Saturday, May 16, 2009

Urban Housing & George F. Pelham

While trying to find an alternate resource to the incorrect dates that the Department of Buildings designates as the construction date of my apartment building, I found an interesting website from the Office of Metropolitan History that shows indeed that it was built in 1904, a date that makes so much more sense.

Two model tenement houses. 504... Digital ID: 465718. New York Public Library

A model tenement house. 224-22... Digital ID: 465717. New York Public Library

A more interesting note is the architect, George F. Pelham, who was one of the largest housing developers at the turn of the century. According to this website, he utilized something called the "dumbbell" design of tenements in a new way, which I thought so presciently referred to landlords, but in fact refers to the design where there is an airshaft so that apartment buildings comply with the 1879 housing code whereby every room has to have ventilation (ie a window).

George Pelham built a series of nine connected buildings on East 14th Street that was "an experiment in in large-scale housing development for immigrants." Many buildings in the city have a similar look to these Pelham buildings on East 14th Street, including mine.

What I like about the Pelham buildings that I have found, is that they include the level of architectural detail that contributed to New York's unique look. Even though he was building places for immigrants to live, he still included exterior artwork that is quickly disappearing. Every new building completed recently has zero detail on the outside, these soulless boxes with fake brick facades (that we know fall down pretty quickly) and no attention to any kind of style. They are as though designed by children.

Look at these photos of Pelham's 81 Irving Place.

Pelham was also a significant architect in Morningside Heights, (long with 2 other firms) another neighborhood with lovely buildings designed for the working classes. He also built Hudson View Gardens in Washington Heights, another development for the middle class that has retained its architectural integrity over the years.


EV Grieve said...

Excellent find, Jill. Thanks for sharing.

Bowery Boogie said...

This is really cool.