Bachelor Living in the Golden Era

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by poetman, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. poetman

    poetman A-List Customer

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    Location:
    Vintage State of Mind
    I am looking for recommendations on books that detail the day-to-day life of single, bachelor men in the 40s (or nearby). I am particualry interested in their domestic space/life. Where they ate (diners, maids, cooked themselves?); if they did their own laundry; how they entertained themselves, etc. Any suggestions would be most welcome! Thank you!
     
  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Boardinghouses were extremely common, both in cities and small towns -- usually either rowhouses or big detached Victorian-type houses owned by a widow or an elderly couple. Meals and laundry service were usually included in the rent, with either the landlady or a hired cook/washerwoman doing the work. Boardinghouse rooms were small, bathrooms were shared, and there was usually a common "parlor" where the various tenants would mingle, listen to the radio, play cards, etc. in the evening. Meals would be served at a common table -- the origin of the famous "boardinghouse reach."

    Boardinghouse residents were overwhelmingly single men -- although there were "women only" boardinghouses that kept a tight rein on male visitors.

    A step down from the boardinghouse was the "residential hotel," which offered cheap rooms by the week, usually with no meal or laundry service provided. These establishments were notoriously grubby, and were often barely a step above a flophouse.

    It was also common for two single men to combine operations and rent a small apartment together -- often a "kitchenette" type of arrangement with limited facilities for cooking. It was common, in fact, if the apartment was really small, for the two men in such an arrangement to sleep in the same bed.

    If apartment-dwelling single men didn't have cooking facilities in their places, or didn't know how to cook, there were entire chains of "one arm lunch" establishments designed serve them. These types of places had long rows of one-arm school chairs lined up against a side wall, with a little wooden partition between them for privacy for the enjoyment of short-order meals. Or, in certain Eastern cities, they could enjoy the pleasures of the Automat.

    In rural/farm areas it was common for single men to continue living with their parents indefinitely -- they were a convenient and reliable source of free farm labor.
     
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  3. MissNathalieVintage

    MissNathalieVintage Practically Family

    Messages:
    621
    Location:
    Chicago
    I do still see a few hotels in the city that are men only in Chicago. And there are plenty of residential hotel chains/ apartment hotels, these hotels offer a kitchen and laundry room for self serve laundry, and you will have the room cleaned on the 5th day of your stay. If you require your room cleaned before then you can make an appointment with the hotel front desk.

    I use to live in residential hotels and it is very convenient for bachelor's and bachelorette's. My favorite ones are the Extended Stay Chain, and Hilton Garden Inn Chain. These are the ones that are in the Chicago area.

    Apartment hotels are similar to residential hotels the only difference is you will not have any form of cleaning service or linen changes during your stay.

    The Hilton Garden Inn rooms are pretty much one bedroom studio apartments that are fully furnished the same with apartment hotels.

    And with some apartment hotels a few of them will pretty much be a bed, bath, TV, and a kitchen.

    I'm speaking of what is offered these days, not sure if these types of residential hotels that I described were around back in the Golden Era.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
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  4. KILO NOVEMBER

    KILO NOVEMBER Practically Family

    Messages:
    803
    Location:
    Cheapeake Bay Drainage Basin
    Along Lizzie's lines, it would make a difference depending on where (rural area, small town, big city), family situation (stable family or not, wealthy, middle class, blue collar), whether or not the man had been forced to leave his home town to find work during the Great Depression, what kind of work he did, etc.
    My father (b. 1915) lived with his parents until he was drafted (1943) and on his return from the Pacific (1946) until he married my mother (1946).
     
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  5. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Another option, especially for young men new to a city, was to rent a room at the local YMCA. A room at a typical urban Y could run as little as a dollar a week, which was within reach of most anyone who had a job. Living conditions were spartan to the extreme -- a bed, a washstand, a pitcher, and a basin were often the only furnishings, and the Y guest was on his own when it came to meals -- but the rooms were cleaner and the environment generally safer than a young fellow might encounter in a flophouse.

    It was very common for young men alone in a city to spend nearly all their free time at the movies. It was cheap, it was generally safe, and continuous-show policies then common at neighborhood houses meant he could stay as long as he wanted.
     
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  6. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    7,146
    Location:
    Australia
    In Australia, the same style of rooming house arrangements existed for men up until the late 1970's. When there was still a viable and large manufacturing industry here, many single working men lived above hotels (saloons) and rooming houses. Some developed drinking problems - especially if the rooming house was attached to a hotel bar.

    My town (which now has around 5 million people) used to have hundreds of hotels, rooming, lodging and boarding houses dotted all over it. Some safe and clean; some nasty and dangerous. Many were converted Victorian era homes or mansions from the 1880's. Most of these were converted back to being homes and mansions in the 1980's and 90's. Part of the boom bust cycle.

