A Four Square on North 41st Street
The layout of domestic spaces during the early twentieth century reflected how residents delineated their public and private worlds. For instance, the plan-layout of a popular house type called the four square demonstrates that formal spaces of sociability and leisure were separated from areas associated with household work and labor. The public areas include the entrance parlor, living room and dining room while the private back zones include the kitchen and basement. This twentieth century separation of domestic domains may not appeal to the lifestyles and culture of contemporary residents. This four square home on North 41st Street is an example of how these buildings have been successfully adapted to suit contemporary needs.
The four square is a nearly-cube-shaped dwelling, two stories tall, and topped by a pyramid shaped roof with a protruding attic window. Occasionally, four squares feature a wide, one-story front porch. These buildings are practical and often have little exterior decoration. The interior layout includes four rooms that divide the footprint of the house into equal sized quadrants defining rooms such as a hall (entryway), parlor (living space), dining, and kitchen. In addition, the hall, living room, and dining room are interconnected suggesting a front space distinct from the kitchen, basement, and back porch. In some layouts, the bathroom and staircase are located along a middle band further separating the front and back spaces.
Scholars claim that the four square house type originated in the 1890s when there was a tendency to eschew the intricate Queen Anne style, toward a more “correct” colonial style. It enjoyed popularity between 1890 and 1930 when architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright moved away from ornamentation and towards practicality.
The front/back, formal/informal division holds true for this home. The formal living and dining room are on the left side of the home, while a door separates the entry from the kitchen and the pantry. The back of the home also features the remnants of a milk chute and ice storage. This shows that in the past, deliveries of food and provisions occurred in the back areas. A pop-out staircase near the back entrance leads to the basement laundry and storage areas from the kitchen.
The current owners made some changes to the interior of their home that reflect their lifestyle. In the past, the front porch defined a place to “hang out” with friends and neighbors. They have created a tranquil garden space in the back yard where they choose to socialize and spend more of their time. In an upstairs room that used to be a recreational den, they have set up an office space to work. This space also serves as their library. In this way, they have transformed a leisure space into a space of labor.
A formal oak staircase leads from the entry hallway to the second floor. In order to access the basement, one must cross through the entry and kitchen to the back of the home, where an additional pop-out encloses an informal staircase. This might be a variation since most traditional four squares, such as the “Spokane” home from the 1920s, feature a central stair that connects the basement, first floor and second floor. This back access suggests that the builder of the home preferred to keep the basement distinct and separate from the rest of the home.
After the house was built in 1921, the Altenhofen family were the primary residents until 1950. Barbara and Susan Altenhofen were the first residents, but dwelling permits indicate that Edward Altenhofen, a railroad clerk, was the original owner. By 1930, the manuscript census shows us that the residents were Edward (owner), his sister Charlotte, and his mother Barbara. By 1933, Edward had married Susan, and it is not clear whether she lived in the home by herself or with her husband.
In 1938, there is a break in the line of Altenhofens living in the home. It is possible that Edward rented the building to Robert J. Drewniak, a salesman, before the family moved back in 1939. After the Altenhofens returned, Arnold E. Altenhofen of Statn MCL Co. and Marie W., a teacher, were noted as residents of this building. Arnold moved out in 1950, and the next recorded owner, according to a 1958 electrical permit, was William Rahn. Before the current owners moved in in 1979, there is no more record of the Altenhofens living in the home.
House History Information
Residents (City Directory):
1921-32: Barbara Altenhofen (Widow to Matthew)
1933-34: Susan Altenhofen
1935-37: Edward J. Altenhofen (Clerk CMSP & PRR, Husband of Susan)
1938: Robert J. Drewniak (Salesman Schneider Fuel & S Co., Husband of Lorraine)
1939-43: Susan Altenhofen
1942: Arnold E. Altenhofen (Statn MGLCo.)
Marie W. (Teacher)
1947-50: Arnold E. Altenhofen
Next Recorded Owner: William Rahn (1958)
1979- : Current owners
1921: Permit for dwelling
1921: Permit for garage
1958: Permit for electrical installation
1988: Permit for gas fired boiler
1992: Permit for kitchen sink
1994: Permit for gas heater
Single-family (has always been single-family)
Four-square plan with back stairs pop-out
Two-story with basement and attic
Oak floors and trim in front (living, dining, parlor, front stairs)
Maple in back (kitchen, pantry, back stairs)
Fenced-in backyard with access to garage
Brick base and pillars with wood shingle siding