and upper-level mechanics.”27 Some middle-class families adapted by moving into boarding houses, but living with other families in a subdivided former rowhouse conflicted with the era’s middle-class values, which stressed the “individual private house as the protector of family privacy, morality, and identity.”28 In the years following the Civil War, new types of multiple dwellings emerged to cater to those of greater means than the poor or working-class, who remained largely confined to the tenement or rooming house.
Among New York’s first apartment houses were two designed by Richard Morris Hunt: the Stuyvesant Apartments (1869-70, demolished) at 142 East 18th Street, and Stevens House (1870-72, demolished), on the south side of 27th Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Although the Panic of 1873 slowed the construction of flats buildings in New York, construction took off, with an improving economy, after 1876. (As opposed to tenements, in which residents shared toilets, both flats buildings and apartment houses had self-contained suites of rooms; the latter term generally referred to the more luxurious buildings, particularly those with elevators.) Between 1875 and 1879, approximately 700 new flats buildings were erected in New York; 516 were built in 1880 alone. By 1880, “the French flat, catering to the middle class, was a fixture of the city’s architecture.”29 Relatively few of these new buildings were architecturally distinguished; nevertheless, a “revolution in living,” as the New York Times deemed it in 1878, was occurring, and by the mid-1880s, more New Yorkers lived in multiple dwellings than in rowhouses. By the 1890s, the trend toward flat- and apartment-living was also catching on in the outer boroughs; several elegant apartment houses were built in the developing Crown Heights section of Brooklyn during that decade, and by the turn of the century, a number of middle-class flats buildings were also constructed there.
For those unable to afford a private home and willing to live outside of Manhattan, the two-family house presented an alternative to the rented flat. Two-family houses had taken root in newly developing areas of Brooklyn by 1895, with affordability accounting for much of the house type’s appeal. A typical 1898 advertisement for a two-family house of Brooklyn described the house as “self-supporting … rent of upper floors pays all expenses.”30 Indeed, the Brooklyn Eagle noted in 1900 that “ownership of a two-family house has been regarded as a policy of economy on the part of the owner, who pieced out his income by sharing possession with a second family.”31 As transportation improved, other areas in Brooklyn and Queens become feasible as commuter suburbs for the growing middle class.
27 Elizabeth Collins Cromley, Alone Together: A History of New York’s Early Apartments (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), 12, as cited in The Windermere Designation Report.
Alone Together, 3, as cited in The Windermere Designation Report.
29 Robert A.M. Stern, Thomas Mellins, and David Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1999), 539, as cited in The Windermere Designation Report.
30 “For Sale—Self Supporting House in Beautiful St. Mark’s Section” (Advertisement), Brooklyn Eagle (November 23, 1898), 8, as cited in Crown Heights North Historic District Designation Report.
31 “Suburban Development,” Brooklyn Eagle (January 7, 1900), 17, as cited in Crown Heights North Historic District Designation Report.