Betsy Ross Was a Renter and Frank Lloyd Wright Was an Absentee Landlord

11 thoughts on “Betsy Ross Was a Renter and Frank Lloyd Wright Was an Absentee Landlord”

  1. Good one. I used to work at the Home & Studio. If you think that arrangement would draw questions today, it’s nothing compared to having an attraction that draws 80,000 people in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Still, most people tolerated it.

  2. Another classic example of a subdivision that would now be illegal is the garage where Hewlett-Packard got their start.

    The home, originally designated as 367 Addison Avenue, was first occupied in 1905 by Dr. John Spencer, his wife Ione, and their two adult daughters. Dr. Spencer became Palo Alto’s first mayor in 1909. In 1918, the house was divided into two separate apartments, numbered 367 and 369.

    In 1937, David “Dave” Packard, then 25 years old, visited William “Bill” Hewlett in Palo Alto and the pair had their first business meeting.

    In 1938, newly married Dave and Lucile Packard moved into 367 Addison Ave, the first floor three-room apartment, with Bill Hewlett sleeping in the shed. Mrs. Spencer, now widowed, moved into the second floor apartment, 369 Addison. Hewlett and Packard began to use the one-car garage, with $538 in capital.

    Try doing that in Palo Alto today and you’d quickly run afoul of the local planning commission and your neighbors as well who would all be trying to preserve the “character” of the ‘hood.

  3. Yes…many of the old suburban towns on Philadelphia’s “Main Line” have a walkable town core: Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, and Paoli are the most like you describe, though less dense. They are very expensive places to buy a home or to rent an apartment because of the relatively short rail commute to Center City Philadelphia.

  4. Subdividing McMansions is probably going to have to happen, and the first step on the way there will likely be allowing “mother in law” suites in place of the “bonus room” over the suburban 3-car garage.

    For example, “secondary dwelling units” are allowed in most residential districts by the new zoning code governing the combined city-county of Indianapolis. Rear garages are being converted back to “carriage houses” in several historic urban neighborhoods.

    1. In my experience the laws created by higher levels of government to make Accessory Dwelling Units legal are thwarted at the neighborhood level by counter measures that make them very hard to implement in practice. There’s simply too much of a cultural stigma associated with anything that deviates from the single family home on a cul-de-sac norm. There are exceptions, but it’s tricky.

      1. The new Indy zoning code allows the secondary units as by right. NIMBYs don’t have a forum or opportunity to get in the way unless the new unit needs some other kind of approval or variance (height, historic district, setback, maximum lot coverage, etc.). So in the vast majority of cases, if you’re building within the previous footprint, there can’t be an issue. See

        I just sold a house to my son…a little 900sf bungalow on a 13,000 sf lot, with a legally existing 2.5 car detached garage out back. Under the code, he could rebuild the existing garage with a small dwelling unit over it, or in place of it, by right. (He’d need to win the lottery to do so because he’d have to run water, sewer, and gas at least 125 feet under an existing concrete drive, plus put in an appropriate foundation at a sufficient grade height to drain the sewer that distance; the rent would never amortize the capital costs. But he could do it by right.)

          1. But my point is, even though the economics wouldn’t work for him on that site, that is what will govern. The economics will work just fine in plenty of other locations in town with lower infrastructure costs and higher rent possibilities. It’s happening now, even in historic preservation districts. Now, I am not suggesting every single-family lot will end up with a secondary dwelling; not most, not even many; but it will happen more and more because it is allowed and can make sense.

  5. So where are these types of arrangments legal? Is there any municipality moving towards again allowing this?

    I read in another post this is more or less allowed in Detroit, but only because the city has opted to devote resources to areas other rather than zoning enforcement.

    Detroit city:
    “I see your plans are something other than burn the place down. Approved!”

  6. Whenever I see houses like those on Elfreth’s Alley, and see how much they sell for, I wish that my entire (English) town of Victorian terraces and a railway station could be teleported to the United States and installed on a suitable railway line somewhere. The values of the houses would shoot up significantly I think, from the ~$120k for a terrace that they sell for here in England…

    Are there any US towns that are like Carnforth (,-2.7733706,16z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x487c62b6f3984b61:0x17dcdf1649eea456!8m2!3d54.127363!4d-2.768112!6m1!1e1)? Small, ~6000 people, walkable, have a railway station and a few supermarkets?

    1. There are towns very much like Carnforth all over the northeast U.S. – particularly in the
      “coal cracker” region of Pennsylvania. When they’re close to a major city and have a university and/or medical center they can be prosperous and pleasant. When they’re out in the countryside by themselves they tend to be poor and depopulated. It’s the same in the U.K. If a town is in the Southeast around London and down to Brighton there’s generally money involved. Farther up in the Midlands… not so much.

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