29 September 2015

This Single-Family Was Once a Duplex

Last week, I described the evidence that I found in my house of an "old kitchen", no longer in use, and how I pondered whether the house's kitchen had been relocated once, if not twice.

Having thought through the unlikely scenario that the house's original kitchen was abandoned for a kitchen located at what is now the rear third bedroom (and then relocated back), the matter did not receive much further analysis until a visit to the Township's building department. While I will describe this visit in more detail in a future post, I obtained one document for my house titled "Record of Sanitary Drainage and Plumbing Fixtures."

Two-Apartment Dwelling

Looking at the document above, you see the owner's name listed as John Cantlin at our house, and a very clear description of the Building Type as "Dwelling 2-Apt"-- this house used to be split into two apartments. In the chart of plumbing fixtures at the bottom of the file card, there are listed: (2) bath tubs, (2) sinks, (2) wash basins, and (2) water closets. It is the (2) sinks, apparently meaning kitchen sinks, which stand out, as there is only one today.

The epiphany which I mentioned at the end of the Old Kitchen post was actually a specific sudden recollection. As we were preparing to move into this house, one of the many checklist items was officially changing my address with the USPS. In filling out the online form, the system prompted me to select either Apt 1 or Apt 2 as my new address (or to select neither). I, of course, at the time had been confused as to why there were apartment number addresses on file at the house. Now of course, with the township's plumbing record and the physical evidence of an abandoned kitchen, it makes perfect sense.

The fact that the house was at one point used as two apartments was further confirmed by my other immediate neighbor, who has lived next door since 1989. He relayed to me that indeed, when the elderly Mrs. Cantlin was living at the house, a man rented an apartment, accessed from the back door of the house.

Where was the Demising Line Between Apartments?

Let's again examine the floor plan sketch first shown last week. Where did one apartment end and the other begin? Each unit must have had a kitchen and a bathroom. While it would seem to make sense that Mrs. Cantlin would have wanted to maintain direct access to both the attic and the basement from her unit if she could have, that is not a certainty. There likely was not a fire-rated wall between the two units, although one would be required by today's code. There also are a number of present-day door jamb openings that could have acted as a "permanently" locked door between units.

There would seem to me to be three logical possibilities for a layout of the house as a two-unit building-- two options which incorporate two 1-Bedroom units, and one possibility that Mrs. Cantlin occupied a 2-Bedroom unit, giving her tenant a studio apartment in the rear.

Option 1: Two 1-Bedroom Apartments

In this option, the separation door is at the entrance into what is now the primary living room at the back of the house, with an additional separation door at the front hallway just past the first bedroom. This layout would have preserved access to the basement for the owner Mrs. Cantlin in the front unit, which may have been a plus. It also isolates the main unit's bedroom from the bathroom, which was likely a negative. A plus for the rental unit is that the bathroom is accessed off of the bedroom, which may have made it easier to rent.

Option 2: Two 1-Bedroom Apartments

Here, the demising wall is drawn at the end of the kitchen, with the other separation door heading into the center bedroom, right after the hallway on the right half of the plan. Pro: Mrs. Cantlin's bathroom would be accessed directly off of her bedroom. This layout also maintains a more clear front/rear relationship between the two units that appears more logical. Con: As the owner of the house, Mrs. Cantlin would have had to enter the tenant's unit in order to access the basement or attic.

Option 3: 2-Bedroom Main Unit, with Studio Apartment in Rear

With a studio apartment accessed at the back door, really only the Living Room and Kitchen within the addition would be absolutely necessary, with of course the bathroom included as well. This leaves two bedrooms for Mrs. Cantlin, as well as direct access to the attic.

Analysis and Next Steps

There is no definitive conclusion here without further clues. Physical inspection of the interior door jamb openings show evidence of door hinges having hung within all of them at one point or another, whether they were a separation between units or not. I believe Option 2 to be the most likely, since it preserves direct access from the main bedroom to a bathroom. Furthermore, the lack of direct access to the basement may have been a secondary concern. I suspect the studio apartment is less likely, as a second bedroom for the main unit may not have been absolutely necessary after the 3 Cantlin children moved out (likely in the 1950's) or after Mr. Cantlin's death in 1961.

Of course, there could be alternate layouts, but to date there is no physical evidence of significant floor plan alterations. The time period during which the house was utilized as two units is also not evident. While there appears to have been a rental unit through at least 1989, it is not clear whether the second unit was created before or after John Cantlin's death in 1961. The Township's plumbing document presented here appears to have been amended at several times over the years, with the earliest record on the card being the connection to the township sewer system in 1952. However, different handwriting and dates appear on the card. The number "2" next to (Kitchen) Sinks appears as a different style of handwriting, suggesting this number was changed from "1" at the time of the renovation. A date of 11/18/63 is given for an item "Test N. Bath"-- this could stand for "New" bath, which could suggest the time of alteration to coincide with a second unit. It could also stand for "North" bath which would be the bathroom on the right side of the plan-- a less confident indication of a renovation.

Further inquiries seeking out the permit numbers listed on the file card could yield more information. Also, probing the neighbors on either side could help narrow down the timeframe of the existence of a rental unit, as well as how often tenants changed.

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