What is a Stoop?
A stoop is an architectural style of exterior staircase entrance traditionally popular in the Netherlands. The word comes from the Dutch stoep. The steps are made of cement, as are the solid short walls on each side of them. These staircase features, along with a small porch area, make up a typical stoop. Dutch colonists settled in New York in the 1600s; they added this style of stairs to rows of apartments called tenements and brownstones.
Brownstones are row houses that may be made with some of the reddish brown rock of the same name. Tenements originally referred to large buildings divided into separate apartments, but the word was later used to mean run down, poorly maintained apartment buildings. Stoops aren't found much in modern New York construction, but were once commonly added to tenements and brownstones in areas such as Harlem and Brooklyn.
The people who lived in each brownstone and tenement were responsible for keeping the stairways clean. Sweeping them was a daily activity for many residents. Many people would try to beautify the front porch areas at the tops of the stoops with flower planters.
Since these areas connected the row homes with the street, the neighborhood children's play naturally extended out into the adjacent streets and empty corner lots. Many kids from a neighborhood would gather to play games such as stick ball, an urban version of baseball. It was popular in New York and some other areas in the Depression of the 1930s when sports equipment was not easy or affordable to get. Children used an old broom handle as a bat and a rubber ball as a baseball.
Another related child's game involved throwing a rubber ball on the stairs. Stoop ball, as it was called, takes two or more people to play. It was also based on baseball. As the main objective, the person with the ball tries to not have the ball stopped by the other player or players who are standing at the top of the staircase.
Adults also commonly socialized outdoors on stoops in nice weather. Some would just chat, while others would play games such as checkers or chess. A pad, pillow or even a chair placed outside on the upper part of the entrance eliminated having to sit directly on the cement stairs. People would sit there to read or just to get outside for a while. Stoop-sitting, as it is sometimes called, was a regular daily part of life for many New Yorkers.
What is the front yard, next to the stoop, in a row house called?
@cloudel – I grew up without a yard, and it was rough. Kids have an innate desire to run wild and play outside, and all my family had was a stoop.
However, a stoop can be a good place to get to know your neighbors. The kids in my area and I were all in the same boat, so we started having stoop get-togethers to work off our energy.
We played every game that could be played in a small space on our stoops. I made some lasting friendships there, and I'm glad that I had that opportunity.
There are quite a few different stoop designs. I've seen some that are really narrow and steep, while others are wider than they are long.
Some even have decks built around them, and some are made of wood. I suppose the only limitations are those of the builder's imagination.
There are a lot of concrete stoops in my neighborhood. I like to see people get creative with their decorations throughout the various seasons.
For Halloween, people do all sorts of unique pumpkin carvings and set them out on the stoop for everyone to see. Some people even put lights down inside the pumpkins.
Around Christmas, some people put small trees in pots on their stoops and decorate them. One of my neighbors put a life-sized Santa on his stoop, and whenever anyone got close to it, it would start talking and laughing. This was a little creepy, but it definitely got his stoop noticed!
My best friend lives in an old apartment building, and she has a brick stoop. Unfortunately, she has no yard, but this stoop has provided her with a place to sit when she wants to get some fresh air.
The problem is that the heat in the summertime radiating off of the building and the street makes the stoop a very hot place. The building often blocks the breeze, so we rarely sit out there in the summer. We go to a public park instead.
She is fine with having only the stoop, because she isn't much of an outdoorsy type, anyway. I could not handle living without a yard, but for some people, the stoop is enough.
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