A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from June 04, 2005
SRO (Standing Room Only; Single Room Occupancy)
"SRO" first meant "standing room only," in the 1890s. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s, "SRO" was used to mean "single room occupancy."

Both meanings of "SRO" may come from New York City.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
SRO (U.S.), single-room occupancy; S.R.O. (orig. U.S.), standing room only;

1941 *SRO [see PALSY n.2]. 1966 Social Work Oct. 32/1 The clustering of unattached individuals, many of whom are economically dependent and chronically ill, in licensed SRO buildings is a recognizable pattern. 1977 New Yorker 27 June 85/3 Queens has only nine of New York's several hundred S.R.O. buildings (the letters stand for 'single-room occupancy', and the tenants..are often present or former drug addicts).
1890 Texas Siftings 15 Nov. 13/1 At the Grand Opera House Bobby Gaylor, in the Irish Arab, called out the *S.R.O. sign. 1903 'O. HENRY' in McClure's Mag. July 333/1 After one reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York I've known the S.R.O. sign to be hung out at all the hospitals and police stations.

Work is from Neighbors on the Block Life in Single Room Occupancy Hotels. Photographs by Laurence Salzmann

An exhibit portfolio produced by the New York State Council on the Arts for the New York Museums Collaborative of the Cultural Council Foundation.

© 1971 New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Library of Congress catalog number 78-159270

I first became personally acquainted with Single Room Occupancy hotels when I got a job with a research service project operating in several of them on New York City's Upper West Side and administered by the Department of Community Psychiatry at St. Luke's Hospital. As the name implies, a Single Room Occupancy hotel is a hotel where a single individual occupies a single room. Sometimes the room is shared with another tenant, in which case SRO could stand for Standing Room Only. With even one occupant, standing room is about all that's left in a room 10 feet by 17 feet.

In an era now hard to imagine, the hotels had been the posh residences of the rich, and evidence of their former beauty is still visible in some of the buildings: marble-paneled lobbies, tiled hallways, stained glass windows, and parquet floors. For the most part, the buildings have been left to decay for a variety of reasons: the high cost of maintenance, destructiveness of some tenants, and the general wear and tear of old age. It must also be remembered that many of the tenants are old and/or sick and are barely able to keep themselves together, much less accomplish even the basic housekeeping chores. More than one landlord has told me that to rehabilitate his building would cost over a million dollars!

SRO Disappearance Continues
by Steven Wishnia
The Indypendent (New York City)
Issue #70 | May 25-June 14, 2005

The situation at Dexter House is typical of what's been happening at the city's single-room occupancy hotels over the last 50 years. Once a widespread, cheap, and easily obtainable source of housing, their numbers have declined dramatically, as landlords find it more profitable to rent rooms to tourists, students, or homeless people whose rent is paid by the city.

"We used to have a list of SROs, but we don't give it out any more," says Terry Poe of the West Side SRO Law Project. "Outside of rooming houses, they're not renting to permanent tenants."

The number of SRO rooms in the city has fallen from 200,000 in the late 1950s to less than 40,000 today, according to Poe. Most of that decline came in the 1970s and 1980s — not coincidentally, the era when homelessness emerged as a major problem —but it continues today.

In the 1980s, there was a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people with mental illness living in the shelters and on the streets of New York City. This increase was attributed to:

The discharge of large numbers of people with mental illness into the community from state hospitals without adequate supportive services in place, and the pressure on hospitals to shorten the amount of time people with mental illness stay in the hospital;

The drastic cutbacks in federal funding for low income housing, which led to a decrease in the public development of affordable housing;

The availability of affordable, highly addictive drugs to low income New Yorkers;

The loss of 50,000 SRO (single room occupancy) housing units, the "housing of last resort," for many low-income and disabled individuals.

21 March 1934, New York Times, pg. 40:
The city's Tenement House Department will recommend to the Legislature passage of a bill to remedy the situation, with a public hearing about March 27, according to Mr. Natelson.

He pointed out that the law forbids the use of single-room occupancy of buildings originally designed for families. More than 10,000 of these structures in the city now are used as rooming houses, he estimated.

3 March 1935, New York Times, pg. RE1:

Citizens Union Opposes SOme
of Housing Measures Now
Before Legislature.


But Rooming House Association
Backs Plant to Legalize Single-
Room Occupancy.

15 October 1959, New York Times, pg. 78:
The "S. R. O." is local idiom for single room occupancy.
Posted by Barry Popik
Buildings/Housing/Parks • (0) Comments • Saturday, June 04, 2005 • Permalink