Architectural richness and the romance of a time gone by help to define today’s Flatiron District. Since April 2007, the BID staff has been highlighting the area’s most historic structures as well as some of the people and businesses that have either thrived here for decades or are noteworthy for other reasons.

Apr 24, 2018

Discover Flatiron: ASPCA Launches in the Flatiron District

In honor of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look back at the initial Flatiron District headquarters of the nonprofit organization founded by New York philanthropist Henry Bergh in the late 19th century.

In 1863, Henry Bergh, an affluent Manhattan resident from the Lower East Side, had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to a U.S. diplomatic post in Russia. During his time abroad Bergh often observed the mistreatment of animals. “In Russia, he saw peasants beating horses that had fallen and were unable to continue pulling carts,” notes the New-York Historical Society website, “and was appalled by the violent nature of bullfighting in Spain.”

Bergh wanted to protect such animals, which he called “mute servants of mankind,” and soon resigned from his government position. Upon his return to America, Bergh began to gain widespread support, including recognition from notable literary figures Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Bergh’s presentation of his document “Declaration of the Rights of Animals” led the New York State legislature to pass a charter incorporating the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) on April 10, 1866.  

By 1876, the ASPCA established its first official offices on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and 22nd Street. Due to the organization’s ever-expanding operations, the ASPCA sold the Fourth Avenue property in 1891 and relocated to 10 East 22nd Street. By 1898, the Society moved yet again to much larger offices on 26th Street. The new four-story building at 50 Madison Avenue, designed by Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen, was a 30' x 100' structure that was once described by the AIA Guide to New York City as a “proper London club in delicately tooled limestone.”

According to Our Dumb Animals edited by George Thorndike Angell, the first floor features included the superintendent’s office, the complaint department, and dog license division. The president’s office was located on the third floor as well as a library and fireproof vault for the Society’s paperwork.

At the nearby southwest corner of 24th Street and Avenue A were the ASPCA’s dispensary, shelter, and ambulance house. The property, which opened to the public in 1912, was comprised of kennels for homeless, abandoned, and stray cats and dogs, and a rooftop that served as an exercise runway for dogs.

The facility also featured an operating room for horses. The book Our Dumb Animals noted that “stalls were connected with an electric trolley, by means of which a horse is unable to walk can be conveyed, in a sling or resting on the movable bottom-board of an ambulance, to the operating table or any other part of the building desired.”

In 1948, the ASPCA was notified that its 24th Street property was being condemned under eminent domain and the organization had to vacate in order to make room for a veterans’ hospital. A reported $304,000 in Federal compensation, as well as a number of fundraisers, helped the ASPCA relocate its Madison Avenue offices and 24th Street facility to the Upper East Side. 

The newly designated home for the ASPCA opened in December 1950 at a property that the organization had owned on East 92nd Street and York Avenue. Although no longer located in the Flatiron District, the early mission by the nonprofit still remains from that era when Bergh sought “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Photo Credit: ASPCA

Mar 27, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Madison Square Theatre's Tech Evolution

Flatiron flourished as New York City’s theater district during the late 19th century. One such neighborhood playhouse, the Madison Square Theatre at 4 West 24th Street near Broadway, received rave reviews as an innovative stagecraft leader under the management of actor-playwright-inventor and Buffalo native Steele MacKaye.

Madison Square Theatre owners, the Rev. Dr. George Mallory and his brother, Marshall, chose MacKaye to operate their property beginning in 1879. Rev. Mallory was also editor of the weekly publication The Churchman. “He took a keen and helpful interest in developing the scheme for the presentation of pure and wholesome plays,” reported The New York Times in Mallory’s March 3, 1897 obituary. “The primary object and consistent policy of the Madison Square Theatre was to elevate the moral tone of the American stage.” 

