Stoop (architecture)

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Two row houses with stoops

In urban architecture, a stoop is a small staircase ending in a platform and leading to the entrance of an apartment building or other building.

Etymology[edit]

Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands, this word is among the Dutch vocabulary that has survived there from colonial times until the present. Stoop, "a small porch", comes from Dutch stoep;[1] (meaning: sidewalk) the word is now in general use in the Northeastern United States and is probably spreading.

History[edit]

Traditionally, the function of stoops in New York City was to provide formal access from the street to the principal or parlor floor, where the private living quarters in a single-family residence began. Both the parlor and dining room were on this floor. The kitchen and other service offices were in the basement, which had its own entrance on the street, usually a few steps below grade, and an interior staircase connected the basement with the parlor floor.

This arrangement was well suited to the single-family row houses that dominated New York until the end of the 19th century. Family and guests, by using the stoop, avoided tromping through the service section of the house. Deliveries of foodstuff and other supplies were made at the basement entrance, ensuring the privacy and order of the living quarters above.[2]

In his book New York City: An Outsider's Inside View, author Mario Maffi suggests that originally New York stoops may have been a simple carry-over from the Dutch practice of constructing elevated buildings.

Stoop ... describe(s) the high entrance steps that almost give the old New York houses the appearance of small castles. In the ghetto neighborhoods especially, stoops served many different functions: projected outward into the great theater of the street, these elevated platforms were ideal for observation, courting, a chat, or gossip... The first builders in the city brought with them their customs of erecting buildings that were elevated (as protection against the havoc wreaked by North Sea floods) and flush to the street (to make up for the lack of space in a canal-dominated city like Amsterdam). The early village of New York thus assumed an identity that, three centuries later, it still retains --- and charmingly so along certain streets and in certain neighborhoods.

— Mario Maffi, New York City: An Outsider's Inside View[3]

Stoops as a social device[edit]

Newsboys congregating on a stoop, 1910
See also: Porch sitting

Traditionally, in North American cities, the stoop served an important function as a spot for brief, incidental social encounters. Homemakers, children, and other household members would sit on the stoop outside their home to relax, and greet neighbors passing by. Similarly, while on an errand, one would stop and converse with neighbors sitting on their stoops. Within an urban community, stoop conversations helped to disseminate gossip and reaffirm casual relationships. Similarly, it was the place that children would congregate to play stoop ball. Urbanites lacking yards often hold stoop sales instead of yard sales.

In her pivotal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs includes the stoop as part of her model of the self-regulating urban street. By providing a constant human presence watching the street, institutions such as stoops prevent street crime, without intervention from authority figures. In addition, they motivate better street maintenance and beautification, by giving it social as well as utilitarian value.

Popular culture[edit]

  • A famous shot in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather Part II, shows Vito Corleone sitting on the stoop of his Little Italy apartment with his family.
  • Virtually all of the action in Elmer Rice's Street Scene (play) takes place on or in the immediate vicinity of the front stoop of the apartment building where the play is set. This feature of the play was retained when it was adapted into an opera by Rice, Kurt Weill, and Langston Hughes.
  • The movie "Do The Right Thing" by Spike Lee, aptly captures the complex interplay of urban dynamics that occur on stoops. The script mentions stoops more than 40 times.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=stoop
  2. ^ Kellerman, Regina M. (11 February 1982). "More on the Stoop". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  3. ^ New York City

Literature[edit]

  • Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, New York: Random House, 1961
  • Mario Maffi, New York City: An Outsider's Inside View, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004