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Triple-Decker Tenements

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c. 1900. 57, 67, 77, 10, and 24 Gaulin Ave.

Woonsocket is famous for the triple-decker wooden tenements which constituted, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, its most plentiful housing. Conventional threefamily units were frequently expanded horizontally to contain six or even nine or more rental units; often the owner of the building occupied one of the tenement units, renting the others out, sometimes to relatives. Really small apartment houses, these larger versions generally maintained a three-story height, although a few occasionally rose another story, as seen in number 24. As here, they often assume a monumental character, with heavy cornices and flat roofs replacing the usual gable.

The tiers of porches (“piazzas” to their inhabitants) are particularly vulnerable to alteration. Despite some missing porches the tenements behind St. Ann's preserve one of the best surviving images in the city of a tripledecker neighborhood. The porch variously wraps a corner, repeating the contour of the bay windows behind, creates a centered, three-story pseudo-portico, or is set into or projects from corner stair towers. Number 10 has an especially long porch—six supports in width across its front, with a centered attic gable unusually popping from its otherwise flat roof. Not only do the piazzas relieve the overall boxiness of these large buildings, which the flat roofs emphasize, but in expanding the dwelling beyond its perimeter walls, they also provide a place outdoors that is public as well as private, thereby augmenting the sociability of the street. In the fragile openness of their form they contrast with the massiveness of the church, the parish house, and the stern red brick building that was formerly the parish school; but they also open to these institutions that once focused the life of this neighborhood. The little one-story building on the corner at the very top of the street used to be the neighborhood store.

A block over on Locust Street is a view of the subsidized housing that, in the early 1980s, replaced blocks of tenements of the sort that still remain on Gaulin Street, and thereby contributed to physical and social change in this area. Whatever the amenities of the new housing, a “project” image replaces that of the old neighborhood.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Triple-Decker Tenements", [Woonsocket, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-WO2.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 224-224.

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