The Mallorys immediately began to remodel the three story building upon MacKaye's accepting the job. “That structure was erected with elaborate care and unstinted cost,” wrote The Times. “There was an uncommonly deep excavation down through the thick strata of rock in order to allow sufficient space for the operation of Mr. MacKaye’s movable double stage, which was the chief novelty of the new theater.” Upon the 650-seat venue’s completion in 1880, MacKaye held an invitation-only preview for industry insiders to showcase some of his creations.

MacKaye’s double stage invention would limit the time between acts. “Undoubtedly the most unique,” noted The New York Times on February 1, 1880. “This devise is designed to facilitate rapid changes of scenery, and is so arranged that one entire set can be substituted for another in an interval from one to two minutes. The stages are elevated and lowered by means of a crank, to which are attached heavy counter-weights.”

In his book Pictorial Illusionism: The Theatre of Steele MacKaye, author  J.A. Sokalski quotes MacKaye, who indicated that “the chief advantages of my new stage invention are—to enable us to sort and distribute our scenery upon three floors, instead of huddling it upon one…to produce scenic effects impossible upon any other stage.”

Air quality inside the theater was also a paramount concern to MacKaye. For comfort to both actors and audience, MacKaye designed a reported $10,000 ventilation system. “Sitting atop the theater’s roof, a 50-foot-high intake shaft, topped by a three-foot-wide rotary fan, drew in outside air and passed it through a gigantic bag-shaped cheesecloth filter,” wrote Salvatore Basile in his book Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

“Once the air entered into the ventilation plant,” noted Basile, “another fan in the basement forced it through a chamber containing racks of ice then propelled it through a branchwork of smaller pipes totaling more than a mile in length, enabling it to diffuse softly throughout the auditorium. MacKaye swore that the airflow even helped to carry the actors’ voices from the stage.” 

This overwhelming confidence expressed by MacKaye may have also played a part in the success of the new and improved Madison Square Theatre’s first production, Hazel Kirke. Starring former child actress Effie Ellsler in the title role, the comedy drama was written and produced by MacKaye and made its debut on February 4, 1880. It would go on to have a then record-breaking box office run of nearly 500 performances.

The profitable partnership, however, between between MacKaye and Madison Square Theatre would be short-lived following creative differences with the Mallorys. MacKaye moved on, continuing to engage in a number of ventures that included writing 30 productions and creating patents for more than 100 inventions such as folding theater chairs. 

Shortly thereafter, New York City’s entertainment district began to shift north to Midtown Manhattan. It became apparent that the final curtain call at the Madison Square Theatre was imminent. Demolition of the theater took place in 1908 and the property was replaced the following year with the Fifth Avenue Building, whose official address is 200 Fifth Avenue. The new 14-story structure, according to the 1989 edition of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District Designation Report Vol 1. issued by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, would serve as a 20th century “catalyst for the commercial redevelopment of the area.”

Photo: Madison Square Theatre, 4 West 24th Street, circa 1905

Photo Credit: Charles Gilbert Hine

Feb 27, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Filmmaking in Flatiron 2.0

As the upcoming 90th Academy Awards ceremony prepares to honor Hollywood’s 2017 season on March 4th, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership highlights recent films starring the Flatiron District as the location of choice for star-studded productions.

In the Fast and Furious billion-dollar franchise’s eighth installment, Vin Diesel and his on-screen crew raced their cars through the streets of Manhattan in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. The route included sections of Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District and featured a glimpse of the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street. Directed by F. Gary Gray, the PG-13 film earned $226 million at the box office.

A current Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominee for Lady Bird, actress Greta Gerwig appeared in front of the camera as a veterinary nurse and dachshund owner in the 2016 comedy-drama Wiener-Dog. Filming in Flatiron included 1169 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets, and Broadway between 28th and 29th Streets. The indie production, which was directed by Todd Solondz, had a total take of $477,000.

