Samuel Edelman Apartments, 97-103 Norfolk Street

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No. 21610 Samuel Edelman Apartments


The following information is a National Register form proposed in October, 2018.  At that time, it was not yet approved, and there may be changes.

The Samuel Edelman Apartments were constructed ca. 1908. The building is located at 97-103 Norfolk Street, occupying the northeast corner of Norfolk and Elmhurst streets in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Dorchester is one of the city’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods; it lies south of downtown and is bordered by South Boston to the north and Roxbury and Mattapan to the west; the Neponset River and Boston Harbor form its southern and eastern boundaries. The neighborhood encompasses approximately six square miles and contains many smaller villages within its large boundaries. The closest of these villages to the Samuel Edelman Apartments is Codman Square, which lies a quarter mile east of the building. Norfolk Street, one of Dorchester’s oldest thoroughfares, runs northeast from Blue Hill Avenue at its southern end to the intersection of Talbot Avenue and Washington Street at Codman Square at its northern end. This long-serving road is lined with residential and commercial buildings predominantly dating from the late nineteenth to the first quarter of the twentiethcenturies with vestiges of earlier development and areas of new construction. The Samuel Edelman Apartments represent a relatively rare building type in the immediate vicinity: the masonry apartment building. Frame triple-deckers, multi-family houses (historic and new construction), and low-rise commercial buildings characterize much of the area.

The three story red brick apartment building contains twelve residential units and occupies most of four city lots with a combined area of 7,250 square feet. The building abuts its property lines along Norfolk Street to the south, Elmhurst Street to the west, a neighboring lot with a one-story, long brick structure that once served as garages to the north, and a two-and-a-half-story multi­family frame house to the east. The apartment building was designed in the Colonial Revival style; defining characteristics include its bow fronted façade, cast stone embellishment of corners, fenestration, and entries, and a wide, modillioned metal cornice with a denticulated friezeboard. The building was renovated in 2015-2016 using state and federal tax credits for use as affordable housing and is in good condition. The building retains a high degree of historic integrity of setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

Narrative Description

The Samuel Edelman Apartments face south onto Norfolk Street. Though a single building with a u-shaped footprint, the building contains four distinct entrances with the individual address of 97, 99, 101, and 103 Norfolk Street. The Norfolk Street elevation is divided by rounded bays at its ends and center and extends twenty bays (Photos 1-2). The Elmhurst Street elevation extends seven bays (Photos 2-3). The building rests on a stone foundation and rises three stories over a raised basement to a flat roof. It is constructed of red brick laid in seven-course Flemish Stretcher bond with cast stone embellishment on its street-facing elevations; secondary elevations are laid in American bond. Original doors and windows on all elevations have been replaced; all windows hold 1-over-1 metal sash.

The Norfolk Street façade features three basement-level windows that have been filled located in each of the rounded bays (Photos 1-2). A cast stone water table defines the upper floors from the basement. Paired entrances centered between the rounded bays are reached by flights of concrete stairs with metal handrails. The entrances hold replacement metal and glass doors. Cast stone quoining defines the edges of each door and a corbelled cast stone lintel spans the width of both doors. Flanking the entries, rounded bays hold three windows on each floor. The first floor windows are joined by a cast stone lug sill course and a cast stone corbelled lintel course minoring the entrance lintel. Four windows light the second and third floors above the entrances. Second floor windows in the four central bays feature cast stone lug sills and cast stone corbelled hoods. Third floor windows in the four central bays are distinguished from those on the lower level by their splayed cast stone lintels with corbelled keystones. The second and third floor bay windows are more simply treated with flat cast stone lug sills and lintels. A wide cornice that incorporates a denticulated friezeboard and modillions crowns the façade, and cast stone quoining defines its outer edges.

The Elmhurst Street elevation is similar in treatment to the Norfolk Street elevation, though with less embellishment (Photos 2-3). Small basement windows in each of the seven bays have been filled. These openings and the three levels of windows on the upper floors are framed by flat cast stone lug sills and lintels. The elaborate Norfolk Street cornice continues along this elevation as well.

The north and east elevations of the building are utilitarian in appearance (Photos 4-8) . Brick is laid in American bond and fenestration is unadorned but for cast stone lug sills and three-course segmental arched, brick rowlock lintels. The north (rear) elevation accommodates a narrow, central lightwell, dividing the elevation into two blocks (Photo 6). The western block of the elevation is stepped (Photo 4). Regularly spaced single and paired windows light the bays on the rear elevation; those at the basement level have been filled. Four secondary entrances are located on this elevation, accessing each of the four building units. Bricked door openings directly above the entrances that flank the lightwell indicate the former presence of rear porches (Photo 5). Some windows facing the interior lightwell have been partially bricked-in and vented (Photo 7). The east elevation presents a blank wall where it is visible from Norfolk Street and incorporates four regularly fenestrated recessed bays between this and a northern protruding bay that accommodates a rear stair (Photo 8).


