Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Most stables in Washington had some capacity to house carriages in addition to horses. This explains the width of the entrances of many of these small buildings along with the bollards that were installed to protect the walls as the carriages came and went. They were generally called “stables” at the time. However, the term “coach house” while originally reserved more regal properties, is now widely used to describe these little stables as they became adaptively reused as residences.
“A small building usually near a large residence or part of an estate, used for keeping coaches, carriages, or other vehicles; - also called coach house. It is now (1998) obsolescent and its function has been taken over by the garage, which is usually attached to a residence or main building. Carriage houses are still found on older estates, though not usually used for their original purpose.”
(Photo from Urban Turf)
This building is a very typical 1900’s D.C. stable located in a Capitol Hill alley. Note the six ground floor, horse head height windows on the side (each small window would have lit a horse stall). Almost all of the D.C. stables were two stories with the second floor being used to store hay and feed. In some, stable hands lived on the second floor. You can see what was most likely the original hayloft door on the upper right hand side of the building just behind the flag. A beam would have originally been just above this door.
Washington D.C. witnessed a building boom and population growth in the 1880’s that is reflected in a graph documenting the number of stables built between 1873 and 1922. The beginning of the last century marked the end of stable construction.
In contrast, garage building experienced a small and short-lived boom when significant numbers of cars came into D.C. after 1900. Many of the original alley stables were converted to private garages as horse dependent transportation rapidly waned. These already existing buildings obviated the need to build new garages.
Stables such as this Capitol Hill stable, very rarely to come onto the market. It is listed through Century 21 at $674,900 for 1472 square feet of space, which works out to roughly $458 per square foot. Many condos in the city are selling for much more per square foot and come with monthly HOA costs. Living in an old stable can be very peaceful. One is away from the main road and entirely self-contained. It’s not for everyone, but for many, it’s a priceless experience.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
The Alley. A backstreet History of New York’s Communities (revisiting an article by Theodore Corbett)
New York City’s alleys were created as amenities for aristocratic and bourgeois residents. In the twentieth century, alleys survived the age of the automobile and the decline of central cities; they have been gentrified and protected for their contributions to the quality of life in our cities. Now they are waiting to be studied as microcosms of vernacular architecture and social history.
(A carriage house entrance on North Row, Washington Square, New York City, still has its old doorway, built to accommodate a horse-drawn wagon or carriage. This alley, modeled on the mews of London, served wealthy residents of the city.) Photo by Theodore Corbett.
In the nineteenth century, the rise of carriage traffic in New York State made it necessary to keep animals in cities and villages, causing the creation of urban alleys. Alleys were spaces where valuable animals could be kept in barns or, as the century wore on, decorative and substantial carriage houses. Alleys were thus constructed as amenities, places that improved the value of a property, and a convenience to the household they served. Yet paradoxically, alleys were hidden behind the main house, not to be seen by respectable people—for the owners preferred to display their carriages and themselves formally, traveling on the most fashionable main streets.
After the Civil War, the alleys’ original function as an amenity declined, as they became populated by working class residents. Often, alleys were sites for both low-income housing and commercial development, because the housing was cheaper than on the main street and the space was ideal for small-scale enterprise. Such neighborhoods were the forerunner of the urban ghetto. Only in the twentieth century, with the gentrification of alley structures by returning professionals, did the alley reacquire the prestige it had originally held, sometimes to the extent of forcing out both the working class and commercial establishments.
Because alleys were back streets, the sources for their study are scarce and require the application of interdisciplinary techniques. My approach treats planned alleys as built and social landscapes to be investigated as vernacular architecture, and then viewed as service, residential, or commercial space that attracted the working class.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Last week the newly elected mayor of New York City announced his intention to eradicate horse drawn carriages from NYC and replace them with electric reproduction antique vehicles. As with most things, there are two opposing factions in the debate. A major argument supporting the mayor hinges on the principles of animal abuse and neglect as articulated by groups in favor of banning horse drawn carriages. There have also been news reports of animal neglect and illnesses as a result of their management in the stables and their daily use. The argument in favor of continuing the use of horse drawn carriages in NYC hinges on the idea that this is a romantic iconic tradition in New York.
If the horse drawn carriage trade disappears, so will the need for stables in NYC. Today there are very few working stables in NYC. Some small original stables have been converted to homes in little enclaves such as Sniffen Court. Large elegant stables, such as the historic Dakota Stables, were razed under protest to make way for new and lucrative projects on pricey real estate.
This story will evolve over coming months. The final outcome of this conflict is uncertain. Given the various forces in play, however, one senses that the era of horse drawn carriage rides "once around the park" will disappear forever from New York City. Perhaps there are cities elsewhere in the world where horses are treated humanely and this popular experience continues in a humane manner. Perhaps there are applicable lessons for NYC. Maybe the city will end up settling for Disneyland-like electric car rides. We'll see.