    In the early and mid 20th century, many men from the country and farming communities came into our cities looking for work (as they still do). They often ended up renting rooms in rooming houses and hotels which were cheap and conditions and residents varied greatly - usually based on which part of town there were in.
     
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  7. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Location:
    New York City
    When I first got to NYC in the '80s, I had a few friends who stayed at a YMCA and it was, even then, just as you describe - spartan, but, at least the one I saw, very clean and had a decently safe feel to the entire place. Hate me for saying this, but the challenge those places had was keeping the customers to young men with jobs / trying to get a start versus the homeless with a few dollars who wanted a place to stay.

    I am all for compassionate programs for the homeless, but when they move into places like the YMCA, they discourage - whether we think it is fair or not - the non-homeless from living there and the YMCA becomes a defacto homeless shelter. That's what happened in the '80s to many of them and they, effectively, no longer had the young men trying to get a start staying there.

    Also in the '80s, I dated a girl who lived in a "women's hotel." You had to be under 25 and show limited income but an ability to pay. And there were still rules enforced against men in the rooms. The policing was easy, they tossed you out if you violated the rules and since the few of these hotels left in the city had way more demand than rooms, they didn't hesitate to toss you for a violation. I have a vague memory of waiting in the "living room" downstairs which was very 1940s in feel including old notices on the walls about smoking, men in the rooms, no hotplates, etc.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  8. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    There was a whole subculture of those "hotels for women." The Martha Washington, on E. 29th Street, was the flagship of the movement, and also the longest-running -- it started around the turn of the century and stayed a women-only operation until well into the '90s. In the Era, they ran ads in the New Yorker promoting it as a convenient and affordable stop for "young business women" visiting the city, but they also had long-term residents.

    I always wanted to stay there, but never got the chance before it closed. The building's still there, but it's some upscale/hipstery type of place now.

    Some might recall a cringey sitcom from the '80s where a young Tom Hanks lived in a women's-only hotel in drag. I remember that show well, but I bet Mr. Hanks tries not to.
     
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  9. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Location:
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    Some of the details are a jumble in my head, but another girlfriend had to lie about her age, she was 26 and the cutoff for the particular "women's hotel" she wanted to get into was twenty five (as noted before, this was common). She had to produce evidence and did some hocus-pocus with the paperwork.

    That place, from memory, was nicer than the other hotel I mentioned as I think a lot of dads paid the rent in that one as they wanted to know their just-out-of-college daughters were living in someplace safe and clean in the, at that time, not-safe city.

    I remember that sitcom and, heck, even I want to forget it.

    Still standing (and not too far from where I live today), but now mainly (very, very expensive) condos is this famous former women's hotel, the Barbizon. It's architecture is incredible. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbizon_63
    160816_140e63rd_jcrice_63.jpg xl_153113131.jpg the-barbizon-hotel-new-york-DRDTX5.jpg
     
  10. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    8,298
    Location:
    My mother's basement
    When I moved to Seattle in ’68 the downtown area was thick with residential hotels and SRO (single room occupancy) hotels and the like. I became much more familiar with such accommodations when I began driving taxi there, in ’74. Many had “1/2” addresses, which were doors leading upstairs, usually between two street-level businesses, drinking establishments, typically.

    I lived for a while in a garret atop a somewhat down-at-the-heel converted house just a stone’s throw up Pike Street from downtown. I had a sink in my room and a spectacular view; bathrooms were down on the second floor. (I recently looked up that property. The garret there is now a far fancier condo [it even has its own bathroom!], which last listed for $500K.)

    Several guys and a few gals of my acquaintance lived in those “1/2” hotels, and many more lived in older buildings with apartments a rung or two up the ladder. The Jensen, at 605 1/2 Eastlake Avenue East, right above The Storeroom Tavern, was home to many a cabdriver. It was a bit rundown back then, but the apartments, with their own kitchens and bathrooms, were decent enough. Not scary, at any rate. And affordable.

    Those days are gone, pretty much. The remaining structures have long been gentrified. Most have been torn down and replaced with office and condo towers.

    Last I heard, the Ontario Hotel, down by Boeing Field, was still a flop. And I was told that the former Holiday Inn alongside the Duwamish River is now “efficiency” apartments. I came across this bit of intelligence on inquiring into a mutual acquaintance’s whereabouts and being told that he was residing there.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  11. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    8,298
    Location:
    My mother's basement
    Where it’s fun to stay.

    Village People, anyone?
     
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  12. KILO NOVEMBER

    KILO NOVEMBER Practically Family

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Cheapeake Bay Drainage Basin
    Thanks for the earworm, Tony.
     