Breaking Bad Emmy winner Anna Gunn showcased her talent in 2016’s Equity, and was billed as the first female-led Wall Street thriller. Area shoots in the neighborhood included Broadway, between 23rd and 28th Streets, and 26th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Directed by Meera Menon, the film made $1.6 million.

Oscar winners Helen Mirren (The Queen), Kate Winslet (The Reader), and Oscar nominee Will Smith (Ali; Pursuit of Happyness) starred in Collateral Beauty, a 2016 drama about an advertising executive coping with the loss of his only child. Production shoots included Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 26th Streets, and Sixth Avenue, between 20th and 21st Streets. David Frankel directed the PG-13 rated movie that earned $31 million.

Emma Roberts, niece of Academy Award winner Julia Roberts, starred in Nerve, a 2016 thriller about a high school senior who joins an online truth or dare game. Filming locations included Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 26th Streets, Park Avenue South, between 24th and 25th Streets, and 26th Street, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South. Directed by the team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the PG-13 rated production grossed $40 million.

Dakota Johnson played a recent college graduate seeking new life experiences in the 2016 comedy How To Be Single. Director Christian Ditter filmed in a number of New York City locations, which included the Flatiron Public Plazas. The R-rated film raked in $47 million.

Oscar 2005 host Chris Rock wrote, directed, and cast himself in the 2014 romantic-comedy Top Five about a comedian confronting his mid-life crisis and impending marriage to a reality TV star. Neighborhood shoots included Madison Square Park’s Reflecting Pool Plaza, 26th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, and 23rd Street, between Broadway and Madison Avenue.The box office total was $25 million.

Former SNL cast member Will Ferrell returned to the big screen as newsman Ron Burgundy in the 2013 comedy sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Madison Square Park appears in some scenes as the battlefield where Burgundy and his team have a media face-off with other outlets, which included MTV News, headed by Kanye West, BBC News Service, led by Sacha Baron Cohen, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hosts of Entertainment News. The PG-rated film directed by Adam McKay made $125 million.

Academy Award winners Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) and Tim Robbins (Mystic River) appeared in the 2012 romantic comedy-drama Thanks for Sharing, which looked at a 12-step program group’s struggles with sex addiction. Location shoots included 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, and 23rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Stuart Blumberg directed the R-rated production that earned $1.7 million.

Two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey (The Truman Show; Man on the Moon) starred in 2011’s family fantasy feature Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a high-profile real estate developer whose life undergoes a meltdown after inheriting six penguins. Carrey’s location scenes included the Flatiron Public Plazas and the entranceway to the Flatiron Building, where the filmmakers changed the iconic property’s address from 175 Fifth Avenue to 949 Fifth Avenue. Directed by Mark S. Waters, the PG-rated movie grossed $68 million.

Photo Credit: On The Set Of New York

Credit: Domestic box office figures courtesy of Box Office Mojo

Feb 6, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Best in Show

As the Westminster Kennel Club preps for this year’s Madison Square Garden show held from February 10th through February 13th, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a trip back to the late 19th century for a look at the first-ever Best in Show competitions for dogs and cats that made their debut in the arena’s former location on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.

The Westminster Kennel Club was an idea created by an elite group of local dog owners. These men gathered to have boastful conversations about themselves and their pet’s physical prowess at the upscale Westminster Hotel on Irving Place and 16th Street, a place where notables such as British author Charles Dickens stayed while visiting New York City.

“There, sporting gentlemen used to meet in the bar to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments,” stated author William F. Stifel in The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster. “Eventually they formed a club and bought a training area and kennel. They kept their dogs there and hired a trainer.” 

By 1877, the club members had incorporated their new name, Westminster Kennel Club, and scheduled their first dog competition for May 8th. The event was initially known as the First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs. The dogs had been assigned to benches when not being viewed by judges in the ring. “This allowed for interaction of dogs and their owners with spectators and other owners and breeders as an educational process,” notes the WKC website.

