In the 1910s and 1920s, rowhouse residents were predominantly married couples in their late 20s to mid 30s with no children or just one young child. There were some older residents and elderly widows but they were the exception.
Occupationally, rowhouse dwellers were no different from the other residents of the University District. They tended to be white collar or professional workers with a fair percentage working at the university or in state government. Rowhouses here were homes to dentists, salesmen, teachers, engineers, tailors, newspaper reporters, businessmen, violin-makers, editors, clerks, and bureaucrats.
Depending on size, location, and amenities, rowhouses in the University District in the 1920s rented for $45 to $75 a month. This was a substantial share of an average household’s income, and still a good bite out of the better-paid University District workers’ earnings.
Rowhouse units typically had 4-6 rooms and ran about 800-1,000 square feet.
The ground floor of a typical unit featured a large living room in front, an adjoining dining room, and a small kitchen at the rear of the building. Upstairs was a large master bedroom in front, a smaller second bedroom, and a bathroom. Each of the bedrooms had a tiny closet about 3’ x 5’.
Rowhouses owners competed for tenants by offering various amenities. A smart, attractive, well-maintained building was one draw. Handsome plantings and grounds were another inducement. Features like art glass windows, bay windows, hardwood floors and trim, radiant heat fireplaces, built-in cabinets, built-in ironing boards, breakfast nooks, major appliances, laundry chutes, Murphy beds, and shower baths also helped close the deal. End units were popular because they had windows on three sides instead of just front and back. They generally rented for a little more. Location was key so rowhouses were often situated on major thoroughfares or street corners so landlords could boast about access to streetcar lines.
Some rowhouse residents stayed just a year or so. Others called the rowhouse their home for a decade or more. A few stayed for decades. Most residents lived in the rowhouses for 5-6 years while they saved money to purchase a house of their own.
Home ownership was less prevalent in the early 20th Century than today. In the 1920s, only about half of the housing units in Ohio were occupied by their owner (compared to 70% today.) This number is probably inflated by rural homesteads. In urban areas, the number was much lower.
Prior to the reforms of the New Deal, homes were bought with cash. Would-be home-buyers saved for years or decades to buy a house. For home-buyers with good prospects and immaculate credit, financial institutions could be persuaded to lend but only with a 50% down payment, a three to five year term with large payments, and a sizeable balloon payment at the end.
Housing prices in the 1920s were fairly high relative to average earnings. Homes in the University District went for $6-8.000. At three to four times the average household income, these were at the edge of affordability. Most people were unable to easily come up with the price of a house or unable to come up with it quickly thus there was a sizeable need for rental housing. Rowhouses were one of the answers to this need.
Following rowhouse residents of the 1920s in city directories and censuses reveals them moving into new houses in Clintonville, Grandview, Upper Arlington, the West Side, or elsewhere in the University District after they left their rowhouse homes.
Art glass windows were a common amenity in Columbus rowhouses. Not many have survived to the present day. These windows from University District rowhouses are among the few.