  13. MissNathalieVintage

    MissNathalieVintage Practically Family

    Messages:
    621
    Location:
    Chicago
    I too wanted to stay at a women's only hotel. Here in Chicago the last one closed in the early 2000s, :(

    I agree I could not stand the Bosom Buddies TV show, and hoped the'd get caught.

    Oh, and my very first apartment (early 2000s) was a tenement. The rent was very cheap and the building was clean. I had a kitchen in my room and a gas cook stove from the 1920s that still worked but needed to be lit. The bathroom was in the hall on that floor for all the tenants to share, there were two other rooms on my floor. I really enjoyed living there. And had to move due to the owners sold the property.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2020
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  14. MissNathalieVintage

    MissNathalieVintage Practically Family

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    621
    Location:
    Chicago
    Here is what the stove looked like.


    f39aa5da6da8778ce870180a50a4de16.gif
     
  15. MissNathalieVintage

    MissNathalieVintage Practically Family

    Messages:
    621
    Location:
    Chicago
    Here is how people lived in the 1940s in Chicago. And oddly enough these listings look pretty much like how I was living when I was living in residential hotels as described earlier in the thread, and that is great news!

    39 (2).png 40 (2).png 41 (2).png
     
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  16. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

    Messages:
    13,982
    Location:
    New York City
    The way many lived in NYC in the '80s was probably closer to the '40s than it is to 2020. Especially, the young kids like me just coming to the city as we were the ones who ended up in the old tenement apartments, walk-ups, efficiencies, etc. with old wiring (no ac as it would have blown up the building), plumbing and appliances - and seventeen layers of paint. My first few refrigerators had a freezer the size of two shoeboxes and they needed to be defrosted. Some of that world still exists today, but the boom years in-between saw a ton of boring big apartment building built that cater to younger kids today.
     
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  17. Bushman

    Bushman My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
    3,610
    Location:
    Chicago
    I've sometimes wonder when the "Get out, young man!" attitude started coming into the norm, especially in suburban/semi-rural communities such as mine. In the ye old times, it seemed like young people (rich and poor) in their 20s, people my age, lived with their parents until they got on their feet with their own career, even post-college. In the 1946 movie, "It's A Wonderful Life", young George Bailey is portrayed still living with his parents post-higher education. He doesn't seem to have a career path or any idea of his future, and certainly isn't even on his own standing until his father dies and he has to take on the Bailey Building and Loans business.

    Nowadays, it seems that the attitude is that after we leave for college, we're expected to stay gone. We have to figure it out in our own shabby, run down apartment with no expectation of returning home except to collect our things. Anybody who still lives with their parents past 25 are considered free-loading, basement-dwelling losers. Incidentally, I know very few people who actually don't live with their parents, and all of the ones who do live on their own got married young and were able to combine their incomes to do so. Recently I heard a statistic that over half of the people my age group are still living with their parents, the highest percentage since the 1930s. I know that my cousin and I both graduated college a day apart last year, and she and I are both in the same situation: single and working full time jobs while still living with our parents.
     
  18. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    If you look at census data from the Era, multi-generation families are extremely common, if not the dominant family structure, in much of the country in the twenties, thirties, and forties, and this didn't really change until well after the war. Grandparents living with grown children, grown children living with parents, young married children living with parents -- the latter was especially common, as it was often seen, especially in working class families, as a necessary part of "giving the kids a good start in life."

    The more you research family living in the 20th Century, the more you get to realize that much of what "everybody knows" about how families lived in the period is largely the product of propaganda. And the further we get from the period, the more pernicious the propaganda becomes.
     
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  19. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Location:
    New York City
    Both my parents lived with their parents until they got married, (although, my dad seems to have lived with a woman for about a year, but we don't talk about that so my info is sketchy). All my parent's relatives and friends did the same. I can't think of one of them that had an apartment or lived separate from their parents until they got married. And most had some grandparents in the house as well. Also, as Lizzie notes, some, not all, lived with one or the other parents for a year or two after they got married to help get a start. My dad even had a childhood friend who became a doctor (he's the kid out of the group that excelled) and he lived home until he got married in his mid 30s. It would, I think, have almost been seen as an insult for a single child in their 20s to move out. Of course, this is just a narrow experience of a few families in New Jersey in the '30-'50s.
     
  20. Nobert

    Nobert Practically Family

    Messages:
    806
    Location:
    In the Maine Woods
    I'm sure mileage varied. My Mom lived with her parents until she married my Dad at 22 (and was practically an old maid by the standards of 1960's small-town Oklahoma) while my father, and most of his sisters, got out of Dodge A.S.A.P. But theirs was a fractured and none too happy family situation.
     

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