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"Classic 6:" New York City Apartment Building Living, 1880s-1910s

More than 1,300 digital images depict elevation views and floor plans for middle and upper class apartment buildings from New York City's pre-World War I residential building boom.

Collection Contents  |  Related Subjects

Typical floor plan of the Hendrik Hudson Apartments. Digital ID: 417142 Typical floor plan of the Hendrik Hudson Apartments. Digital ID: 417142

Collection History

The group of materials presented here includes albums produced between 1908 and 1913 by developers and the real estate industry to entice potential middle and upper class tenants to New York City’s “principal high class apartment houses,” declares one volume’s subtitle. Each featured apartment house is briefly described, and illustrated with an exterior photograph and one or more floor plans. Among the Milstein Library Division’s most heavily consulted New York City real estate resources, these albums are supplemented in this digital presentation by trade catalogues for contemporary plumbing fixtures that may have been part of the modern and luxury appointments in these apartments.

Background

Until shortly after the Civil War the well to do in New York City lived in private houses, and only the working class and the poor lived in multiple dwellings. By 1870 “French flats” had been introduced as a new concept in middle class living. They were distinguished from the tenement houses of the lower classes by amenities such as parlors, separate dining rooms, a small servant’s room, and indoor plumbing. For further contrast, they also bore names adopted from French, English, and American cultural and historical sources. The apartment concept proved to be attractive and by 1900 half of the middle class were living in multiple dwelling units.

Several factors facilitated the move towards apartment living. Changes in the law in 1901 allowed buildings to rise to heights twice the width of the street, resulting in buildings of ten to twelve stories (especially along broad avenues). Also pivotal was the development of mass transit up Manhattan’s west side when the IRT Broadway line subway opened in 1904. The Upper West Side experienced a boom in the erection of heavily ornamented grand apartment buildings in various architectural styles, but most notably Beaux-Arts. These new buildings offered apartments of nine to twelve rooms and many duplexes. The chambers were large, with high ceilings and lavish interior details, as well as well-appointed bathrooms and kitchens, and ample closets. Apartment buildings provided luxuries and conveniences not possible in most private dwellings. By 1929 almost all upper and middle class residents in Manhattan were living in apartments.

Related Resources

Alpern, Andrew. Apartments for the Affluent : a Historical Survey of Buildings in New York. [1975]

_____ . Historic Manhattan Apartment Houses. (1995)

_____ . Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: an Illustrated History. (c1992)

Cromley, Elizabeth C. Alone Together: a History of New York's Early Apartments. (1990)

Douglas Elliman (Firm). The Douglas Elliman Locator: Plans of the Principal Apartment Houses East and South of Central Park. [c1923] 2v.

Hawes, Elizabeth. New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930). (1993)

Norton, Thomas E. and Jerry E. Patterson. Living It Up: a Guide to the Named Apartment Houses of New York. (1984)

-- Ruth A. Carr, 7/15/04; Updated 1/3/05

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.