Turn of the Century Dumbbell Apartment
The purpose of the Dumbbell Apartment was actually well intentioned. On each floor, 4 apartments would provide families with ample living space that was meant to be clean and healthy. Notice that each room has a window - including those within the interior of the building alongside the air shaft. Looks like a pretty nice place to live, yes?
The problem was that owners of these tenements would subdivide each apartment into several. Potentially, each floor could have 16 apartments if an unscrupulous landlord decided to squeeze in as many families as possible. Rather than providing fresh air, the air shafts became repositories for garbage and human refuse, as well as the rats and other vermin that lived on what the tenants threw out. You can imagine the smell that must have emanated from these shafts, not to mention the kind of disease that could easily spread in these crowded tenements.
Thus what was intended to be a progressive advance in providing city dwellers with the potential of a middle class living style turned into hell holes for those who lived there.
For more information about living conditions in the city, go New York's LITTLE ITALY NEIGHBOR'S ASSOCIATION to learn about turn of the century tenements in Little Italy. You can also visit the LOWER EAST SIDE TENEMENT MUSEUM.
or ... GO BACK TO PAGE 2 OF LECTURE 6