The Samuel Edelman Apartments retain their original interior configuration with four apartments on each floor. Apartments contain two to four bedrooms and extend north-south. Each address has a set of main stairs that are centrally located along the interior walls, and secondary stairs that are located at the northern end of the building. Each of the four Norfolk Street entrances leads to an enclosed entry vestibule with doors leading to the first floor apartment units and the main stair that accesses the apartments on the upper floors (Photos 10-11). Historic finishes are limited to the stairs which retain their original turned newel posts and some treads as well as some beadboard wainscoting (Photos 9 &12).

The Samuel Edelman Apartments are located at 97-103 Norfolk Street just a quarter of a mile west of Codman Square, an important civic, commercial, religious, and residential center at a major crossroads in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. The apartment building was constructed ca. 1908 by Samuel Edelman, a speculative developer hoping to capitalize on the expansion of electric streetcar lines down Norfolk Street that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Owners of the building, residents of the apartments, and immediate neighbors consisted of working class families representing a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The Samuel Edelman Apartments are significant under Criterion A in the area of Community Planning and Development for their association with the large-scale suburban development made possible by the expansion of transportation networks that transformed Dorchester from a rural farming community to a dense, ethnically diverse, increasingly urban neighborhood during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The building is also significant under Criterion C in the area of Architecture as a well-preserved example of Colonial Revival apartment buildings, one of few constructed along this stretch of Norfolk Street. The period of significance for the Samuel Edelman Apartments begins in 1908 when the building was mostly likely constructed and because of its continuous use as an apartment building ends in 1967, the fifty-year age requirement for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Residential Development along Norfolk Street

The Samuel Edelman Apartments are located at 97-103 Norfolk Street in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Dorchester was founded by English settlers in 1630 and remained an independent town until 1870 when it was annexed to the City of Boston. It began as a rural farming community with a network of roads connecting outlying farms and small villages that were located at the crossroads of these local highways. Norfolk Street and Codman Square were part of this early network of roads and village centers. Norfolk Street was laid out in the early eighteenth century, intersecting with present day Washington Street, a Colonial road connecting Roxbury and Braintree. This intersection became the heart of Codman Square, a long-serving neighborhood village that developed into a rural religious center in the early nineteenth century and evolved into a commercial, residential, and civic hub as the century progressed.

Dorchester remained largely rural, characterized by farms and country estates, until the mid-nineteenth century when the Boston & Providence and Old Colony Railway lines were introduced to the neighborhood in 1835 and 1844, respectively. The Boston & Providence line (later the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad, the New York and New England Railroad, and theNew York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad until 1968, now part of the MBTA’s commuter rail system) ran through the western portion of Dorchester while the Old Colony Railway line ran through the neighborhood’s eastern villages. These rail lines made Boston accessible to Dorchester commuters and initiated the transformation of the rural town into an early suburb for wealthy Bostonians in the mid-nineteenth century. Large, single-family homes in proximity to rail station stops were constructed on established streets, while smaller house lots were developed close to the stations. These development patterns applied to Norfolk Street. In 1829 Norfolk Street was characterized by widely spaced farms with only a handful of homes along the road (Figure 1). The arrival of the Boston and Providence railroad heralded change. The railroad tracks ran parallel to much of Norfolk Street, crossing it near Corbet Street. Dorchester station was located one block west of Norfolk Street on present-day Woodrow Avenue. By 1850, twice as many homes lined Norfolk Street as did twenty years earlier (Figure 2).

