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.

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

Nov 1, 2017

Discover Flatiron: Madison Square Garden Marathon

This Sunday, over 50,000 athletes will participate in the 47th running of the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest.

In honor of this weekend's race, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership looks back at two marathon distance races in 1908 and 1909 at the former Madison Square Garden on 26th Street and Madison Avenue that helped spark interest in the 26.2-mile race in New York City.

On Thanksgiving evening, November 25, 1908, Dorando Pietri, a confectioner from Carpi, Italy, and Johnny Hayes, an Irish-American who worked at Bloomingdale’s department store and trained on the store’s rooftop cinder track, raced at the Garden. Earlier that year, the pair had competed in the London Olympics and garnered global attention. The rematch was later described as “the most spectacular foot race that New York has ever witnessed” by The New York Times.

“The old Garden was huge,” reported The New Yorker on October 27, 2015 in its feature about the sellout event’s interior. “Its Moorish minaret was the second-highest tower in the city, and its auditorium was the largest in the world. Even so, running 26.2 miles inside was a stretch. The organizers constructed a track measuring a tenth of a mile; the race was two hundred and sixty-two laps.”

The New York Times coverage mentioned that “flags waved and partisans cheered until the big amphitheater trembled with sound, and through it all the rival runners plodded around the ten-laps-to-the-mile track, and inhaled the dust and tobacco smoke with which the hall reeked.” A riot was “narrowly averted,” according to The New York Times, when Pietri won by 43 seconds, in 2:44:20.

A few weeks later, before a crowd of more than 5,000, Matthew Maloney of Brooklyn’s Trinity Athletic Club won a much-anticipated marathon the evening of January 8, 1909. His win, in 2:54:45, established an amateur record for indoor long-distance running.

“Maloney ran the entire race with excellent judgment,” The New York Times published the next day, “and was in excellent trim when Referee James E. Sullivan handed him the big silver cup.” 31 competitors began the race, with 22 finishing the entire distance. Maloney’s closest opponents included James F. Crowley, who came in second place, and third place went to Sidney H. Hatch.

“A marked feature of the race as indicating the good training condition of the contestants was the fact that not a man collapsed and, although many took a slow pace toward the finish, none of those who stuck to the task were “done up” in any way at the finish,” concluded The New York Times about the history-making race in the Flatiron District. “The fact that so many were able to stay in the running was in itself the marked feature of the race.”

Oct 18, 2017

Discover Flatiron: Women's Right To Vote

As New Yorkers prepare to cast their ballots on November 7, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership honors the role of two monumental marches in the District, which helped spark women’s right to vote in New York State and subsequent passage of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment in 1920.

“Through the chill of a windy afternoon, though the sun shone on the mighty host, the great army of women passed, the white costumes of many glittering in the sunlight, defying the cold wind that the onlookers felt to their spines as they stood to see it all,” reported the New York Sun the day after the historic October 23, 1915, five-mile of an estimated 25,000 women who had walked uptown on Fifth Avenue.

Suffragists Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, led marchers from Washington Square through a number of neighborhoods, including Flatiron, before the parade’s terminus at 59th Street. “Some whose names are to be found all through the Social Register,” wrote The Evening World in its late edition on October 23, 1915, “marched side by side with working mothers with babies in their arms.”

The New York Tribune summarized the reaction one day later, stating, “there was little applause all along the route for the women marchers. But this was not strange, for it could be seen that the spirit of the parade had made itself felt on the sidewalks. It was no laughing matter, this parade. The women in it did not smile or giggle. They were serious and determined. And this mental characteristic was contagious.”

New York City's suffrage movement, however, launched several years earlier in the Flatiron District. On February 16, 1908, a group of 23 women initiated a community march. During that wintry Saturday, the women marched from their nearby Union Square office to a public hearing at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, then located on East 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue. One march leader proclaimed, “For the long work day, for the taxes we pay, for the laws we obey, we want something to say.”

These brave and heroic efforts by the suffragists would soon change the lives of women across New York State as they were granted the right to vote in 1917. Three years later, women gained voting rights across the United States with the passage of the 19th Amendment when it officially became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920. 

Dr. Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, lead an estimated 20,000 supporters in a women's suffrage march up Fifth Avenue in 1915. Image via AP.

Sep 26, 2017

Discover Flatiron: Film & Television In The District

The Flatiron Building, and other areas of the Flatiron District, have been featured in countless film and televsion productions. As we enter the fall television and film season, the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership looks back at some of the most notable scenes co-starring the district.

One of the most memorable episodes in recent television history was filmed in Flatiron for the Emmy-winning HBO series Sex and the City in 1999. Eleven Madison Park, the three Michelin-starred restaurant located on 24th Street, served as the backdrop where Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) received the heartbreaking news from her former boyfriend Mr. Big (Chris North) that he planned to marry another woman.

In 1958, the romantic comedy Bell, Book and Candle, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, was partially filmed on the Flatiron Building's rooftop. Reds, the 1981 political drama that starred and won a directing Oscar for Warren Beatty, filmed scenes at the base of the building and north of it along Fifth Avenue.

The popularity of computer-animated films have also embraced the Flatiron Building. In Spider-Man (2002) starring Tobey Maguire, the Flatiron Building served as the offices of the Daily Bugle, where Peter Parker (Maguire) worked as a freelance photographer.

Over the years, the iconic structure and neighborhood have shared supporting roles for multiple television commercials including as well as the opening credit visuals for Law & Order: SVU.

Most recently, the district was home to Comedy Central's Broad City, executive produced by Amy Poehler. Broad City was created by stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. A recent episode was filmed at the The 40/40 Club where Jacobson and Glazer meet Blake Griffin, the star forward of the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Many film and television production companies opt to shoot scenes of New York, in New York, rather than on a Hollywood set. According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, film production in New York provides approximately 130,000 jobs and billions of dollars for the City’s economy each year.

Scene from Reds, Fifth Avenue at 25th Street. Image via On The Set of New York.