One of my favorite features of the El Moore is its name, carved from the stone above its historic entrance in an ornate, exotic font that perfectly complements the building’s Spanish Medieval style.
This is a small detail that makes a big difference, helping define the El Moore as more than just a building — it’s the El Moore, a distinctive place with a particular personality.
The practice of naming apartment buildings and carving those names into the buildings themselves was a pretty popular one in big US cities around the turn of the last century. Haruka Horiuchi, an architect, and Frank Hebbert, an urban planner, suggest on the site Urban Omnibus that its purpose was, in part, to make the idea of urban apartment living more attractive to the middle class. They write:
150 years ago, a residential structure for more than one family meant tenement, plain and simple. And in order to convince residents that sharing a roof and some walls with unrelated neighbors didn’t have to confer a social stigma, property developers had to do some marketing, 19th Century style….It seems that names were central to demonstrating the respectability of apartments as a new type of middle class dwelling.
The El Moore isn’t the only Midtown/Cass Corridor apartment building that was a part of this trend. In fact, the neighborhood around the El Moore is full of stately, turn-of-the-century apartment buildings with names engraved onto their facades. I like to think of these buildings as the El Moore’s neighbors, each with its own rich history, each representing a particular architectural style, and each with its own name, carved in a particular font, giving it a singular identity that could never be conveyed by an address alone.
A few other Green Garagers and I took a walk around the neighborhood recently to document as many of the El Moore’s named neighbors as we could find. Starting from the El Moore, at 624 Alexandrine, we went from Selden to Hancock and from Third to Cass, spotting and photographing 25 different residential buildings. (A few, like the El Moore, are in the process of being renovated.)
Below are the resulting photos — portraits, you might say, of some of the neighborhood’s oldest residents.