Showing posts with label Space Time and Architecture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space Time and Architecture. Show all posts

Friday, March 31, 2023

Me, Space Time and Architecture

 Me, Space Time and Architecture

No. 4 April 2023

The changes from Willow Ave. (Posts 1 and 2) were subtle relative to living in an apartment. However, the density and the mixed-use component on 1st street were impactful. Now at 8 or 9 years old apartment living was all I knew.  But that was also about to change.  The next cerebral environmental impact on the awareness of space would be an overnight stay with my grandparents.  They had a single-family house with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and their own bathroom with a tub all under one roof.  

But for now, let's focus on 1st street.  The employment situation had not changed.  My mother was working in the garment industry as a sewing machine operator. My father was still looking for any type of employment a person with a sixth-grade education could find.  With the Tootsie Roll factory and garment industry focusing on Puerto Rican and Black labor he found work as a clerk in a hardware store.  As the economy in the 50s flourished except in Hoboken a move from the Willow Ave tenements did not prove to be a "moving on up" moment for us as it was for the Jeffersons. 

Typical sewing factory in the 50s

I continued to attend public school.  I was not a very good student.  That became clear to me on 1st street when I was left back in the fourth grade.  I had been identified as a slow learner.  Many years later, my assistant told me I was dyslexic. It wasn't until then that I began to put the educational system in perspective.  

The seats in the back of the classroom were filled with slow learners.  Basically, they were all from low-income families with parents that had very little education themselves. That has changed dramatically today.  There are many programs to identify early learning challenges and programs to assist students on all levels.  I think perhaps the pendulum has swung too far.  Certainly, these programs are important but not to the detriment of those who have been blessed with the ability to learn quickly.  We need gifted individuals to be challenged not to have the learning experience be brought down to a mediocre level.  The educational system in the 50s created many challenges but the streets the architecture society and economics were as impactful as the school system. 

Public Schools in Hoboken 

In the 50s many low-income families found a way to supplement their household income.  Women found themselves working during World War II and even though the social norm was for women to be a homemaker in the 50s many stayed in the workforce after the war. In the 50s women were expected to identify primarily as wives and mothers. However, 29% of women 16 and over became part of the US workforce. That number increased to 36% in the 60s.  One of the impacts on space, time, and architecture would be latch-key children. 

With both parents working many children after school made their way home, with an apartment key safely pinned in their pocket, to an empty apartment. The options were to stay in the apartment or head to the streets, meet friends, and play until the street lights came on.  This meant finding kids in the same social-economical situation as you and finding common interests that keep you busy until dinner time.

On 1st street that meant stickball, building, and riding scooters, or going around the corner to the slaughterhouse and riding the hooks that swung the animal carcasses in the slaughterhouse from the loading docks

Stickball required a cut-off broom handle a rubber ball typically a spaldeen, pensy pinky.  The pitcher's mound was a street cover and bases were either car doors or telephone pools. The only foul play came as cars drove through the playing field and we had to wait for the car to clear the field to resume play.  The rules were the same as baseball but the innings stopped when the street lights came on.  Parents' only instruction before going off to work is,  "be home when the street lights come on." 

The 50s stickball game 

Celebrating a home run

Scooters are the for-runners of skateboards. Construction materials came from the streets and an old birthday gift, roller skates.  One needed a 3-foot piece of 2x4, a vegetable box from the store on the corner, and an old pair of roller skates.  The rest was up to the imagination of the builder. On 1st street, scooters were used to roll down the sidewalks and streets.  The vegetable and fruit vendors were always on the lookout for the scooters rolling by grabbing Chinese apples (pomegranates,) bananas, or whatever could be reached from the scooter and thrown in the scooter box allowing a fast escape.  

Typical scooter squid in the 50s
Butting the last touches on a scooter

Sidewalk street vendors 

Vendor on the lookout for scooters

Slaughterhouse ride.  On 1st street, only a block away was a slaughterhouse where full carcasses of beef were brought in processed and packaged for local grocery markets. On the loading dock was a circulating rack that extended out passed the dock.  This allowed the trucks to back up to the racks and unload.  It also allowed kids to use the racks as a ride when the plant was closed. One would hang from the rack as someone pushed you out past the dock like you were a side of beef. So we would roll up on scooters and kill some time on the slaughterhouse ride.   

