Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States

Overview

From the palace hotels of the elite to cheap lodging houses, residential hotels have been an element of American urban life for nearly two hundred years. Since 1870, however, they have been the target of an official war led by people whose concept of home does not include the hotel. Do these residences constitute an essential housing resource, or are they, as charged, a public nuisance?

Living Downtown, the first comprehensive social and cultural history of life in American ...

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Overview

From the palace hotels of the elite to cheap lodging houses, residential hotels have been an element of American urban life for nearly two hundred years. Since 1870, however, they have been the target of an official war led by people whose concept of home does not include the hotel. Do these residences constitute an essential housing resource, or are they, as charged, a public nuisance?

Living Downtown, the first comprehensive social and cultural history of life in American residential hotels, adds a much-needed historical perspective to this ongoing debate. Creatively combining evidence from biographies, buildings and urban neighborhoods, workplace records, and housing policies, Paul Groth provides a definitive analysis of life in four price-differentiated types of downtown residence. He demonstrates that these hotels have played a valuable socioeconomic role as home to both long-term residents and temporary laborers. Also, the convenience of hotels has made them the residence of choice for a surprising number of Americans, from hobo author Boxcar Bertha to Calvin Coolidge.

Groth examines the social and cultural objections to hotel households and the increasing efforts to eliminate them, which have led to the seemingly irrational destruction of millions of such housing units since 1960. He argues convincingly that these efforts have been a leading contributor to urban homelessness.

This highly original and timely work aims to expand the concept of the American home and to recast accepted notions about the relationships among urban life, architecture, and the public management of residential environments.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This fascinating book examines residential hotels, from luxurious palace hotels for rich people like the Ritz Tower in New York City to single-room-occupancy dwellings for the poor like the Sierra House above Big Al's North Beach nightclub in San Francisco. This is largely social history and sociology organized topically and chronologically, emphasizing the years from 1880 to 1930, when most American residential hotels were built and thrived. Groth is an architectural historian at the University of California at Berkeley, and his book is an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation. But this is no dry and dusty tome. Instead, Groth breathes new life into the continuing battle over housing in America by praising, not burying, his topic. Recommended for academic collections.-Peter Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520219540
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 6/29/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 423
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.75 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Groth is Associate Professor of Architecture History at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Illustration Credits
1 Conflicting Ideas About Hotel Life 1
Hotel Homes and Cosmopolitan Diversity 2
Barriers to Understanding Hotel Living 8
San Francisco's Hotels as Exemplars 17
2 Palace Hotels and Social Opulence 26
Personal Ease and Instant Social Position 26
Incubators for a Mobile High Society 37
Conversion Experiences for the New City 52
3 Midpriced Mansions for Middle Incomes 56
Convenience for Movable Lives 56
Mansions for Rent 68
Alternative Quarters 77
Room for Exceptions 86
4 Rooming Houses and the Margins of Respectability 90
Plain Rooms 92
Economic Limbo 103
Rooming House Districts: Diversity and Mixture 109
Downtown Alternatives to Rooming Houses 121
Scattered Homes versus Material Correctness 126
5 Outsiders and Cheap Lodging Houses 131
Essential Outcasts 132
No-Family Houses 140
Zones for Single Laborers: Skid Row and Chinatown 151
Fronts for Embarrassing Economic Realities 163
6 Building a Civilization Without Homes 168
Owners and Managers 169
Specialization for Single Use 186
Public Impressions and Residential Opposition 195
7 Hotel Homes as a Public Nuisance 201
Hotel Critics and Reform Ranks 202
Concerns for the Family 208
Hazards for the Individual 216
Threats to Urban Citizenship 222
Hotel Homes as a Public Nuisance 230
8 From Scattered Opinion to Centralized Policy 233
Forging Frameworks for Housing Change 234
Early Arenas of Hotel Control 238
Doctrinaire Idealism and Deliberate Ignorance 253
Buildings as Targets and Surrogates 262
9 Prohibition Versus Pluralism 264
Losing Ground: Changing Contexts, 1930-1970 265
Official Prohibitions of Hotel Life, 1930-1970 273
Since 1970: Conflicts Surrounding Hotel Life 284
The Prospect of Pluralism in Housing 294
History Urban Experts and Pluralism 302
Appendix: Hotel and Employment Statistics 305
Notes 311
Bibliography 371
Index 387
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