Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Houghton Apartment Flats, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [The Houghton Apartment Flats, Chicago (1888) Cyrus P. Thomas, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In June, 1888 notice was given that architect C.P. Thomas had a work in progress on Dearborn avenue for A.I. Marble at a cost of $45,000. The Houghton Apartment Flats would offer modern, high-class, 9-room apartments with large sunny rooms, steam heat, hot water, gas range, and hardwood floors throughout.

  [The Houghton Apartment Flats, Chicago, 1510-12 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Houghton was known as a "French flat" building. The word apartment was first used to describe a group of rooms inside a grand house or palace in England and France back in the 1700s. In mid-19th century London, when large blocks of middle class housing were being built to provide tenants with a private living space comprised of a group of rooms on one floor of a multi-unit building, they were called flats. By the 1870s however a new term entered popular vocabulary in the United States when architects and their clients began constructing apartment buildings known as "French flats." Thomas even spent the summer of 1875 in Paris to get a firsthand look at the "French" design. As the Chicago Tribune reported on April 7, 1872: "The 'French Flat' system has been tried, and become very popular in New York and Boston and many people will be glad to know that there is some progress of its being introduced into this city. There are plenty of the best families in Chicago who would be very glad of an opportunity to consult their own comfort and set a good example to their fellow citizens by living in apartment houses."

  [The Houghton Apartment Flats, Chicago, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

"French flat" had a nice ring to it and would market well as real estate developers were trying to convince upper and middle class residents that apartment living could be considered a refined living. In the middle of the 19th century many people of means associated multi-family living with the poor, piled up on one another in deplorable multi-storied tenement buildings. So providing large, roomy accommodations in a building with with a Parisian flair might help convince a reluctant clientele to take a leap of faith and move into a multi-family dwelling without the social stigma associated with those on the lower rung of the economic ladder.
As the city packed its streetscape with thousands of apartment buildings between 1880 and 1920, the word French was dropped and a combo of words "two-flat," "three-flat," even "six-flat" became ubiquitous Chicagoese. Almost every apartment building in the city became known by the number of "flats" it contained. Rental apartments were listed as - Flats to Rent - and were still being advertised that way into the 1930s when listings began to be categorized by area and then by how many bedrooms were available. But there is still a generation of Chicagoans who will say, "Oh you mean the two-flat down the street," generating a look of confusion on the face of the uninitiated.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.