Further accelerating the rate of residential development along Norfolk Street was the annexation of Dorchester to the city of Boston and the expansion of transportation networks in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. A significant consequence of the town’s annexation was the systematic expansion of city services into the neighborhood, including water and sewer lines and waste disposal. The combination of these services with the introduction of horse-drawn streetcars expanded the possibilities for residential development. Horse drawn streetcars were introduced to Norfolk Street in the vicinity of Codman Square in the 1870s. While the railway line introduced thirty years earlier made Boston more easily accessible to residents of Norfolk Street, streetcars made Boston accessible to commuters at a lower cost than the steam railroad lines, which made streets in proximity to the streetcar lines attractive to developers. By 1874, Norfolk Street reflected the transition that accompanied the introduction of the streetcar lines. While much of the southern end of the street retained its rural qualities with large lots and sparse development, properties north of Corbet Street were subdivided into small lots. Heading into Codman Square, the entire eastern side of Norfolk Street was subdivided with some residential development along side streets. The western side of the street—the future site of the Samuel Edelman Apartments—remained undivided at this time (Figure 3). The streetcar lines of the 1870s were electrified in the 1880s, an advancement which significantly accelerated commuting time, and consequently accelerated the rate of residential development. By 1898 the majority of Norfolk Street in the vicinity of Codman Square and the Dorchester Station was developed with single family frame houses; undeveloped land was subdivided and poised for development (Figure 4).

Development of Norfolk Street and Codman Square flourished during the first three decades of the twentieth century, during which time the better part of Norfolk Street and its side streets were developed and Codman Square boasted schools, libraries, and commercial buildings that served the new residents. In contrast to the earlier development of Norfolk Street, residential dwellings added after the turn of the twentieth century were typically multi-family buildings. These were interspersed with one-story commercial buildings and schools as the distance from Codman Square increased. An account of the changing nature of Norfolk Street during this period was recorded in a discussion among the Boston City Council of a proposal to widen Norfolk Street in 1910:

[Norfolk Street] is a thoroughfare of Dorchester and is very much used. It is narrow and it is traversed by a double line of tracks of the Boston Elevated Street Railroad. All along the line of these tracks, the street is in a dangerous condition, and in many cases it is impossible for a vehicle passing along the street to get between the sidewalk and an electric car on the same side of the street. This part of Dorchester at the present time is in a transition state. A great many of the buildings along the street are old residences sitting way back from the street. But the district is changing. Business blocks and apartment houses are being built up to the street line so that the time will come when it will be more expensive to widen this street than it is at present.’

As this passage illustrates, Norfolk Street at this time was well suited for multi-family housing development. The proximity to a noisy, bustling road would have been less attractive to single-family homebuyers, and more suited to renters who required access to streetcar lines to reach their places of employment. Developers recognized the land value for this purpose and constructed marketable buildings accordingly. By 1933 multi-family residences and commercial buildings lined the busy street (Figure 5).

The Development of the Samuel Edelman Apartments

The land on which the Samuel Edelman Apartments were built was one of the last large parcels on Norfolk Street in proximity to Codman Square to be developed. The nearly five-acre property was owned by the Codman family. The Rev. John Codman, for whom Codman Square was named in the mid-nineteenth century, was the influential first minister of Dorchester’s Second Church at 600 Washington Street where he served from 1808-1847. The Codmans owned a significant amount of land along Norfolk Street between present-day New England Avenue and Whitfield Street in the early nineteenth century. A portion of this property was bequeathed to the Second Church parish for use as a cemetery following John Codman’s death in 1848. The undeveloped five-acre Codman parcel and the near-by cemetery rendered the western side of Norfolk Street reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth century until the late 1890s (Figure 6).

The development of the Samuel Edelman Apartments was the direct result of the expansion of the electric streetcar system throughout Dorchester, and in Codman Square specifically, in the late nineteenth century. By 1897 the West End Street Railroad Company, which was responsible for suburban expansion of streetcar lines in the 1890s, had acquired and sold the Codman estate to the Roxbury Real Estate Association, an entity created in 1890 for the purpose of buying, selling, leasing and improving real estate. The newspaper account of the sale indicated that new streets would be laid out and other improvements made.The 1898 Bromley Atlas illustrates the immediate introduction of Ferndale and Elmhurst streets and the subdivision of the property into roughly 4,000 square foot parcels along the side streets and nearly 5,000 square feet parcelsalong Norfolk Street (Figure 4). An advertisement for a house across Norfolk Street from the newly subdivided land lauds the many advantages of the neighborhood that the Roxbury Real Estate Association undoubtedly recognized when it purchased the Codman property: “This estate should interest any person desiring to purchase for a residence, as it is centrally located, very near Washington Street, and convenient to schools, churches, cars, etc. Splendid location for a first class home, being in a nice section of Dorchester”.Despite these attractions, the subdivision was somewhat slow to develop. Just three houses were constructed on Elmhurst Street by 1904; these joined existing houses on Darlington Street to form a small cluster of residential development (Figure 7). It wasn’t until between 1910 and 1918 that the side streets began to attract builders (Figures 8 & 9).

