Building type survey: stacked flats in Norfolk

A quick trip to Norfolk last weekend turned up at least one pleasant surprise: a tradition of Chicago-esque stacked flats apartment buildings, here in the rowhouse-heavy Mid-Atlantic. Many were around the Ghent neighborhood, primarily along higher-traffic (probably former streetcar route) streets like Colonial Ave. and Hampton Blvd.

The neighborhood’s lots are a fairly generous 30′ wide, so a double lot can easily fit narrow courtyards between three-story stacked flats:

Ghent, Norfolk

More common, though, were double-lot six-flats — with deep neoclassical porches, reflecting the fact that they are, after all, in the South:

Ghent, Norfolk

Just as surprising was this liner apartment building, apparently built in 2006 at the corner of Colonial and Princess Anne to mask a 1970s-era serrated senior housing high-rise. The porch detailing is a bit clumsily done — the building is too wide and shallow to match to the six-flats’ columns across the street — but the building holds a busy corner much better than whatever parking lot or open lawn that preceded it. Similar proposals have been controversial even in New York City, so it’s heartening to see a fairly good example.

Ghent, Norfolk

The Chicago six-flat is a particular adaptation to several factors: fairly wide (25′-28′) lots, readily available brick, and a fire code that both largely banned party walls and required two exit stairs. They’re readily identifiable from a front stair off to the side, leaving space for a spacious “front room,” and exposed “back porches.” True to form, the Norfolk houses also had exposed rear exit stairs, even in the absence of alleys.

Alas, the city’s pattern books don’t have much to say about the type.

4 thoughts on “Building type survey: stacked flats in Norfolk

  1. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know
    a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its
    a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

  2. The six-flat is also extremely common in Kansas City. In my imagination, I have always thought of Chicago rather than New York as the quintessential American City as New York is a creature unto itself, while most of the mid-western cities (Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, etc.) seem as if they deliberately mimicked Chicago’s style. Thousands of years from now, archaeologists will speak of the “Chicago Culture” to describe the similar development patterns and buildings seen across the midwest in the same manner as the speak of the “Clovis Culture” to describe Native American civilizations of eras past.

    Here are some links demonstrating some of the uncanny similarities:

  3. Chicago construction techniques, like the balloon frame, were exported across the West by the city’s early pre-eminence in distributing materials and knowledge. Similarly, the square-mile grid that it shares with most Western cities set a lot of housing type precedents.

    It’s especially interesting to see how the line between narrow rowhouses vs. 2/3-flats jogs around. For instance, Ohio is on the Jefferson grid, but Cincinnati is older than Cleveland or Columbus — so southern Cincy has narrow lots and rowhouses, and its northern siblings have wider lots and detached houses.

    Another city that enters into the picture: Paris. In the 1850s, “Second Empire” style swept America, and with it a fashion for French-style flats rather than English-style rows.

  4. Richmond, VA, also has quite a few six-flats. I used to live in one at 3128 Stuart Ave., and there are lots more along Boulevard and Monument Ave., as well as interspersed with rowhouses on side streets in that general area (north of Carytown). This seems to have been an area built up around 1920. Note also that rowhouses in that general area are not true rowhouses, but rather modified duplexes (a narrow passageway between every second rowhouse).

Comments are closed.