Gilman Tenements // 1917

In the 1860s, the north slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood behind the old reservoir was made up of brick townhouses occupied by a mix of English, Irish, and African American families in what we would consider the middle-class. By the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood’s population began to leave to the nearby suburbs for more space. Due to this, immigrant groups moved into the north slope and West End. As a result, some of the more stately townhomes were demolished and replaced with larger tenement houses which could accommodate more families. In 1914, a Russian Jew named Max Gilman, purchased an old home on Temple Street and constructed this tenement house on the site. Max served with the United States Armed Forces during WWI, and upon returning to Boston, applied and was awarded citizenship. The building itself is a “dumbbell tenement” characterized by indentations at the sides of the otherwise boxy structure. These fairly shallow indentations in the wall plane permitted some fresh air and natural light to reach rooms at the center of a building, as opposed to just the front and rear. In New York City, the dumbbell was the predominant tenement building type erected between 1879 and 1901, from the tenement house law of 1879 requiring a window in every tenement bedroom. The form was never required in Boston, but the design took hold in cities all over the northeast.

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