The larger parcels on Norfolk Street were more attractive. Samuel Altman acquired at least six of the Norfolk Street parcels on the former Codman property between 1904 and 1908: four parcels comprising the block between Ferndale and Elmhurst streets, and two parcels at the corner of Norfolk and Elmhurst streets. Altman was a Roxbury resident living on Holborn Place (present day Glenbum Street) when he purchased the Norfolk Street parcels. He was a builder and real estate developer who was active in Dorchester, Allston, the North and South Ends, the Back Bay and Brookline from about 1902 through his death in 1931. He is known for apartment hotels, some of which include The Pretoria (MHC# BOS.15397), the Belview Apartments (MHC# BOS.15396), and The Belgrade Apartments (MHC #BOS.15514) all constructed in 1911. Altman seems to have been attracted to the parcels for investment; he was not responsible for their development. He sold the undeveloped land at the corner of Norfolk and Elmhurst to Samuel Edelman in 1908 and retained ownership of the neighboring lots until sometime between 1918 and 1921, when they were eventually developed by another owner. Though original building permits do not survive for the apartment building at 97-103 Norfolk Street, it appears that Edelman was responsible for the construction of the building. A survey of the property following the sale, and a report of Edelman’s petition for construction of a sidewalk in front of the new building in 1908 suggests the completion of the building in that year (Figure 10, survey).4 Very little could be gleaned about Edelman. It appears that he and Altman were neighbors for a short time on Holbome Place.It is possible that they worked together in the development of the property with Altman as the builder.

Edelman sold his apartment building to the Stapleton family between 1910 and 1918. Brothers Eugene and Bernard Stapleton were residents of South Boston where they lived with their sister on Dorchester Street through the 1920s. They were Irish immigrants who arrived in Boston in1883 and operated a liquor store in South Boston.6 The building remained in the Stapleton family until 1972.

The Residents of the Samuel Edelman Apartments

The residents of the Samuel Edelman Apartments represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds over the years. The first residents of the building as recorded in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census were a combination of multi-generational American families from New England, New York and Pennsylvania, and first and second-generation families from Canada, England, Holland, and Ireland. Their neighbors on Darlington, Southern, and Elmhurst Street reflected the same demographic. A decade later, the backgrounds of the residents of the Samuel Edelman Apartments were largely unchanged but for the addition of an Italian family. The side streets, however, became more heterogeneous. There were fewer multi-generational American families and a greater number of immigrants from a larger pool of countries including Sweden, Scotland, Finland, Russia, Poland and Lithuania. The residents of the Samuel Edelman Apartments continued to represent Canadian, Irish, and American backgrounds in the 1930s and 1940s and the side streets continued to expand their populations of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland as well as Canadian and Irish immigrants.

This diversity of ethnic backgrounds is reflected in the close proximity of varied religious institutions that served the residents of the neighborhood. St. Matthews Catholic Church, originally a mission of St. Gregory’s in lower Mills, was built on the corner of Darlington and Norfolk streets in 1890 (MCH# BOS.15912) attracting the first Catholic families to the neighborhood. The cluster of residential development along Darlington Street that appears on the 1894 Bromley Atlas was undoubtedly attributable to the introduction of the church. The church continued its attraction, which likely contributed to the desirability of the neighborhood for working-class Catholic families from Ireland and Italy. Similarly, several decades later in 1925 the Tikvas Israel synagogue was built on the corner of Southern Avenue and Elmhurst Street, serving as a congregating place and later a Hebrew School for the Jewish families in the neighborhood.

Despite their diversity of backgrounds, a unifying factor among the residents of the Samuel Edelman Apartments and their neighbors was their economic class. All of these men and women were employed in working-class professions. They were clerks, bookkeepers, grocers, salesmen and women, building tradesmen, night watchmen, brakemen, janitors, taxi drivers, and laborers. The proximity to the Norfolk Avenue Street cars would have been favorable for these working class families commuting to their places of employment. Most apartments were occupied by immediate family members. However, a few were shared with extended families and boarders. The desirability of proximity to transportation was reflected in an advertisement for a room in one of the Samuel Edelman Apartments in the 1920s: “…on car line, near depot.”‘

