Jody Kriss Guides: Obscure “Features” Found in NYC’s Historic Buildings

As a premier NYC developer, Jody Kriss visits a lot of New York’s older buildings to determine which ones have the best bones for luxury renovations. While the Big Apple is known for majestic skyscrapers and quaint brownstones, the fact that many of these structures have been in use for hundreds of years means that some seemingly obscure features can be found in the older abodes. Just as today’s iPhone would surely create raised eyebrows in the early 1900s, a lot of the “technology” of yesteryear boggles the minds of today’s homeowners. Of course, if you’re in the market for one of Jody Kriss’ luxury developments, you aren’t likely to come across any of these gems, but surely these “features” commonly found in NYC’s older buildings are things most of the modern world is happy to do without.

1) Interior Windows

Many of NYC’s older buildings have windows for seemingly no reason. They’ll commonly appear on interior walls of a home and may even be placed on a bedroom wall that faces a hallway or other interior room. While not great for privacy, the windows once served a valuable purpose. As tenement living took center stage in NYC, buildings became cramped and densely populated. This worsened the spread of serious illnesses, like tuberculosis. In 1901, city codes were rewritten so that all rooms would have some form of ventilation. Even though traditional windows that provide fresh air from the outside were more ideal, lawmakers put in a clause that allowed landlords to fulfill their legal obligations by installing interior windows between rooms. To this day, they’re also called “tuberculosis windows.”

2) Kitchen Baths

Occasionally, some NYC homes still sport bathtubs in the kitchen. This is a throwback from the same piece of legislation that spurred interior windows. The earliest structures were built before running water made its way into homes, so when the laws changed to stipulate that landlords had to provide running water, they’d make it simple and run a single line into the main living area or kitchen. In order to cut costs, people began adding bathtubs to their kitchens, just to take advantage of the plumbing. In 1929, additional legislation passed that stated “Every wash basin, bath, shower, sink and laundry tub shall be provided with an adequate supply of hot and cold water.” This further encouraged landlords to forego the additional work and expense of hosting bathtubs in the bathroom and the trend of kitchen baths continued for another 30 years or so.

3) Speaking Tubes

Anyone who has seen “The Boy” movie in theaters was no doubt left unsettled by the existence of listening devices in the walls. Believe it or not, these are real contraptions, installed in many older buildings across America. They’re called “speaking tubes” and were commonly used as a way to communicate with household staff prior to intercoms. Some homes also have them installed as a way to talk to visitors at the front door, perhaps from an upper floor landing.

4) Milk Doors

Many a renter has been left mind boggled by a small passage with a door, which is usually cut through an exterior wall near a service door. The spaces are large enough for a child to fit through, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in modern life where safety and security are concerns. These are generally called “milk doors” or “milk chutes,” and they were used as a depositary area for the milkman. Homeowners would leave their empty bottles inside to be picked up, and the milkman would replace them with fresh bottles. Sometimes, they were used for other types of deliveries, but it almost always related to food.

Most of these features were born from necessity of the time or were utilized to cut corners and costs when updating properties. Although you’re likely to find an intercom system in a project developed by Jody Kriss, it’ll be of the modern variety, and thankfully, all bathtubs are tucked away in bathrooms, which look more like private sanctuaries than family hubs. Not surprisingly, this tends to be preferred among today’s homebuyers.