innovative floor plan.41 The “Mathews Model Flats” were built on larger lots, 27.5 feet wide, allowing two apartments on each floor, each with its own full bathroom, with shared light shafts providing windows in each room. (Figure 2) The layout was “first planned and constructed”42 by the Mathews Company, and the buildings quickly became widely known in Queens, with other developers’ copies later described as the “Mathews Model Flats” type. The exterior details, however, remain largely similar to the earlier buildings constructed in the area, with light-colored brick facades, arched brick and carved or rough-faced stone lintels, and galvanized iron cornices.
Most of the three-story plus basement buildings in the district have six separate residential apartments, except for those that face Forest, Grandview and Fairview Avenues, which have commercial spaces at the ground floor. The basic plan features five rooms – living room, dining room, bedroom, sitting room, and kitchen – plus a bathroom per apartment,43 all of which have access to light and air from central light shafts, as required by the 1901 Tenement House Law. The “cold water flats” had running water to all floors and a full bathroom – toilet, sink and tub, but no hot water or central heating system. Instead, a coal stove in the kitchen and a kerosene heater in the living room were used to heat each apartment.44 Although steam heat was common in most apartment and rowhouse buildings at the time, it was not uncommon for tenement buildings to lack a central heating system. With a private bathroom in each apartment, the Mathews flats buildings were a clear upgrade from a tenement, but lacked the extra amenities that distinguished them from more expensive apartment buildings.
The G. X. Mathews Company created a niche in the real estate market. They built flats that were desirable places to live, with improved living quarters over standard tenement buildings, while providing affordable home-ownership through multi-family occupancy and large-scale development. Using the economic advantages of the multi-family dwelling, Mathews Model Flats generated more income than a two-family rowhouse but were not as initially cost prohibitive as a larger flats or apartment building, and were easier to manage by owner- occupants. By building on a large scale, Mathews was able to keep costs down while still creating comfortable, low-rent apartments; and the company met with immediate success. The G.X. Mathews Company built and sold over 300 tenements in Ridgewood between 1909 and 1912, including most of the buildings in the Ridgewood North Historic District.
41 Earlier known examples of the Mathews flats include 612 to 616 Seneca Avenue, constructed by the Mathews Realty and Construction Company in 1906. (New York City Department of Buildings, Borough of Queens, NB 267-06).
“Building of the Home as a Matter of Economy,” Ridgewood Times (April 19, 1913)
43 Although certified by the New York City Tenement House Department, the “flats” designed by Mathews are distinguished from tenement buildings by their separate bathrooms – in tenement buildings, multiple families may share the same facilities. At the time of their construction, the word “tenement” was used to describe multi-dwellings, not necessarily with the negative connotation that the word has today. The plans of the corner buildings were modified due to the elimination of the second light shaft – adding a second bedroom instead of sitting room. Two buildings in the district, 2040 Palmetto Street and 2031 Woodbine Street, were constructed on narrower lots and, therefore, feature a different plan. (Figure 3) Other plan modifications are found along Forest Avenue, where the angled street grid created non- rectilinear lots. (Figure 4)
44 “Our Neighborhood the Way it Was” (October 2, 2008). According to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum website, few tenements had central heating systems as late at the 1930s, when Department of Buildings’ permits indicate that oil heating systems were installed in many of the buildings in the Ridgewood North Historic District. (“How the Building Changed,” available on-line (July 17, 2009) at: http://tenement.org/research.html).