S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Arlington Triples Page keywords = Arlington triple decker apartment house building Massachusetts architetcture triplex Boston

Updated:   07 Oct 2017;  19:00 ET
[Page created 14 Jan 2014
    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]

URL:  http://sbiii.com/arltripl.html

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note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's


Arlington Triples
(a.k.a. Arlington Triple-Deckers)


Page unindexed (so far).

Arlington Triples - so, just what ARE Arlington Triples (or Triple-Deckers), or, for that matter, what IS an Arlington Triple (or Arlington Triple-Decker)?

They are a form of architecture unique (perhaps) to this area.

One of the first local features I ran across when moving from New York to West Medford, Massachusetts (immediately east of Arlington, Massachusetts) in July 2010, was the so-called* Arlington Triple.

To begin with, my understanding of an Arlington Triple is a rectangular, three-story, wood-frame, apartment house/building with a flat roof, three identical floors, and a projecting bay on one corner, such as these examples:

(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
01 - Typical(?) Arlington Triples

These were the very first examples I found after driving only a few blocks west from West Medford into southeast Arlington.

They do have porches added, however.

Many, if not most, Triples also seem to have a bay on one side.

Although they may also be called "Arlington Triplexes" (Triplexii?), they are really NOT triplexes (in the sense of duplex and triplex apartments, a three-story, single-family residence); they are three separate living units, one on each floor.  They are also known locally as "Arlington Triple Deckers".   rev (30 Jan 2014)

* - Broadening one's search to "Boston Triple Deckers", however, reveals a wealth of information about these endemic buildings; see below.   new (03 Mar 2014)

Having failed to find anything whatsoever, other than a realtor's listing for a "Triple Decker", about such a structure on the Internet, I resorted to the Reference Desk at the imposing Robbins Library, "The Public Library of Arlington, MA".  Surprise!  I bombed out; neither Reference Librarian on duty even knew of any "Arlington Triple"!

    I have made further (i)(e)nquiries of the Library and we shall see what devolves (and devolve it did - see Sources, below).

Another possible source of information might be the Arlington Historical Society; one can but ask.

In the interim, I am posting more pix of Triples I found, such as this pair of residences and a single in the style of what I believe to be Arlington Triples:

ArlingtnTriples02 BigArlingtnTriple03
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
02 and 03 - Double and Single Arlington Triples

The far left one is what I'd call a double Triple - OOPS! - the one on the right has FOUR stories (an Arlington Quad?)!

Then there's this pair of big apartment houses in masonry:

(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
04 - Masonry Arlington Triples

The latter pair are on Massachusetts Avenue; most Triples seem to be concentrated in south-central Arlington, clustered on and around Mass. Ave.   rev (30 Jan 2014)

[I probably should have rigorously documented which Triple was where but I was happily driving around in the rain and paying precious little attention to just exactly where I was, so some of these pix are probably mis-identified.]

Miscellaneous Arlington Triples:

ArlingtnTriple05 ArlingtnTriple06
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
05 and 06 - Miscellaneous Arlington Triples

ArlingtnTriple07 ArlingtnTriple08
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
07 and 08 - Miscellaneous Arlington Triples

As I wandered around, it occurred to me to wonder if there were also any "truncated Triples"; i.e. - two story versions and, lo and behold!, there they were, a pair of 'em, side by side, just like that:

TruncArlingtnTriple1 TruncArlingtnTriple2
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
09 and 10 - Atypical Arlington "Truncated Triples"

They don't have bays on the side, though (at least not on this side).

Since I recalled a group of Triples just across the southern boundary of Arlington in North Cambridge, I ran down there to record these in the south-west corner of Mass. Ave. and Alewife Brook Parkway:

NoCambridgeTriple12 NoCambridgeTriple13
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
12 and 13 - North Cambridge Triples

and these behind them:

NoCambridgeTriple14 NoCambridgeTriple15
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
14 and 15 - North Cambridge Triples

On my way home, I ran east on Alewife Brook Parkway and it happened again; I pass these Triples in north-west Somerville many times a week and never before noticed them, clustered on and around Waterhouse Street:

SomervilleTriple16 SomervilleTriple17
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
16 and 17 - North Cambridge Triples

Now, I really had Triples on the brain and, sure enough, running a few blocks north into West Medford, there were several others:

SomervilleTriple18 SomervilleTriple19
(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
18 and 19 - West Medford Triples

Lastly, only 0.8 miles from my house, right on High Street is this heavily-modified commercial version:

(14 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
11 - West Medford Tripleical but spoils the "look:.

