A Sparkling Vintage Life

A Sip of Cream: The Chicago Two-Flat

chicago-two-flats “The taxi dropped us off in a leafy North Side neighborhood in front of a modest brick apartment building. Dot ushered me up two flights of stairs and opened a door off a dim hallway. She switched on a lamp to reveal a narrow living room with scarred wooden floors and a small window-lined alcove at one end. There wasn’t much furniture, just a sofa, a couple of mismatched chairs, and an end table with a lamp on it. Dot hastened to pick up the several pieces of clothing strewn about.

“Sorry. I wasn’t expecting company,” she breezed. “I had a terrible time deciding what to wear this morning.”

(You’re the Cream in My Coffee, p. 83)

In You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Marjorie and her roommate, Dot, live in a classic Chicago two-flat, sharing the upstairs apartment while the landlady, Mrs. Moran, lives downstairs. At one point, the front steps are the scene for an intimate discussion between Marjorie and her beau.

Thousands of these sturdy brick two- and three-flats (and, more rarely, four- and six-flats) were built throughout Chicago in the early 20th century as chicago-two-flat quality affordable housing for working- and middle-class families. Each building contained full-floor apartments stacked one on top of another, plus a basement. Often the building’s owner lived on-site in one of the units and rented out the other. Renting her second unit to Dot and Marjorie was a good way for a widowed lady like Mrs. Moran to earn an income. Buying a two-flat or three-flat was also a solid option for extended families who wanted to live near each other while maintaining their own space. For example, a young family could live in one unit while Grandma and Grandpa lived upstairs. Or an immigrant who’d established a livelihood could buy a building  live in it, and offer the other unit(s) to freshly arrived kinfolk, helping them get settled in their new home. Even the basement might be turned into humble lodging for a single factory worker or young couple.

chicago-two-flat2 Today many of these well crafted buildings still stand, although some are falling into disrepair. Others are being converted into single-family dwellings.


6 Responses to A Sip of Cream: The Chicago Two-Flat

  • Avatar
    Elspeth says:

    Quick question: almost done reading You’re the Cream In My Coffee. Want to give it a review on my blog, since I review books there.

    Wondering, can I include a short quote in it? In particular the one about a struggle Marjorie was having with prayer.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer says:

      Elspeth, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and review it on your blog! Now I feel all fluttery. 🙂 Please quote as much as you like.

      I’m waist-deep in writing the sequel now. I’ve made it my project for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so November is all 1920s, all the time (with a brief break for turkey).

      I hope all is well with you and your family.

  • Hi, Jenny. For a time, my life is slowing down comparatively to the craziness of the past year. With winter and yucky days coming on, I think I’ll actually have time to read your book. Would love an autographed copy. I can meet you at the museum whenever you’re working for the transaction. Let me know what works for you, and we’ll make it happen.

    • Avatar
      Jennifer says:

      I’d love that, Marianne! I’ll be at the museum this afternoon (and most Thursdays) from about 1 to 4. If you haven’t bought a copy yet, if you purchase it there, profits support the museum.

      • I didn’t see your FB note until later in the day. So, if you made it and signed a book, I’ll purchase it there. If not, just nudge me when you go in next week, and I’ll stop by while you’re there. Thanks.

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