Ms. Paul Triple-Decker // 1898

The Triple-Decker housing type is extremely iconic around New England and every medium-to-large city can claim them in their neighborhoods. The style became prevalent after the American Civil War, when immigrants from Europe came to New England in force for manufacturing jobs. Many working-class immigrant families moved near factories and mills for work, but at first many scrounged for a place to live. They jammed into stables, cellars and even tents, until higher density options became available. Investors and developers saw an opportunity to build three-story flats in mass, and gave new residents the opportunity to pool money and purchase the buildings, with the ability to rent out the other two floors to family.

Lesser-known, by the end of the 19th century, “immigration reformers” under the guise of public safety, pushed for the banning of triple-deckers in Brookline and other affluent towns. Men including Prescott Farnsworth Hall, noted that these dense wood-frame structures with kitchens above the ground floor were a fire hazard, citing the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908, but it was clear that the reformers were against the idea of immigrants entering the middle-class and purchasing homes. Under pressure from such groups, Massachusetts in 1912 passed a law allowing cities and towns to ban triple deckers. Not in so many words, though. The language said municipalities could prevent construction of any ‘wooden tenement’ in which ‘cooking shall be done above the second floor. In 1915, Brookline banned the housing style.

What they lost out on was more gorgeous dense housing, as an alternative to the later Pillbox (boxy, lacking detail or depth) apartment structures that sprouted up after WWII. This triple-decker in North Brookline was built for Ms. Paul, a widow who sought income after her husbands death. Ms. Paul sold her large single-family home just a couple streets over and hired an architect to design an attractive multi-family home where she could have a steady stream of income from the other two units. This property was larger than many and featured pleasant shingle-style detailing and a large recessed off-center entry, judging by the mailboxes near the door, the property has more than three units, providing dense housing with appropriate design, a win-win!

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