The four-day event took place at Gilmore’s Garden, a passenger depot property on Madison Avenue and 26th Street then owned by railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who leased it to “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” lyricist Patrick Gilmore. The building was later renamed Madison Square Garden by the Vanderbilt family in 1879.

Of the 1,201 entries at the dog competition, wrote The New York Times on February 1, 1976, a number of the contestants, which included two Deerhounds bred by the Queen of England and two Staghounds from a pack owned by the late General George Custer, were seen “rigged up with ribbons, mats, cushions, bells and lace collars, in the most dainty style.”

The show’s opening day attracted an estimated 8,000 spectators and as many as 20,000 its second and third days, which led to adding a fourth day with those proceeds donated to an ASPCA home for stray and disabled dogs. “There was a very good attendance all day, and at night the crush was so great that the utmost difficulty was experienced moving about,” reported The New York Times on May 9, 1877. “The streets outside were blocked with liveried carriages, and the gentlemen who served as ticket sellers could not make change fast enough to suit the throng that was clamoring for admittance.”

The outdoor recreation magazine Forest and Stream also offered a favorable review. “To say that the dog show held in the city last week was a success would but poorly convey an idea of what the result really was,” declared the publication. “It was a magnificent triumph for the dogs and for the projectors of the show. We question if on any previous occasion has there ever assembled in this city such a number of people at one time, and representing as much of the culture, wealth and fashion of the town.”

Absent from the competition, however, was the Best in Show award, which would become a newly created honor three decades later in 1907. In that year, followed by the next two, a female Smooth Fox Terrier named Warren Remedy won the award. A native of Allamuchy Township, New Jersey, the 20-month-old had been bred by socialite Winthrop Rutherford, a featured character prototype in the novels of Flatiron native Edith Wharton. To this day, Warren Remedy remains the only recipient of three Best in Show wins.

Following the popularity of competitions that showcased man’s best friend, feline lovers soon sought the spotlight. The National Cat Show, the first recognized formal cat show in North America, premiered at Madison Square Garden on May 8, 1895. The four-day event featured 176 cats and was organized by James T. Hyde, an Englishman who had work at the Garden’s horse shows.

The first cat show in New York was a great success,” wrote Frances Simpson in her book The Book of the Cat, “from the time the doors opened till its close, though the temperature–which was for part of the time as high as 96 degrees–was hard upon the cats, especially those that had just come from England.”

According to The New York Times on May 11, 1895, “The care of the cats at the Garden has been made a special feature of the show. Fresh milk is provided them three times a day, and the cooked and raw meat given them is fresh. Food can be had for them whenever their owners think they need it. Persons desiring to take their cats home at night are allowed to do so after forfeit of $5. Only about fifty have been removed at night. The others are all asleep by 11.”

A two-year-old Maine Coon named Cosey was chosen as first place winner and Best Longhaired Cat in Show. The black and gray male tabby, owned by Mrs. Frederick A. Brown, resided in Manhattan on East 27th Street. The pressures of being a contestant, however, had allegedly taken a toll on the champion cat. At the 1896 competition, Cosey reportedly “stood the flippant insults of the crowd until patience was exhausted, and the next gloved hand that was poked through the bars of its cage received a sharp blow.”

Photo Credit: Warren Remedy, Westminster Kennel Club

Jan 4, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Snapshot of Flatiron's Photo District

From the 1960s through early 1990s, today’s Flatiron District was labeled the “Photo District” by some. In 1961, the Duggal Film Processing Center opened at 9 West 20th Street (just outside the Flatiron BID boundaries). It was the first of its kind in the neighborhood and has been credited with the initial revival of the community. In The New York Times July 6, 2016 obituary of the company’s founder, Baldev Duggal, the paper stated he "was in the vanguard of an influx that transformed the area around the Flatiron Building into a mecca.”

The Photo District was “a quiet haunt of photographers” and residents “lived and worked in the expansive lofts left behind by long-departed department stores” from the 19th century Ladies’ Mile shopping era.

