A Tale of Two Tenements: 338-342 East 13th Street
Today on “A Tale of Two” I actually have three tenements to share and compare. This group can be found on the south side of East 13th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
If you’re familiar with tenement design and have a tendency to admire buildings like I do, you might have noticed that these three facades are almost identical except for several alterations that have occurred over the years. When I saw them I figured they likely shared the same construction date, architect, and original owner so I came back to the office to investigate further. Here’s what I found:
All three old law tenements were in fact built as part of a mini development in 1889. Designed by Rentz & Lange in the then-popular Queen Anne style, 338, 340, and 342 East 13th Street were originally owned by Justus H. Zimmerman of 11 West 133rd Street. Each originally housed 20 families.
Interestingly, around the same time Rentz & Lange also designed the tenement at 103 Orchard Street (and its two neighbors), which now operates as the Tenement Museum. Their partnership was short, lasting only from 1888-1890. Rentz would go on to design many buildings, most notably the now-landmarked Webster Hall. You can read more about him from that building’s designation report on our Resources page.
In any case, let’s head back to our Queen Anne trio on 13th Street. You might notice that the most intact of the group is the center building, no. 340. It still has its stepped cornice while the other two have lost theirs. While it’s not clear when they were removed, it happened by the time this 1980s tax photograph was taken.
That building also has its ground floor intact, and the same can be said for no. 342. Their elaborate door surrounds and flanking residential windows exist much as they did in 1889, though their doors and windows have since been replaced. These are very typical alterations so it’s always pretty neat to see originals that have been retained. It also appears as if the stoops have either been replaced or resurfaced (and the railings have most definitely been replaced; historically they would have been thicker and a bit more detailed).
Unlike its “sister” tenements, no 338’s ground floor was completely reconfigured. The central entrance was moved to the side and there are now only two windows. These alterations likely occurred in 1940 when the building was modernized with new plumbing and the number of apartments on the ground floor was reduced from four to three.
Details such as these terra-cotta carvings above serve to unite the three buildings. The intact ground floors of 340 and 342 show a complete motif (top photo) whereas the altered ground floor of 338 deprived the bottom photo’s carving of its other half.
Even still, there’s a great amount of detail still left to admire on 338 (right side of bottom photo). The top photo shows 342 (left) and 340 (right). As you can see, the only thing that’s really different from these photos is paint color. Which color scheme do you prefer?