65 Mott Street
Location: 65 Mott Street
This tumblr has an in-built bias against the architecture of the poor. It’s easy to cover the buildings of the rich: there’s a lot of information about them. They were designed to be noticed and remembered. The buildings of the poor have evaded such historicizing, at least until relatively recently. Just like their inhabitants, they were treated as too lacking in distinction for comment. Also: they burned down to the fucking ground a lot of the time. Or got demolished.
This one, though. It stood out. In a city where two-three stories was the norm, this was seven. It was brick where most of its neighbors were wooden and incapable of keeping out the elements. And according to Tyler Anbinder, this was the city’s first tenement designed as such. It never gained the reputation for filth and licentiousness as the Old Brewery (1797) did, with Herbert Ashbury claiming it was the site of one murder per night for fifteen years, and that when it was torn down, workman carried out bags of human bones.
Anbinder scoffs at such colorful stories. But he notes that 65 Mott, with its seven stories and another five-story tenement in the back, meant there were “at least thirty-four and probably thirty-six two room apartments onto this 2,450-square-foot property.” Taking into account that the average two-room apartment in the neighborhood held five — with 46% holding six or more, and one-sixth holding eight or more — 65 Mott, at the height of its depravity, may have housed at least 180 people. “Even at the end of the nineteenth century, no other landlord had the nerve to squeeze so many families into so small a space.” To add to the grotesquerie was the darkness: as with most tenements, many interior rooms, especially stairwells, had no windows, and thus could be completely dark even in the daytime. And the less said about sanitation, the better. The subject makes me feel squirmy all over.