The Photo District's name was used to launch an award-winning trade journal. Photo District News made its 1980 debut as New York Photo District News, and began as a free newsletter distributed throughout the neighborhood. It featured work-related services and opportunities for local and visiting photographers.

Now a subscription-based publication, PDN was, and continues to be, “the go-to outlet to discover up-and-coming photographers, determined on the basis of creativity, versatility and distinctive vision.”

A few years after the launch of PDN, one of the country's most notable non-profit photo publishers was drawn to the area’s image. The Aperture Foundation, co-founded by black and white landscape photographer Ansel Adams, relocated from Upstate New York to a five-story, 19th-century brownstone at 20 East 23rd Street in 1985.

The original property owner of the Foundation’s new home was fine arts photographer, and later Aperture magazine chairman, Shirley Carter Burden, a great-great grandson of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. The building served as Aperture’s headquarters until 2005 when it moved to 547 West 27th Street.

"Many photographers rented their studios as is, and improved the properties mightily, polyurethaning the floors, painting the walls, enhancing the plumbing–all at their own expense," noted The New York Times on June 5, 1994. Rental costs were often low, with a square foot reportedly priced in the single digit range.

But, by the early 1990s, the neighborhood began to lose commercial photography tenants. “Many old buildings have been converted to residential lofts. And many commercial buildings have attracted advertising agencies, publishing houses and other companies that flocked down to escape expensive midtown rents in the 1980's, and stayed. The conversion of Ladies Mile, that stretch of Avenue of the Americas from 17th to 23rd Street, into a value-priced retail corridor has added to the commercial gentrification,” stated The New York Times in 1994. “The block [West 20th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue] remains the heart of New York's photography district. But over the last five years or so, that district -- once radiating east to Park Avenue South and west to Seventh Avenue, spilling over as far north as 25th Street and as far south as 14th Street -- has eroded to the point where it has practically vanished.”

Photo Credit: Baldev Duggal, The New York Times

Dec 11, 2017

Discover Flatiron: Five of the Oldest Flatiron Businesses Still Open Today

Fresh on the heels of Small Business Saturday, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes this opportunity to highlight the services of five of the longest-serving businesses in the neighborhood. With the holiday season well under way, now is the perfect time to #LoveYourLocal Flatiron business! 

Provident Loan Society of New York - District Debut: 1909

Provident Loan Society is the only nonprofit collateral lender in the United States. They offer cash and loans for both individuals and small businesses up to $100,000. The company's website states they offer lower interest rates, longer repayment periods, and minimal ticket and handling fees versus competitors.

Created, in part, due to the financial crisis of 1893, the Provident Loan Society consisted of a number of business leaders, including J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who set out to help those in need from the unscrupulous practices of predatory lenders. With $100,000 in raised capital, the organization became incorporated in 1894, with Robert W. de Forest serving as its first president.

Their initial headquarters were in the United Charities Building at 105 East 22nd Street, which had been built in 1893 as offices for the Charity Organization Society. By 1907, Provident Loan Society was lending $7 million a year. Two years later, the company opened its main branch on East 25th Street and Park Avenue South, where it remains today. According to The New York Times on March 24, 1994, the interior design of this property, built in 1908, “has the elegant air of a private bank.” Provident Loan Society, 346 Park Avenue South, (212) 685-0386

Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop - District Debut: 1929

"Raising New York's Cholesterol Since 1929" is the pitch for delectable, old-school dining at Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. Foodies can feast on legendary NYC sandwiches such as the LEO (lox, eggs, and onion) and Bubbe's Original chopped liver on a bagel. Eisenberg's is also a favorite for celebrity sitings as the likes of Katie Couric and Ron Howard are among past clientele.

