The Rose Keeper, Day 9: What in the Heck is a Two-Flat?
I was well advanced in years before I realized that not everyone outside of the Chicago area understands what a “two-flat” is. “Two-flat,” like “forest preserve” and “decent pizza,” seems to be an unfamiliar concept to much of the world. So here’s your handy primer to All Things Two-Flat.
The Chicago Tribune amusingly defined a two-flat as “a residential, two-story brick building with a common front entrance and separate residences on each floor. One floor is often reserved, reluctantly, for mother-in-law. Common source of extra income/aggravation for Chicagoans.” In other parts of the world, this sort of arrangement might be called a “duplex,” but in Chicago a duplex means two side-by-side residences connected by a common wall, while two-flats are vertical. The floor of the top unit is the ceiling of the bottom unit.
In THE ROSE KEEPER, Clara and Jerry live in a two-flat, surrounded by other two flats. Here’s an idea of what their street looks like. (The taller building is a three-flat, the others are two-flats):
Jerry, who owns the building, occupies the top floor and Clara, his tenant and friend, rents the main floor. They share a common front door and entryway. Clara’s apartment opens off the entryway, while Jerry’s is up a flight of stairs.
In addition, Jerry has built a small third apartment in the spacious basement. You see, it’s World War II, and with workers flooding in to work in nearby defense plants, the industrial town of Cicero is experiencing a housing shortage, so many homeowners are taking in boarders. When Jerry rents the basement apartment to a vivacious young factory worker and her precocious daughter, well, that’s when things really get interesting.
The units in a two- or three-flat are also connected at the back by a conglomeration of stairs and landings that technically serve as a fire escape, but are often euphemistically referred to as the “back porch.” Here’s an idea of what that looks like:
The basement apartment is only accessible through the back. There’s also a small backyard, where Clara keeps a vegetable garden, and a small one-car garage. Her beloved rosebush is in the front.
If you’re interested in learning more about the iconic–and apparently endangered–Chicago two-flat, here’s an interesting article on Curbed Chicago.
Tune in again tomorrow when I’ll share another behind-the-scenes story or fact as we count down to THE ROSE KEEPER!