Do you REALLY think I'd ever specifically noticed this building, which I pass at least once almost every single day?

Uh, oh - they're all starting to look alike to me, now!  There IS a certain cookie-cutter aspect to them.

Oh my gosh!  The very next day, 15 Jan 2014, I managed to overshoot my usual turn east off Mass. Ave. in Arlington by all of one whole block, turned instead on Tufts Street, where I've never, ever been before, and - no fair - you guessed - there they were, ANOTHER pair of Arlington Triples:   rev (30 Jan 2014)

(15 Jan 2014 picture by and © 2014 S. Berliner, III - all rights reserved)
20 - Arlington Triples

At least, I remembered to note the location this time.

It gets worse; I have a dear, old friend on Museum Street, deep inside Harvard-oriented Cambridge, right across from the Divinity School.  I also drop my wife off there periodically, to go to the Div. School library.  No fair; you guessed!  Yup; there is a small cluster of Triples right there that had previously escaped my notice!  Some pix will follow.   new (12 Feb 2014)

Well, now; if I'd known they were called "Triple-Deckers" in the first place, I'd probably never have started this page!  While there was nothing on line about "Triples", Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive article about them as "Triple-Deckers".  Popular in industrialized American cities, especially Boston proper, around the turn of the last century, they provided abundant housing at moderate (affordable) prices for immigrants, much as G. I. housing did in the post-WWII era.  There are also current articles in the New York TIMES and in Historic New England Magazine (probably 4th Quarter 2013).    new (12 Feb 2014)

Triples, Triple-Deckers, Three-Deckers, 3D, whatever you call 'em, they are EVERYWHERE!  There even appears to be a 3D University course on home repair, and a 3D Gallery, as well as special 3D Discounts for residents and owners of Triples!   new (20 Mar 2014)

The Boston Streetcars site also has an on-line feature on Boston Triple Deckrs and the Boston Redevelopment Authority issued a treatise on Boston's triple-deckers (1978), a slow-loading PDF file with 16 pages covering "the advantages of owning a triple decker; includes floor plans and estimates of costs; map shows location of triple decker neighborhoods".   new (12 Feb 2014)

From that Boston Redevelopment Authority treatise, here's a typical Triple floor plan:   new (03 Mar 2014)

Typical Triple Floor Plan
(source - Boston Redevelopment Authority)

Some have the master bedroom in front, others at the rear; flexibility in layout seems to be a feature of Triples.

A Concord, MA, firm, TBA Architects, is trying to reintroduce The New Triple Decker (the link is to a PDF file), with modern materials and an arched roof (which is eminently more practical but spoils "the look"),   new (12 Feb 2014)

Triples sometimes have two apartments per floor, and so a single could house six (6) family units and a double twelve (12).   rev (03 Mar 2014)

Having realized that Triple Deckers are not in any way unique to Arlington and having them pop out of the woodwork wherever I drive in the Boston area, I did a satellite tour of working-class neighborhoods to see what might jump out in aerial views.  The roof (plan) view of a Triple is so unique that this was an easy task.  Although some triples had hipped or gabled roofs (as I found in Lowell), most were flat.  Most have a turret on one corner and most have a bay on one side.  Some are doubled (side-for-side) and some have two turrets, one on each front corner.  The planform, however, is quite distinctive from the air:   new (03 Mar 2014)

Medford Triples Annotated Aerial View

There is no point in looking in affluent or very-old neighborhoods or out in rural areas.  The most rewarding aerial seaches are in urban or suburban neighborhoods where housing for the waves of immigrants who came to work in the mills and factories of the industrialized Northeast sprang up around the turn of the last century.  Here, then, are some typical aerial views, starting with some of the actual Arlington Triples that got me going on this wild-goose chase:

