History Of New York’s Fascination With The Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Most tourist who travel to New York City plan their visit around trips to the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. Obviously those are exciting places to visit if you have never been to New York City. However, many tourist somehow never make it to the Flatiron District. The out of towners do not know what they are missing. New York’s Flatiron building has always been one of the most fascinating buildings to ever line the New York Skyline. It’s also become one of the most photographed buildings in the city’s history among New Yorkers. The fascination that New Yorkers have had with the building over the past century is simple. There has never been another building that has come close to resembling the architecture of New York’s Flatiron Building.

Visiting the Flatiron Building is for the most part an exterior experience. The building is housed by private business and the only views one may attain from the inside is a small hallway lined with photographs and history of the building. Most visitors will not get past the initial hallway as there is security stopping anyone from entering deeper into the building. One day Alice, we will find a way!

Flatiron Building Interior

Flatiron Building Interior. Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

History Of The Flatiron Building

There is a misconception that the Flatiron building was named the Flatiron building because of the building’s shape. The fact is that the section of New York City in which the Flatiron building was built was already nicknamed the Flat Iron because of the triangular intersection of Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 22nd and 23rd Streets. In 1867, a wealthy banker from New York named Amos Eno had purchased the triangular plot of land where the Flatiron Building would eventually be built. “Eno’s Corner,” “Eno’s Triangle,” and the “Flat Iron,” were often the names utilized to describe the parcel of land that Amos Eno had purchased. In 1899, after Amos Eno had passed away, his son sold the land to Mott and Samuel Newhouse for just a little over eight hundred thousand dollars. Two years later in a shining example of the power of New York City Real Estate values, the Newhouses sold the same plot of land they had purchased for eight hundred thousand dollars to the Cumberland Realty Company for two millions dollars. Only thirty three years earlier Amos Eno had brought that same land fo just thirty thousand dollars.

The Cumberland Realty Company was connected with the Fuller Company. Harry S. Black, CEO of the Fuller Company hired Chicago’s Daniel Burnham to design the skyscraper he intended to build on the triangular parcel of land his Cumberland Realty Company had purchased. The building was supposed to be named The Fuller Building in reference to the general contracting Fuller Company. However, the building’s location on the flat iron parcel of land and its triangular flat iron shape led it to inherit the name The Flatiron Building .

The brand new skyscraper on 23rd street was not exactly met with open arms by everyone. In Keith Jacksons’s brilliant book Empire City, the noted historian and professor mentioned that early 20th century writer Harry James argued that buildings like the Flatiron were destroying the aura of the city. Harry James was quoted as describing the concepts of buildings like the FlatIron as not works of art but rather “giants of the mere market and part of the steel souled machine room.”(1) Harry James had no idea of the transformation that awaited New York’s acropolis over the next century.

Flatiron Building

Photo: Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Flatiron Building from Broadway and 22nd street, with eight stories in terra cotta” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed February 26, 2018. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ce75-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Flatiron Buidling

Photo: Malinda Kachejian 2018

Harry James may have not have realized how extensive the skyscraper boom of the early 20th century would develop over the next 100 years, but he did recognize the transformation of the cities landscape in the shadows of the new model of building design. While that transformation endured on a consistent basis, the design of the Flatiron Building would stand alone to the present days. Simply stated, there is no other building in New York City that looks anything like the Flatiron Building.  The Flatiron building’s design centered on that small path of triangular land on Broadway and 5th Avenues has made it one of the most fascinating buildings to ever be erected in New York City.

There are times when walking down 5th Avenue when one takes a look at the Flatiron building with the same astonishment as a seeing the Roman coliseum standing in the middle of the modern day streets of Rome. In one breath, its seems so out of place, as if it just appeared out of thin air in some sort of Twilight Zone episode reproduction. On the other hand, its feels like a part of New York City that has always belonged. The way the Sun cast the shadows of other buildings upon its flat side is a mesmerizing sight. On cloudy days its looms above Madison Square Park with its pointed front edge staring down at the park like a ship breaking the shoreline. Its architecture just in its shape alone is daunting as it stands starkly at one of the most exciting intersections in New York City.

Flatiron Building

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

New Yorker’s fascination with the Flatiron building stems from the need to capture the buildings spirit on film both in print and digital media. The Flatiron building has a long of history of being utilized in television shows and on the silver screen. Fans of the legendary Spiderman movie series have been treated with the Flatiron building’s use as the host of the fictional Daily Bugel Newspaper.The iconic television series Friends often utilized shot of the Flatiron Building in  transition scenes.  From film to print, the Flatiron Building’s majestic architecture has challenged artists in interpreting the buildings aura in creative ways.

Flatiron Buidling

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building Corner

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building Broadway Entrance

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building Sign

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Flatiron Building

(1)Jackson, K.T., Dunbar, D.S.: Empire City: New York through the centuries. Columbia University Press, New York (2005). p.477

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