the end, the bleak reform tenement projects made up less than ten percent of the housing stock in either city at the turn of the century.28 The speculative Anglo investors’ similarly austere buildings, like those advocated by Evers and designed by Post, added only an additional seven percent. Despite their supposed adherence to principles of scientific efficiency in their construction and operation, many reform projects were economic failures. While their backers claimed to seek only a limited profit, usually six to eight percent, they typically refused to accept anything less than market rents, and competed poorly with the speculatively-built decorated tenements that continued to dominate the market, much to their supporters’ chagrin.29
It is clear the tenants of the reform houses had a distaste for these buildings that was due, in no small measure, to the coercive and moralistic purposes for which they were built and the heavy-handed manner in which they were operated. In his study of the model tenements built by the Rothschild family in London, Jerry White notes that the writings of that project’s backers “exposed the ‘philanthropy’ which provided Rothschild Buildings for the self-interested duplicity it in fact was. Model dwellings were an enlightened means of making workers more productive, one way to create ‘a clean, orderly and contented proletariat’ as the Daily Telegraph, in an eloquently unguarded moment, put it.”30
This desire for order and cleanliness resulted in a series of buildings that embodied the Anglo-American ethos of frugality, austerity and propriety. Ornament was banished—or more likely never even considered—because it was deemed neither necessary nor proper for an ‘efficient and contented proletariat’. Such thinking did not necessarily lead to contentedness, of course. As some backers of model tenements found out the hard way, the desires of the tenement population could not be controlled simply by strong declarative statements and coercive moralizing. Jacob Riis noted a particularly telling example:
The owners of a block of model tenements uptown had got their tenants comfortably settled, and were indulging in high hopes of their redemption under proper management, when a contractor ran up a row of ‘skin’ tenements, shaky but fair to look at, with brown-stone trimmings and gewgaws. The result was to tempt a lot of the well-housed tenants away.31
Tenants showed little interest in being redeemed, less so if that redemption meant being subjected to the same manner of “proper” scientific management they were increasingly subjected to at work. In the course of their adaptation to American culture they bristled, consciously or not, at the notion that only austere forms were appropriate for people of their status. For better or worse, the tenants knew another path to redemption and assimilation, one which gave them greater control—expressing their modernity, fashionability and agency through the stylish clothes they wore, the elegant furniture and decoration they bought, and the palatial-looking buildings in which they lived. No matter what elite architects said, flourishes were not only wanted; they could now be afforded. “Shaky but fair to look at” usually won out against solid-but-oppressive in architecture as much as stylish-but-cheap usually won out against dowdy-but-practical in clothing. Despite their poverty, tenants had options, thanks in large measure to the same forces of industrialization that impelled their move to the city in the first place. The cities were full of entrepreneurs, many of whom were also recent immigrants and tenement dwellers themselves, who were ready to fulfill their tenants’ desires without trying to redeem their souls, landlords who were willing to stay out of tenants’ affairs so long as the rent was paid.
For them, all those ‘brownstone trimmings and gewgaws’ were indicative of a desire for variety, domesticity and some sort of fashionability and cultural equality. These builders used the architectural ornament newly available to them to give their buildings a sense of propriety, stability, playfulness, and even luxuriousness. They built what must have looked a bit like palaces to poor, formerly rural people, even if the realities of the urban real estate market meant that accommodations did not achieve the level of comfort and convenience that many residents would have preferred, nor the individuality that the reformers desired for them. The builders of the decorated tenement appropriated symbols that had historically been associated with wealth and power, symbols which earlier in the century had been recovered from historical sources by a cultural and intellectual elite, who pressed it into service to do specific social and cultural work. The builders’ use of these symbols on structures meant to house the poor and seemingly powerless, in a way, subverted their power. In this manner, the decorated tenement can be seen not only as a powerful symbol of the rejection of the persistent calls for frugality and austerity in the material culture of the poor and working class, but also as a form of resistance to the cultural and spatial ghettoization of these neighborhoods and their residents.
1. The frontispiece of Matthew Hale Smith’s 1868 Sunshine and Shadows in New York, featuring images of A.T. Stewart’s marble mansion on Fifth Avenue contrasted with the derelict buildings of the Five Points Mission, is frequently called upon to illustrate the disparity of material wealth in the late-nineteenth-century American city. Matthew Hale Smith, Sunshine and Shadows in New York (Hartford: JB Burr and Company, 1868).
2. Much has been written about the tenement reform movement. For the tenement house reform movement in Boston, see particularly David M. Culver, Tenement House Reform in Boston 1846-1898 (PhD Dissertation, Boston University, 1972). For a history of the related movement in New York, see Roy Lubove, The Progressives and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890-1917 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974); Andrew Dolkart, Biography of a Tenement House in New York City: An Architectural History (Santa Fe: The Center for American Places, 2006), Chapter 5; Richard Plunz, A History of Housing in New York City: Dwelling Type and Social Change in the American Metropolis. The Columbia History of Urban Life., edited by Kenneth T. Jackson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), Chapter 2; and Anthony Jackson, A Place Called Home: A History of Low-Cost Housing in Manhattan (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1976), Chapters 1-8. For the model housing movement see Amy E. Johnson, Model Housing for the Poor – Turn of the Century Tenement Reform and the Boston Cooperative Building Company (PhD Dissertation, University of Delaware, 2004); Cynthia Zaitzevsky, “Housing Boston’s Poor: The First Philanthropic Experiments,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol.42, No. 2 (May, 1983), 157-167; and David P. Handlin, The American Home: Architecture and Society (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1979), 252-263.