Arlington Triples Aerial View

Arlington Triples Aerial View 1

Arlington Triples Aerial View 2

Arlington Triples Aerial View 3

That Medford view in full:

Medford Triples Aerial View

The cluster in Cambridge:

Cambridge Triples Aerial View

A cluster in nearby Somerville:

Somerville Triples Aerial View

The two clusters along Waterhouse Street in Somerville:

Somerville Triples Aerial View 1

Somerville Triples Aerial View 2

Heading east from Medford, the next town is Malden but there wern't all that many Triples there:

Malden Triples Aerial View

Note, though, that they are adjoining (no space between buildings - see also Jamaica Plain, below).

Northeast from Malden, on the shore, Lynn is a heavily industrialized town (GE Aircraft Gas Turbine Division) with many Triples:

Lynn Triples Aerial View

Still on Boston's North Shore but further south, Chelsea has its share:

Chelsea Triples Aerial View

Next door is Charlestown, a major pre-revolutionary town, with very few Triples evident (or expected):

Charlestown Triples Aerial View

I had thought that the Navy Yard might have spawned more Triples but apparently not (too old?).  On the same note, mightn't the old Watertown Arsenal, a few miles up the Charles River, have done the same?  In this case, yes:

Watertown Triples Aerial View

So much for the North Shore; let's cross the Charles into Alston:

Alston Triples Aerial View

Jumping across downtown Boston into East Boston, we find Triples:

East Boston Triples Aerial View

Thence a hop, skip, and jump south along the South Shore to Dorchester, with scads of Triples, and, lo and behold, directly across the street from First Parish on Meetinghouse Hill, is a row of Triples:

Dorchester Triples Aerial View

Heading westerly inland, we come to Roxbury, with an ample selection:

Roxbury Triples Aerial View

Lastly, even further west, Jamaica Plain has its share of Triples:

Jamaica Plain Triples Aerial View

What is unique here (as in Malden, above) is that the Triples are adjoining, with no space between them!

Just out of curiosity, I tried to locate the hip- or gable-roofed Triples up in Lowell once again but failed, so here is a pair of flat-roofed Triples in Lowell:

Lowell Triples Aerial View

Their roofs have been modified so they don't particularly look like Triples from above, but they really are Triples.

Lowell is up near the New Hampshire border so, while looking up there, I tried Lawrence and Methuen; Lawrence yielded these two groupings

Lawrence Triples Aerial View

The one with a white roof isn't really recognizable as such and the black-roofed set is all conjoined.

Downtown Methuen, however, yielded a Triple bonanza!  Ten (count 'em) blocks with Triples:

Methuen Triples Aerial View

With that, we end our space odyssey.

- - - * - - -

Well, not quite.  By sheer chance, I ran across a Boston Redevelopment project from "This Old House" in which they renovated a Jamaica Plain three-decker in disastrous condition; what especially interested me was that, for all the work done, they basically took out the bathrooms and completely redid them and the kitchens:   added (07 Oct 2017)

Jamaica Plain Triple Plans
[07 Oct 2017 montage by SB,III

Clever, what?

Sources/Bibliography (20 Mar 2014)

The Robbins Library in Arlington came up with two excellent references (in their own collection):

Streetcar Suburbs - The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Second Edition); Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Harvard University Press, 1962 (1978)
  LoC 77-90965, ISBN 0-674-84213-8/0-674-84211-1 (especially Chapter Five, The Weave of Small Patterns, pp. 88 et seq.).
  Note Figs. 20 on page 57, 35 on page 91, 49 on page 115, and 66 on page 151.

Built in Boston - City & Suburb 1800-1950; Douglas Shand Tucci, New York Graphic Society, Boston, 1978
  ISBN 0-8212-0741-5 (especially Chapter 5, French Flats and Three-Deckers, pp. 101-130.
  Note Figs. 129 and 131 on page 122 and 134 and 135 on page 123.

If you are knowledgeable about Arlington Triples, please share the wealth.  Should this subject interest you, please stay tuned.


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


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