The bustling neighborhood, as diverse as New York itself, includes some of the city’s most popular restaurants in a variety of price ranges and cuisines; a dynamic retail environment with a profusion of fashion, beauty, and home furnishings stores; superb educational institutions and such architectural highlights as the fabled Flatiron Building, the Metropolitan Life and New York Life buildings, and the exquisite New York State Appellate Courthouse. A burgeoning residential community is adding its own new vitality to this historic neighborhood. The district is easily accessed by a range of public transportation options and is just a short stroll from either Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station.

So look around explore, enjoy, and Discover Flatiron! 

 

Flatiron History

Discover Flatiron: NYC's First Y.M.C.A Building

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Y.M.C.A.’s opening of its first building in New York City at 52 East 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue. In honor of the sesquicentennial celebration, the Flatiron/23rd Partnership takes a look back at the property that once served as the organization’s main headquarters beginning in 1869.

Founded in July 1852, the mission of the New York City chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) was “to harbor young men who were moving in droves to cities to make their fortunes,” according to the nonprofit’s website. 

During their first decade, the Y.M.C.A.’s initial offices moved to various locations throughout Manhattan, which included Lower Broadway, Waverly Place, and 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue, before the organization decided to build and own a new property on East 23rd Street.

The Y.M.C.A. paid a reported $142,000 for the site, according to the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide on April 13, 1901. James Renwick, Jr. was the architect and also a designer of notable neighborhood real estate such as Booth’s Theater at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue and the Free Academy, later known as The City College of New York at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue, and now the location of Baruch College.

In December 1869, Renwick’s Y.M.C.A. building was dedicated and viewed as a property that “physically and programmatically combined religion, leisure, and commerce in an unprecedented way,” wrote Paula Lupkin in her book Manhood Factories: YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture. 

“Behind an elegant Second Empire façade,” noted Lupkin, “complex paths of access and circulation connected public and private spaces on five floors, including ground-level stores, club rooms, a library, a gymnasium, classrooms, a large lecture hall, an art gallery, and artists’ studios.” The facility also featured an organ that cost an estimated $10,000.

“The library is valuable and varied,” wrote King’s Handbook of New York City edited by Moses King. “It has 43 early-printed Bibles which antedate 1700, including the Koburger Bible of 1477, Luther’s Bible of 1541, the Bishop’s Bible of 1568, and one in French of the eighteenth century, bound in marvelous covers of mosaic leather.” And, noted King’s Handbook, “all reputable persons, male or female” could visit the library. 

The Y.M.C.A.’s studios were often used by aspiring artists. Up-and-coming painters who either lived or worked there included Edwin Austin Abbey, Robert Swain Gifford, and William Sartain. And interior designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, best known for the creation of stained glass lamps, was also a regular resident and a son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., whose corporate headquarters now occupy 200 Fifth Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Street, in Flatiron.

By 1901, however, the Y.M.C.A. sold its East 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue property to the Central Realty Bond and Trust Co. for $800,000. Shortly thereafter, fire destroyed much of the building and the property was demolished in 1903 to make way for the 11-story Mercantile Building.

The Y.M.C.A, which was also known as the McBurney Branch, named after former executive director Robert Ross McBurney, relocated to 213 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in 1904. And decades later, the property gained global pop culture status for its reported inspiration and appearance in the 1978 Village People music video, “Y.M.C.A.” 

But after close to a century at West 23rd Street, the building was sold in 2002 and two years later converted into condominiums. Currently, the McBurney Branch is located at 125 West 14th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and offers, notes its website, family-friendly “community-focused health and wellness programs, classes, and facilities.”

Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: Jamie Benson & Hannah Goldman, The Straight Man at The PIT

Meet Jamie Benson and Hannah Goldman, the producers and hosts of The Straight Man, a new variety show spotlighting femme and queer talent at The Peoples Improv Theater (The PIT) on Saturday, June 29th at 9:30 pm. The PIT is located at 123 East 24th Street, between Park Avenue South and Lexington Avenue.

1. You initially met during a sketch writing class. What led to your comedy partnership?

Jamie Benson: We share a sense of adventure, are both really game to take ideas too far. Besides being audacious, we play with social commentary and queer-centric themes. There’s some compatibility there.

Hannah Goldman: I always loved the sketches Jamie brought into class–they were smart, biting, and more than a little weird. After the class ended, he sent an email saying that he got a late-night slot at The PIT, so I thought, why not? I had sketch material and wanted to do stand up, so it seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate.

2. What do you enjoy most about working together?

JB: We can deftly navigate the paradox of taking comedy seriously while making fun at every step of the production process. 

HG: We have a great partnership because we’re both willing to take on the work and communicate with each other. My favorite thing about working with Jamie is his straightforward and concise manner. It’s refreshing to work with someone who’s not about the bulls—t.

3. What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you while performing improv?

JB: That’s tough, because improv for me is like a fever dream that I immediately forget upon waking up. That said, I recall giving serious therapeutic advice from a toilet and doing a full interpretive dance to orgasm noises.

HG: My favorite improv memory is going to a competition in high school where I had to perform a Shakespeare soliloquy as Miley Cyrus. I won a prize!

 4. You’re collaborating on The Straight Man, a production you’ve described as a “genre-busting and gender-bending variety show.” Tell us more about how this came to be at The PIT, and about your role in the show.

