The Bizarre Way My Grandparents Found Their First Apartment in 1957

published Mar 3, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Courtesy of Peg Socha
Grammy, with her first Christmas tree in her first apartment

I recently had the unique pleasure of searching for a place to live in New York City. It’s a hellish experience no matter which way you slice it—one that I’ve been describing to my grandparents in detail. 

My stories of my trials, tribulations, and tremendous amount of money spent got us to the topic of their first-ever apartment. In 1957, my Grammy and Grampy rented an attic unit in good old Worcester, Massachusetts. The way they found it, toured it, paid for it, and furnished it is wildly different from the ways I’ve approached renting any of my apartments. A few key differences stuck out to me during our last phone call.

They found a reasonably clean and affordable apartment without seeing any photos of it first

Ah, the classifieds section of the newspaper, like Craigslist, but better. My grandparents found their place in the paper, or as Grampy pronounces it, “apahhhtments for rent in the papahh” (I did say they’re from Massachusetts, yes?). The small ad for the apartment had no photos, which is usually a Craigslist dealbreaker for me. Not only that, it consisted of just a short description.

“It said ‘three rooms,’” Grampy matter-of-factly recounts. “The rent was $30 a month.”

They called the phone number listed under the ad, stopped by the place to tour it, and took the apartment on the spot. The owner of the house, who converted his attic into an apartment to rent out, was the person who showed the place. That means there was no real estate agent and there certainly was no broker’s fee.

They paid rent in person—and in cash

To pay their rent every month, my grandparents simply walked downstairs to where the landlord lived and handed him $30 in cash. “We didn’t have a checkbook in that stage of our lives,” Grampy reasons. They also didn’t sign a lease. I asked Grampy if he had to pay a deposit.

“No no no. He knew where I worked,” he says.

That settles that.

They had to buy their own appliances (!!!)

This little apartment had a kitchen area, a living room, a bedroom, and a small bathroom with a stand-up shower. “It was just right for us,” they say. But when Grampy mentioned having to get a stove for the kitchen, I gasped.

Indeed, the kitchen was simply a room with a sink. He says renters were often expected to provide their own refrigerator, stove, and other appliances. That boggles my mind.

“You accumulated it,” Grampy explains, in reference to appliances and furniture. “If you owned a refrigerator or a stove, it came with ya.”

That sounds nothing like the disposable nature of furniture in young peoples’ apartments these days. I also can’t imagine having to buy and move my own refrigerator at age 21.

Grammy and Grampy eventually got what was called a Humphrey parlor stove. They put a log into the bottom of the stove, and it served as a heat source for the whole apartment.

They shared a phone with their landlord

My grandparents’ landlord was kind enough to include a phone line extension with the cost of rent. That meant being able to make a call if someone wasn’t already using the phone.

“It was the same phone as downstairs,” Grammy explains. “If you heard them on the line, you had to hang up.”

Grampy adds that no long distance calls were allowed, naturally.

A question for you, reader: Does anybody install landlines anymore? 

Their first apartment was only apartment they ever rented

Grammy and Grampy stayed in their first apartment from November 1957 through December 1959. Meanwhile, I’ve somehow moved to three different apartments in the past two years. (And six since I started renting altogether!).

The kicker: They didn’t even move to a newer, larger apartment after their first one. They bought a whole house so they could raise a family. Imagine renting one apartment and then being financially stable enough to buy a house? What a concept.