The Samuel Edelman Apartments has served as apartments continuously since the building’s construction. However, the mid-late 1960s ushered in the beginnings of change. As late as 1959, all but one of the apartments was occupied, according to the Boston City Directory of that year. The surnames of residents suggest a mixture of people with Italian, Jewish, and Irish backgrounds. By 1965, half as many residents remained in the building. In 1972, the Stapleton family, long-time owners of the building, sold the property to the Wayne Apartments Company which completely rehabilitated the apartments for use as affordable housing units. Changes were afoot in the immediate neighborhood during this time as well. The Tivkas Israel synagogue at the corner of Southern Avenue and Elmhurst Street, which functioned as a Hebrew School by 1933 was sold in 1970 reflecting the Jewish migration out of Dorchester and into the suburbs of Newton and Brookline from about 1950-1970. Five years later the Roman Catholic presence in the former chapel of St. Matthews Church on the corner of Norfolk and Darlington Streets, which was used as a parochial school for the Diocese in later years, was sold to the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles. Codman Square, too was undergoing change. By the 1960s and 1970s, building abandonment, vacancy, and a decline in retail businesses was prevalent.

Beginning in the 1980s, and continuing to the present, reinvestment in the neighborhood has been ongoing. The Samuel Edelman Apartments have been part of this renewal. Beginning with its full rehabilitation in 1972, it has served continuously as affordable housing. The building underwent a partial rehabilitation in the 1980s, and again in 2015. The most recent renovation aimed to address issues of deferred maintenance on the building’s exterior and interior. Work included repointing and repair of brickwork, repair of concrete stairs, slabs, curbs, and drywall, replacement of rotted wood and non-historic interior fixtures and finishes, and repair and replacement of flooring. All work met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties.

The Colonial Revival Movement and the Samuel Edelman Apartments

The Samuel Edelman Apartments were designed in the Colonial Revival style. This style was immensely popular in the United States from the late nineteenth through the mid twentieth centuries. It was the dominant architectural vocabulary of apartment house buildings in Dorchester for the first three decades of the twentieth century. While early interest in the colonial past was triggered by the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago cemented the enthusiasm for reviving its relics in the minds of the nation. The occasion marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, and presented visitors with innumerable opportunities to experience the colonial past. Colonial Architecture was on exhibit in many of the State buildings erected at the fair; their decorative interiors, commemorative displays, and historical exhibitions flooded the fair grounds.8 Massachusetts recreated the John Hancock House, built on Beacon Hill in 1737 and demolished in 1863. This colonial celebration coincided with mass immigration to the United

States in the 1880s and 1890s, which fueled a desire to underscore and impart American values. Reviving elements of the colonial past was reassuring at a time of great change.

Colonial Revival architecture began as loose interpretations of colonial period buildings, but took a more serious turn in the early twentieth century when publications like The American Architect and Building News began publishing measured drawings of colonial buildings and the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs printed photographs of colonial precedents. The single-most defining characteristic that was reproduced in the revival movement is an emphasis on the door surround of the main entrance, which often features pilasters or slender columns supporting a pediment or entablature as seen in the Georgian-style, or a fanlight above the door as seen in the Federal-style. Other characteristic elements of the revival style include elaborate cornices, symmetrical fenestration arrangement, light colored brick, bay windows, multi-pane double-hung sash windows commonly featured in pairs, and in urban examples, bowed fronts, which allowed for increased light to reach apartments in buildings erected on deep, narrow lots.

The Samuel Edelman Apartments were constructed as the Colonial Revival style was becoming the dominant architectural vocabulary. The building embodies the style in its massing and ornament. Its bow-fronted façade was typical of urban Colonial Revival buildings as it allowed more light to enter the interior on narrow city lots. Other representative features include the wide, metal cornice with ogee profiling, modillions and a denticulated frieze, the use of cast stone for emphasis on door surrounds and fenestration, and the regular organization of windows on all elevations. These openings would have held multi-light wood sash originally.

Edelman’s choice of the Colonial Revival was typical for developers in the first decades of the twentieth century. These men were interested in developing marketable properties and the Colonial Revival would have been an architectural vocabulary that was familiar to them and to future residents and that represented current style. While there was no precedent for masonry apartment building along this stretch of Norfolk Street, the commercial, residential, and municipal buildings erected in Codman Square at the turn of the twentieth century were models of current style. The Codman Square branch library at 6 Norfolk Street (MHC #BOS.6127) constructed in 1904, and the commercial and residential buildings at 337 Talbot Avenue (MHC# BOS.6693) and 363 Talbot Avenue (MHC# BOS.6746) constructed in 1903 and 1899 respectively were all constructed in the Colonial Revival style and were major anchors of the Codman Square intersection. For Edelman, it would have been a logical choice to emulate comparable buildings in the neighborhood for an investment property. The Colonial Revival style, familiar throughout the neighborhood, would have been appealing to future buyers and residents.


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Posted on

April 10, 2020