3. It is not my intention to draw too close a parallel to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown’s concept of the “decorated shed,” which they define as a building in which “systems of space and structure are directly at the service of program, and ornament is applied independently to them.” The decorated tenement is, by this definition, a decorated shed. See Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, Learning from Las Vegas, Revised Ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977), 87.
4. The work of social historian Alan Mayne is particularly helpful in deconstructing and destabilizing the notion of the ‘slum’ in the English-speaking world. See Alan Mayne, The Imagined Slum: Newspaper Representation in Three Cities, 1870-1914 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993). Mayne’s work follows on the observations of a number of important scholars of the American city in the 20th century, particularly Herbert Gans and Jane Jacobs, who both challenged the notion that vibrant, dense, working-class urban neighborhoods were necessarily slums. See Herbert Gans, The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans (New York: The Free Press, 1962) and Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), particularly Chapter 15. Many of the pervious scholars who have studied speculator-built housing focus almost exclusively on the business history aspect of their topic. See Jared N. Day, Urban Castles: Tenement Housing and Landlord Activism in New York City, 1890-1943 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) and Donna Rilling, Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
5. See for instance, Bertha H. Smith, “The Gospel of Simplicity as Applied to Tenement Homes,” The Craftsman 9 (1905): 84–95.
6. Henry James, Washington Square  (New York: Harper Brothers, 1901), 135. See also Andrew Heinze, Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption and the Search for American Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), part II and III.
7. “Keeping in Style,” New York Tribune (3 July 1898), as reprinted in Allon Shoener, ed. Portal to America: The Lower East Side 1870-1925 (New York, 1967). Also quoted in Elizabeth Ewan, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1985), 26.
8. Lizabeth Cohen, “Embellishing a Life of Labor: An Interpretation of Material Culture of American Working-Class Homes, 1885-1915” in Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture, edited by Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 261-280.
9. While this data is not yet publically available pending the completion of this project, a public version of this application will be made available for community use.
10. The source of this date is an 1879 reference in the Plumber and Sanitary Engineer. It has been used by James Ford, Slums and Housing, 868; Richard Plunz, A History of Housing in New York, 6; Robert A.M. Stern, New York 1880, 1083 and others to identify the date of the first New York tenement. Weeks’ association with this building is suggested by an 1856 article in the New York Times. See “Tenant Houses: Conclusion of the Investigation on Rotten Row and Soap-Fat Alley” (New York Daily Times, Mar 31, 1856), 1.
11. Above the seventh level of 65 Mott Street was a flat brick belt course and a brick corbel course emulating dentils, forming a cornice. Above each window was a blind panel with a brick dentil top. These elements, the building’s only decoration, are very much indicative of the Federal Style, and strongly suggest the 1824 date is accurate. These elements were removed in facade repairs shortly before the photograph in Figure 2 was taken, leaving a flat surface and no cornice.
12. Cruickshank, a prominent real estate dealer, and founder of the Real Estate Exchange, was also the executor of the William Astor estate. “Death of William Cruickshank,” New York Times (September 22, 1894). New York New Building Docket, 429-85.. “Buildings Projected”, Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide, Volume 35, Page 413.
13. Sarah Bradford Landau, George B. Post, Architect: Picturesque Designer and Determined Realist (New York: Monacelli Press, 1998), 40-42.
14. Grosvenor Atterbury, “The Phipps Model Tenement Houses,” Charities and the Commons 17 (1906), 57.
15. Very few such buildings appear in Boston, though a few buildings with elaborate corbel work and articulated window supports do appear by the 1870s.New York did not begin to require building permits until shortly after the Civil War. As a result, dating buildings built prior to this date can be time-consuming to do on the large scale required by this project and was not attempted.
16. See Dolkart, Biography of a Tenement, Chapter2.
17. While analysis of just how much of a builder’s budget was spent on such ornament is still ongoing—it requires laboriously matching ornament items appearing on standing tenements to items found in trade catalogs—preliminary calculations suggest the number could be as high as ten percent.
18. That is, the firm of Peter and Francis Herter, not to be confused with the much more famous interior decorators Gustave and Christian Herter, who were active in New York at roughly the same time.
19. A number of the permits for Boston tenements were issued in the name of women, including the Etta Lebowitch tenement in Figure 3b. It has been suggested that these women were simply straw purchasers for their husbands’ business, but this issue has not been fully investigated.
20. Day, Urban Castles, 34-35.
21. Day, Urban Castles, 29.
22. Cecil C. Evers, The Commercial Problem in Buildings: A Discussion of the Economic and Structural Essentials of Profitable Buildings, and the Basis for Valuation of Improved Real Estate (New York: The Record and Guide Co, 1914), 55.
23. Peter Herter, “How to Invest in Tenement Property” Real Estate Record and Builders Guide 65 (May 5, 1900), 764.
24. This interpretation has been perpetuated by a number of subsequent scholars, include Paul Groth, who, in his study of the purpose-built cheap boardinghouse—a related but distinct building type—called the polite facades of some of those buildings “schizophrenic” and a sign of the landlord’s desire to “ease embarrassing images” of the poverty within. Paul Groth, Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999), 165.
25. Lawrence Veiller and Hugh Bonner, Tenement House Fire Escapes in New York and Brooklyn Prepared for the Tenement House Commission of 1900 (New York: The Evening Post Job Printing House, 1900), 17.
26. Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), 42.
27. Evers, The Commercial Problem in Buildings, 175.
28. his figure, which seems high, has been taken from David Ward, Poverty, Ethnicity, and the American City, 1840-1925: Changing Conceptions of the Slum and the Ghetto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 67.
29. The remainder being consumed by higher management costs or reinvested into other philanthropic projects.
30. Jerry White, Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East Side Tenement Block 1887-1920 (London: Routledge and Kegan, 1980), 194.
31. Riis, How the other Half Lives, 274.