In Zachary J. Violette’s The Decorated Tenement, one hears strong echoes of today’s affordable housing debates, and particularly their cultural undertones. Aside from needing (or, dare we say, having a right to) shelter, what do the poor deserve in terms of design, decoration, and agency to make their own places? What spaces can “others,” including immigrants, make to express their cultures and satisfy their needs against the desires of dominant narratives (the market, morality, taste, and so on)? These are not new questions. And in this fine work of material culture history, foregrounding the façades of the Gilded Age’s “decorated tenements,” Violette expertly tells a story focused on cultural issues. The book is a superb example of architectural history and a good rejoinder to the economically overdetermined, politically polarized discourse of our day.

Violette defines a decorated tenement as “a building built in a ‘slum’ neighborhood for working-class, usually...

You do not currently have access to this content.