The slaughterhouse ride

One social event in the 50s was spending time with friends and going to the movies.  Usually, someone would have enough for a ticket or if we pooled our funds there would be enough for one ticket.  Whoever bought the ticket was charged with getting a seat and when the lights were turned down they would go to the exit and open the door for those of us waiting outside to snick in for a Saturday matinee. The screen brought magical places and amazing adventures, with very few special effects, to life.  We watched the Rocket Man fly through the air with rocket packs on his back.  Flash Gordon always beat the Emperor of Mongo, Ming, by the end of the show. 

It all started here at the Fabian theater 

Flash Gordon and Ming

Commando Cody Rocket Man

Costumes were primitive

Costumes and sets were basic  

This was life on 1st street in Hoboken, NJ.  The 50s was the beginning of the drug abuse generation that fueled the 60s.  It was also a time when the suburbs became the place to live.  Cars became available to almost all socio-economic groups.  Parents wanted to flee the cities to give their children a better life.  I learned about the suburbs when visiting my grandparents.  They had moved out of Hoboken to Bergenfield a suburb in New Jersey. In Bergenfield, the concept of home changed from an apartment to a single-family house. 

My next post will deal with the space and architectural change from apartment living to a single-family home and leaving the city. 

This blog is written by a dyslexic writer with no editor.  I think the inaccuracies are part of the story. 


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Me, Space, Time, and Architecture

Me, Space, Time, and Architecture 

No. 3 March 2023

"Moving on up," was the sitcom theme for the Jeffersons during the 70s and 80s. Well moving to 1st street in Hoboken in the 50s was supposed to be our moving-on-up moment. The Architecture on 1st street changed from mid-rise tenements to two and three-story structures. I see these buildings as the earliest forms of mixed-use architecture. The buildings had commercial on the first floors and apartments on the second and third floors. 

One could buy fruit and vegetables on the street below your apartment, there were also clothing stores, and candy shops on the street below the apartments. There was no need for "Vegetable Man" and his horse-drawn wagon on 1st street.  The photos below show the typical streetscape that one would find on 1st street.    

Typical 3-story retail/apartment building on 1st street

Retail on the first floor 

Densities changed dramatically on 1st street.  A single building on Willow Avenue would have 20 families per building and each complex contained 4 buildings some blocks of tenements would have between 600 to 1000 people on a block. On 1st street, the density dropped to 25% of that on Willow Ave. There were fewer people, but the streets were active with shoppers from other neighborhoods as well as the apartments above.  

Our apartment on 1st street was still very similar to the Willow Ave. apartment.  A central hall with common stairs led to the second and third floors.  Each floor had a common toilet.  One entered directly into the kitchen adjacent to the kitchen was an open alcove.  The alcove was only separated from the kitchen by a lighted window wall of small glass pains. It was completely open to the hall that runs from the kitchen to the living room. this was my bedroom. The framed glass divider may have been a way to provide the required light to the alcove and the absence of a wall would provide the ventilation required by the code.  There was a window in the kitchen that opened to a courtyard with access from the retail space below.  The living room had two double-hung windows that opened to the street below.  The impact this apartment would have on a tenant's use would not change much from the tenements of Willow Ave. The major improvement between Willow Ave. and 1st street would be the density and convenience of shopping.

Floor plan of 1st street apartment

Today's mixed-use apartment retail 

My next post will cover the social and economic impacts on 1st Street.  We will look at work, play, education, and the decision to leave the city. 

This blog is written by a dyslexic writer with no editor.  I think the inaccuracies are part of the story.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Me, Space, Time, and Architecture

 New Idea for Posts

(Me, Space, Time, and Architecture)

Given my age, I suppose it is natural to look back more than forward. Forward seems to have a shorter shelf life.  I should tell you I am nearing the octogenarian stage of life. 

