What is a coldwater flat?
January 7, 2011 5:38 AM   Subscribe

What is meant by the term "coldwater flat" or "coldwater apartment"?

In Kerouac's On the Road, which takes place during the late 40's/early 50's, he talks about Dean renting a "coldwater" flat in NYC. That term is mentioned in a couple other places in the book. What does this refer to? Is it simply an apartment that does not have hot water?
posted by Ike_Arumba to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
posted by mochapickle at 5:39 AM on January 7, 2011

Thanks mochapickle. I searched wiki, but for "Coldwater flat" which leads to a page about a jazz album. Needed to add the space in there.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 5:53 AM on January 7, 2011

Coldwater flats (usually in tenements or walkups) were rooms or very small apartments, which would only have a sink with cold water, plus access to a bathroom elsewhere in the building for bathing and (censored).
posted by bigguy1960 at 5:53 AM on January 7, 2011

My dad spent his early childhood years (1920s) in one in Brooklyn. My grandma would heat up water on the stove for bathing. The stove was the only heat as well. This was not unusual for recent immigrants in NYC at the time.
posted by tommasz at 6:21 AM on January 7, 2011

I knew someone who lived in one on the Lower East Side in the 1980s. I think they are all gone now, perhaps by city ordinance.

Remember that most people in the US used to bathe once a week at most in the early 20th century, so the whole ordeal of heating water on the stove for baths wasn't as onerous as one might think based on today's bathing schedules. And people used fewer dishes, so usually one teakettle of hot water would suffice for dishwashing.

bigguy1960 is actually a bit off in his definition. A cold-water flat had a sink, tub, and toilet. It's a step up above what bigguy1960 is talking about, which is a hall-bath flat or a shared-bath flat.

A hall-bath flat is a step up above a tenement with an outdoor privy, some of which still existed in the 1920s in New York, though their glory days were in the 19th century--those didn't have bathing facilities of any kind; the residents would either get by on bird-baths at a washstand or go to the many public baths that used to exist in New York.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2011

Sidhedevil has it. And while I'm pretty sure that city law now requires that all dwellings have hot water, there are definitely still shared-bath apartments in New York. I came thisclose to renting a beautiful one bedroom on West 75th Street that had all of the original molding and hardwood floors and a working fireplace, but the only sink was in the kitchen, and the toilet and bathtub were in the hallway, shared with the next door neighbor.
posted by decathecting at 9:07 AM on January 7, 2011

My friend lived in one a few years ago, in the Village. Her apartment had a kitchen and a shower, but the toilet was down the hall.
posted by sdn at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2011

Yes decathecting, city law requires hot water in New York City and virtually everywhere else in the US: Building owners are required to provide hot water 365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also various rules related to whether everyone gets their own bathroom and where bathrooms can be placed.

* Existence of city laws, especially in New York City, may have little to no correlation with compliance by actual landlords, YMMV.
posted by zachlipton at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2011

To complement the coldwater tenement apartments the city of NY (and perhaps other American cities) built public baths. I had an apartment on Broome St. in the 1960s ($34./month!) and used the public showers on Essex St. (I think).

It was a gorgeous building, huge skylights like old department stores, marble shower stalls, endless hot water. I never encountered another woman using them, and it was a real cushy city gig for the three ladies who supervised the women's part of the building. they had a bizarre rule: you could not bring your clean clothes in with you! I would argue and plead with them, to no avail. The rationale for this rule was that they did not want to have ot touch any clothes left behind by Bowery bums, who were the primary users of the facility.
posted by mareli at 10:54 AM on January 7, 2011

The New York poet Samuel Menashe lived in a cold water apartment in SOHO until last year. At least, he said it was just cold water, explaining why he finally had to move out. He is 85.
posted by SirNovember at 11:25 AM on January 7, 2011

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