Monus Eisenberg and his son, Elias, opened the shop as one way to feed their family during the Depression era. The shop survived the economic downturn, and two other children, Barnett and Sylvia, later entered the business. The Eisenberg family sold the shop in 1979. Over the years, other owners have included Louie Weisberg and Steve Oh. In 2005, Josh Konecky, an Eisenberg’s regular and neighborhood resident, became its current owner. 

Eisenberg’s present-day locale is the former site of a six-story store and loft building, which featured offices, showrooms, and a bank. The structure was built between 1927 and 1928 following the demolition of two residential brownstones. Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop, 174 Fifth Avenue, (212) 675-5096 

J & M Hardware & Locksmiths - District Debut: 1947

J & M Hardware & Locksmiths marks its 70th anniversary in the neighborhood this year and their storefront signage says it all: "A Real Hardware Store". "We've got most everything you need, and always offer friendly, expert advice and service. Whether it's hardware, a locksmith, or even welding, J&M is here to help you get the job done," states their Facebook page.

J & M carries a large stock of lighting, cleaning, plumbing, and electrical supplies, offers knife and scissor sharpening and a notary public service, as well as paint and paint matching expertise. The store boasts knowledgeable staff and Dan Basovitch, one of the owners, can fix nearly anything.

The initials “J” and “M” stand for Jesse and Mack, brothers who had served in World War II. The siblings opened their store’s first location on Broadway in 1947, between 22nd and 23rd Streets. In 1966, a large fire next door at 7 East 22nd Street claimed the lives of 12 members of the FDNY and forced the pair to relocate to 19th Street and Park Avenue South. A commemorative plaque near Broadway and 23rd Street honors those who lost their lives battling the blaze.

Dan's father-in-law bought into the business when Mack died and he eventually brought him in as master locksmith and mechanic. Since 1981, Dan has been an owner and President of J & M.

The store has a relaxed and dog-friendly environment as evidenced by their 'treats any time' policy. Rebus puzzles are a specialty of Neil Schneider, the other owner, who creates a new set each month. J & M Hardware & Locksmiths, 19 East 21st Street, (212) 673-6050

Memories of New York - District Debut: 1986

Memories of New York is a self-described "warm and friendly" souvenir store sure to please both tourists and locals alike. The store only sells officially licensed New York City items from classics such as "I ❤ NY" t-shirts and coffee mugs to hard to find collectibles and figurines like snow globes, handbags, and other pop culture merchandise.

The souvenir shop idea came about when small business owner Alper Tutus was operating a leather goods store in the World Trade Center area. Tutus took his concept and made the move north to Flatiron 31 years ago.

With frontages on Broadway and Fifth Avenue, Memories of New York initially shared the space with Fuji, whose lease expired in 2000. The property is also the former site of a late 19th century residential dwelling built between 1856 and 1857. It was later converted for commercial use by tenants such as the Emigrant Savings Bank in 1919. Memories of New York, 206 Fifth Avenue, (212) 252-0030

N.Y. Cake & Baking Supply - District Debut: 1989

Is there a home baker on your holiday shopping list? N.Y. Cake & Baking Supply features a variety of must-have items and offers instructional classes. "I run the story day-to-day, look for new products, and help customers," says CEO and Founder Lisa Mansour. "I love teaching, and having that one-on-one with my customers."

Mansour learned the business from her mom, who operated the Chocolate Gallery inside her husband’s Midtown Manhattan cosmetics store. Upon his retirement in 1989, the Chocolate Gallery moved to 34 West 22nd Street in the Flatiron District. The building was was built between 1898 and 1899 in the neo-Renaissance style.

In 1994, the Chocolate Gallery changed to its present name and moved to a more spacious location on the same block. The new store, 56 West 22nd Street, had once been a private residence constructed in 1851. The building turned commercial at the turn of the 20th century and was home to glass repairers, dressmakers, and the Ye Old Brass Kettle restaurant. N.Y. Cake & Baking Supply, 56 West 22nd Street, (212) 675-2253