A perfect example of how handsome some of the old three-storey walk-ups could be. In Chicago the first floor is always up some stairs, the ground level typically being dedicated to a lobby and basement facilities for laundry and locker rooms.
The bowed windows were great for light, considering the time of these buildings’ construction, which in many cases was during the first two decades of the 20th century.
All services such as garbage collection were at the back, each block being intersected by alleys, a clever planning concept still not common today: here phone poles, garbage trucks, and (up to the early 1950s, before conversion to oil) coal trucks all ran. The alleys were also great places for boys to explore and climb the roofs of the garages which typically lined them.
The streets in front of such buildings were typically lined with gorgeous elm trees, which softened the streets appearance, shaded from the sun, and provided a partial screen to windows of apartments across the street.
Front outside doors of these buildings and the inside doors, which secured the access to the building from the lobby, were hardwood frames with bevelled glass (sometimes, stained glass) and brass handles. Inside, the lobbies typically had handsomely tiled floors and brass mailboxes with buzzers and an intercom system on the wall. The stairs to apartments were carpeted and had hardwood railings which matched the color of the solid wood apartment doors on the “landing” of each floor.
Small apartments in such building typically included features like built-in cupboards and charming items like small ironing boards which folded into a door in a wall. Murphy beds, in small apartments, were standard, and folded into a pair of handsome hardwood doors in the living room, which also included storage space inside.
Altogether, having now lived in many cities, I regard the Chicago apartments in their heyday as the best such facilities ever offered to working people. Add the magnificent park system, free to all, and you know why Chicago, in the first half of the 20th century, was the “working man’s dream.”