JB: As a dancer who does comedic, narrative work, I am a genre-buster. This show offers a fertile environment for others to challenge their own perception of themselves, including gender, genre, and more. After transitioning from dance to comedy, I propositioned The PIT to present a show of mine. They gave us a probational, “off-peak” late-night slot, liked it, and invited us to present seasonally.

HG: Our first show was called Gay Stuff because the sketches and stand up were all around queer themes. I wanted a snazzy title for our next show, and came up with The Straight Man: A Comedy Show Without One. I love that phrase because it takes the norm and subverts it. There’s this unspoken rule in comedy that straight men are the norm–“the straight man” is literally an archetype in comedy writing that means a normal person, the voice of reason. We wanted to do something a little less normcore and a little more fabulous!  Every season we select hilarious female and queer comedic talent across genres and celebrate and empower ourselves through laughter.

5. The Straight Man–a comedy show without one–celebrates gay pride. This year’s Pride March, on June 30th, begins in the Flatiron District and marks the 50 years since the Stonewall uprising. Can you share your thoughts on this important anniversary?

JB: There is a ton to celebrate this year, including same-sex marriage in Taiwan and the first openly gay U.S. governor. Unfortunately, there are opposing forces for some of the progress achieved. For instance, the rate of violence against transgender women, particularly those of color, continues to rise. Inclusive rhetoric tends to move faster than inclusive actions. This means that no matter how many affirming slogans we hear, it’s important to stay vigilant in our cultivation of empathy and pursuit of human decency.

HG: It’s so wild and wonderful that so much time has passed and there has been a huge shift toward acceptance of the LBGTQIA+ community in mainstream culture. But, as Jamie said, I think that this acceptance has also led to an erasure of queer and trans people of color–the folks who led the Stonewall riots 50 years ago. It’s our responsibility as cis white queer artists to work to make sure our spaces and culture are inclusive for all folks.

6. Aside from attending your show at The PIT, what do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” pride event here in Flatiron?

JB: Our city is bursting at the seams with historical significance. I know I’m usually in sunglasses/headphone mode and zooming right by it. I say stop and smell Flatiron’s gay pride walking tours. Once you have knowledge about the interesting stuff all around us, it can spread and pride can be something we celebrate every day.

HG: Honestly, the best thing I can recommend is to go to Madison Square Park during the Pride March on June 30th. Get a milkshake, stand on a concrete block, and watch all the floats go by! Mesh top optional.

7. Can you share some of your other upcoming productions at The PIT? Do you perform at other venues here in New York City?

JB: Oh sure, I’ve performed everywhere from the Park Avenue Armory, South Street Seaport, and Broadway Comedy Club. My first sketch, Avenue WTF, will be screening this summer with the NewFilmmakers series at Anthology Film Archives (Trivia: I wrote this sketch in the class where I met Hannah). Keep up with us via our webpage and @straightmancomedy on Instagram for the scoop on our next PIT show.

HG: I’ve performed at venues all over the city, from off-Broadway houses like HERE Arts Center to a living room in Greenpoint. Up next, I’ll be performing at a pop-up space at 198 Allen Street on the Lower East Side for a benefit for Period: The Menstrual Movement. Get ready for lots of vagina jokes!

8. When you’re here in Flatiron working, where do you like to grab a bite to eat? Do you have a go-to dish?

JB: I’m a variety junkie and there are a lot of great local places to grab food, so I alternate. If I feel like I’m making poor health-life choices, I may go to The Little Beet Table. If I’m in need of drinks and comfort food, I may hit up a place like Dog & Bone.

HG: If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to check out Lady M Confections on 28th Street and Broadway. They have the most insane cakes. I love anything chocolate–always super rich and delicious.

9. What advice can you offer for those who are interested in performing comedy?

JB: Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t surprise people. Most laughs seem to come from a surprise or left turn. It doesn’t have to be a shocking or shallow twist for the sake of doing it. Commit to a character or idea but challenge yourself to find new directions for that character or idea.

HG: Do the work. Go to lots of open mics and work on your material. Learn how to read an audience and refine your jokes until they hit just the right chord. Natural talent is only the entry point. The real secret to successful comics is putting in a lot of hard work.

10. Finally, choose three words that describe the Flatiron District.

JB: Bustling. Historic. Iconic.

HG: Fresh. Crisp. Bright.

Photo Credit: Benjamin Stone

Walking Tour

Weekly Free Walking Tour

Join our professional guides on a 90-minute journey through this vibrant neighborhood, viewing some of the City’s most notable landmarks.

Click here for more information.

What People Are Saying see

“Village meets midtown.”

When asked to describe the Flatiron District in three words

Brandon Stanton
photographer, Humans of New York

“It's a three-way tie. The architecture. The vibe. The food.”

When asked about his favorite thing about the Flatiron District

Marc Glosserman
Founder & CEO Hill Country Hospitality + local resident

“You are building a community like no other!”

Excerpt from remarks at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership

Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President

Quick Stats

22M+

Square feet of commercial real estate

44M+

Total 2016 MTA riders for 23rd Street (1,6,N,W,F,M) and 28th St (1,6,N,R) stations

4,650

Hotel rooms

7,563

Taxi drop offs per weekday in 2017

3.3+

Dollars invested in the Public Plazas by the BID

160K

Citi Bike trips originated or ended within Flatiron in June 2018

580

Ground floor business in the Flatiron District