Saturday, January 06, 2007

Triple-Decker Life

Triple-Deckers Near Waterbury Hospital (not ones I live in).

One of Waterbury's characteristic housing types is the triple-decker, a three-story building with one apartment per floor. Triple-deckers were built in Waterbury primarily between 1890 and 1930. Building owners usually lived on the first floor, and the upper two floors were rented out, often to extended family members. In good condition, they are beautiful buildings with pleasant yards. First floor apartments sometimes have graceful columns on either side of the large entryway between the front door and the living room and again between the living and dining rooms. Sometimes the upper apartments will have columns between living and dining room, or they will have sliding pocket doors between the two rooms (they were built back when the living room was the front parlor). The Mattatuck Museum has some nice displays about triple-deckers in their history exhibit.

Triple-Decker Porch Detail

I've been living in the middle apartment of a 1920 triple-decker for about six months now. I haven't got columns or pocket doors, but I do like the six-foot-wide opening between the living and dining rooms, because it creates a sense of open space. There are ample windows letting in the sun, and most of the windows look out over trees, which is really pretty in the summer and fall. Now that it's winter, I can see through the trees and have just a slight view of the cross on Abrigador Hill.

My kitchen, before I moved in.

It's a two-bedroom apartment, which is standard for the triple-deckers, and I have just over 900 square feet of living space. I would like it better if the bathroom still had the original deep clawfoot tub, but overall it really is a great apartment.

Looking towards the living room from the dining room (before I moved in).

One thing I've learned, however, is that triple-deckers require a certain closeness of neighbors. The building I'm in has had some soundproofing added--the ceilings have been lowered and most rooms have wall-to-wall carpeting--so certain problems are not quite as bad as they otherwise would be. The current third floor tenants are extremely loud people. I don't really hear their voices, but their two small children make my windows rattle every time they crash down onto the floor. And they all make a huge amount of noise in the stairwell. This seems to be an unusual situation, since I never heard a sound from the previous tenants.

On the other hand, I get along well with my downstairs tenants. I can see how triple-deckers would be great for extended families (or good friends). You have your own private home, but you are still close to the people you care about.

Dining room windows, before I moved in.

Today, most of Waterbury's triple-deckers are owned by absentee landlords (my own included). Many landlords, like my own, do a good job of maintaining their properties. I know there are some city officials (and others in similar positions of influence) who see triple-deckers as a blight on the city, because a few triple-deckers are owned by slum lords who let them deteriorate while packing them with as many tenants as possible. Single-family homes are seen as being more "desirable" for the city by some people, but owning a three-family home is much more affordable for most people. Owner-occupied homes are going to be well-maintained (in most situations; there's always an exception!); it could be good for Waterbury if more of the triple-deckers were owner-occupied (and good for residents to consider buying a multi-family instead of a single-family home). But these are, of course, just thoughts.

My dining room windows this fall; not what you might expect for a city view!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blog about Waterbury. I just stumbled across it and will have to visit often. I grew up in Waterbury, but haven't lived there since 1980. Although I do stay connected as close as I can...especially doing Waterbury genealogy research. Wish more would be willing to see what is still great about this city!
Happy New Year!
Dan Lynch

kenny from the block said...

finally someone who feels the same way as me about the old triple-deckers. i lived in many types of homes in my life and the one that felt most 'like home' was the triple-decker i lived in on ridgewood st, (the one-way part over by the "quick food stop"). i loved the big bay windows with their great viewing angles, the big sunny front parlor, the crown molding, the solid wood pillars on the front porch, and the high ciellings. i remember waking up on summer mornings to the neighbors roosters, going out on my back porch, and watching the trucks go by on I-84 behind that mysterious, ever-present plume of steam. i don't know why they don't make these homes anymore. i think a new neighborhood of triple-deckers with bigger yards and more parking, plus owner-occupancy restrictions would be a really great place to live. some day i'll own one of these homes, one with an apple tree up against the side of the house so i can stick my hand out my 3rd story kitchen window and pick a fresh apple. that's the good life. though i don't think an apple tree can grow as tall as the towering, majestic triple-decker.

Waterbury Girl said...

I really loved that apartment, but I definitely learned my lesson about having upstairs neighbors. For whatever reason, I can't sleep if there is noise overheard.

Good luck growing that three-story-tall apple tree! ;) said...

I grew up in a Triple Decker in Boston. Sitting under a 100 year old bead board roof watching the neighborhood from up high.

Now I'm a porch contractor in Boston, MA and the most satisfying aspect of the job is when a customer knows that a decorative front porch is one of the most important aspects of a homes market value.

It is getting easier to build a Triple Decker porch with all the bells and whistles now that most of those homes have been converted to condominiums. The burden of the cost is split between multiple owners.