With my career choice and education in architecture, I moved quickly into construction and development.  Construction projects required an early morning alarm. Usually 5am. Now in retirement early to bed and early to rise means bed around 8pm and getting up around 4 or 5am. This allows me to tell people I get up at the same time now as when I worked.  There is a lot less stress in those early hours. I no longer worry if cocreate trucks are going to show up. Finding that first cup of coffee at 4am while waiting for the sun to rise leaves plenty of time to think and reflect on life. 

Therein lies the impetus to reenergize this blog.  Over a 4am coffee, I began to think of books I had read as an architectural student.  Out of nowhere which is how the brain works at my age came Space, Time, and Architecture by Sigfried Giedion. Ah! I said I can write a book defining life in terms of architecture.  I thought I could define the socio-economic and political impacts on architecture and the effects the built environment has on its occupants.  

I have always been interested in technology.  Given my age, it may be hard to believe but I began my research on google, not at the public library.  I wanted to start in the 1940s, I was born in 1944.  I also wanted to start with the architecture of my childhood. So my first search was a history of Hoboken, NJ, and the development of the tenement apartment.  I found Hoboken's history has been very well documented and presented in a book published by the Hoboken Historical Museum.  The following information is paraphrased from that book. "Since 1932 the city has made notable strides in the manufacturing field. In the 1940 census, there were twenty schools with an enrollment of 12,322. One college (Stevens Institute of Technology). Twenty-six churches. One free public library. One hospital. The population was 49,833."  

page 20 Hoboken Historical Museum "Industrial progress makes forward strides"

Housing that population would fall to the hands of the architects, builders, and landlords who would replace shanty towns with multifamily housing in the form of tenements. The typical tenement apartment developed in Hoboken was called a Dumbbell Plan.  I have shown examples of the plan and some photos of those tenements below.  Today many of those structures that survived demolition have found new life as expensive apartments and condominiums.   

This was the plan we lived in on Willow Ave. in the late 40s and early 50s

The above floor plan is an example of the home where I formed my first memories.

There were no bathrooms in the apartment the toilets were shared by the tenants on each floor. On the first floor, you came in the front door and entered a long hallway usually dimly lit that lead to a central stairway (tenements also known as walkups) our apartment was on the fourth floor.  Creaky stairwells poorly lit left a lasting impression on me.  When you reached your floor you walked down the hallway to enter your apartment directly into the kitchen.  You walked through the first bedroom my room to my parent's room.  Each room had a small window that opened to the courtyard which formed the signature feature of the dumbbell plan. One could almost reach out the kitchen window and touch the neighbor across the courtyard.  Clothing lines were pulled between kitchen windows across the courtyard and conversations flowed between kitchen windows as clothes were hand washed and hung to dry.  

I lived in this Washington Ave. tenement when I was born in 1944

Washington Street has been preserved in a historic district

Willow Ave also preserved became my home of first memories
I had no concept or understanding that anyone lived in anything other than an apartment.  We bathed at the kitchen sink.  A trip to the toilet may require patience depending on whether the neighbor had gotten there first.  The toilet room was in the hallway on the wall above the toilet was a wooden water reservoir hanging from the reservoir was a small linked chain with a porcelain handle to flush the toilet. Strange how these little details remain so visible in my mind. 

Entering the kitchen directly from the hallway was normal.  The kitchen had a gas stove, sink, and was furnished with a Formica and aluminum table and chairs.  The kitchen opened directly into the living room. My early memory of the living room was the flowered wallpaper a large cushioned chair and a sofa both covered with a floral print.  The only other furniture in the living room was a wood-standing radio.  The outside wall of the living room revealed a pair of double-hung windows that opened onto a firescape that hung from the building façade. The façade of Willow Ave. above has not changed from that of my childhood with one exception the wood windows have been replaced with metal framed windows. 

This is the first of a series of  Me, Space, Time, and Architecture posts.  I hope you enjoy the journey.