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.

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, directed 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.

Aug 24, 2017

Discover Flatiron: The Life of Bernard Baruch

As thousands of students return to the Flatiron District for the fall semester, the BID takes a brief look back at the life of financier Bernard Mannes Baruch. Baruch was an advisor to presidents and politicians, coined the phrase 'Cold War', and his alma mater renamed its business schoolthe Baruch School of Business, after him in 1953. The Baruch School of Business later became Baruch College in 1968.

Baruch was born in Camden, South Carolina in 1870 and was the second of four children from the marriage of Simon Baruch, a doctor, and Belle Wolfe, a descendant of Southern aristocracy. He was a quick study and enrolled in classes at the City College of New York, at 17 Lexington Avenue (at 23rd Street), at the age of 14.

After graduation, Baruch landed a job as a Wall Street runner and quickly became a partner at brokerage firm A.A. Housman & Company at the age of 25.

“I could not forget my father’s look the day I proudly informed him I was worth a million dollars,” wrote Baruch in his memoir, My Own Story. “The kindly, quizzical expression told me, more clearly than words, that in his opinion, money making was a secondary matter….Of what use to a man are millions of dollars unless he does something worthwhile with them.”

Encouraged by his highly regarded father’s wisdom, Baruch became interested in the public sector. His initial involvement came about when he was appointed to a CCNY trusteeship by New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor. “I took this civic task seriously,” wrote Baruch in his book, The Public Years, “for I felt a very deep sense of gratitude to the College for the educational opportunities it had given me.”

Baruch credited his invaluable higher education for his connections that led to his eventual advancement as a global advisor, which included consulting on America’s preparedness for World War I. “At the age of forty-nine, I had already enjoyed two careers – in finance and, much more briefly, in government,” noted Baruch in The Public Years. “The war had taken me out of Wall Street, often described as a narrow alley with a graveyard at one end and a river on the other, and plunged me deeply into the broad stream of national and international affairs.”

Over the years, Baruch acquired personal and professional alliances with countless leaders, from Winston Churchill, whose mother Jennie Jerome was a Flatiron District resident, to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Among congressional members, Baruch had earned the nickname as the “Park Bench Statesman” because of meetings he held with representatives on a bench located across from the White House. In 1947, Baruch was credited with coining the classic diplomacy phrase "Cold War" to describe the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union.

"I have had a long, long life–a full one and a good one,” wrote Baruch in The Public Years, published just five years before his death at the age 95. “Sometimes I stop whatever I am doing to wonder at the good fortune I have had in this lengthy pilgrimage. I have had a loving family, many devoted and loyal friends, good health (and what a blessing to have it still), all the material comforts a man could want (and these are by no means unimportant). But above all, I have had the opportunity to serve my country. This has meant most to me."

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Jul 26, 2017

Discover Flatiron: A Brief History of Public Transportation in the Flatiron District

There have long been a number of ways to commute to the Flatiron District. Here is a brief look at the ways people have journeyed to, and through, the neighborhood.

In the early 1800s, one of the primary forms of urban transportation was the omnibus. The bus was a long box with 12-15 seats, with wheels made of wood, and pulled by horses. It was turbulent travel due to the prevalence of cobblestone streets. Smoother terrain soon prevailed for commuters with the arrival of the first-ever horse-drawn railway along Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) in 1832.

The railway was the New York and Harlem Railroad, and within six years it amassed a stable of 100 horses, 40 cars, and four locomotives. The railway’s depot was located at 26th Street and Fourth Avenue, which was later the site of the original Madison Square Garden.

“The railroad cars moved on iron tracks fastened to granite sleepers that rose several inches above the street,” wrote Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr in their book The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. “These tracks provided a smooth ride for the vehicle on the rails, especially compared to the omnibus running along the rough street.”

The harnessing of electricity eventually led to the creation of New York City’s subway system, which debuted on October 27, 1904. “At 7 p.m. that evening,” states,  ”the subway opened to the general public, and more than 100,000 people paid a nickel each to take their first ride under Manhattan.”

This initial line was operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and included a station at 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue, and 28th Street and Lexington Avenue, where the 6 train now serves local passengers on the Lexington Avenue line.

The Brooklyn—Manhattan Transit Corporation’s Broadway Line opened on January 5, 1918. This line extended from Rector Street to Times Square, including the modern-day 23rd Street and 28th Street R/W stations under Broadway. On September 20, 1918, the line was extended to Whitehall Street—South Ferry.

Since 2002, the 23rd Street R/W station has featured artist Keith Goddard’s prominent display of glass mosaic hats on the station walls. Goddard’s “Memories of Twenty-Third Street” honors the Flatiron District’s history as a major commercial and cultural destination with a focus on fashions from the 1880s through the 1920s.

The Madison Avenue end of the New York and Harlem Railroad depot, Fourth Avenue and 26th Street, in the 1880s. Image via the Office for Metropolitan History

Jun 20, 2017

Discover Flatiron: The Fortune of Fourth Avenue

The New York City office and loft building boom of the early 20th Century was alive and well in the Flatiron District. A prime example is the FOURTH•AVE•BLDG at 381 Park Avenue South (at East 27th Street).

Constructed in 1909, 381 Park Avenue South is located on what was then known as Fourth Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood grew with the 1904 opening of the Fourth Avenue subway as well as the New York and Harlem Railroad’s central depot at East 26th Street and Park Avenue South, which preceded Grand Central Terminal. “It didn’t have a food court or a giant vaulted space or lines of shops,” wrote Christopher Gray in The New York Times on February 28, 2013. “But, it came to house six-day marathons, elephant races, and a tattooed nobleman.”

Once the subway was in place, it didn’t take long for the area to develop. “Fourth Avenue, now the greatest wholesale commercial thoroughfare on Manhattan Island,” wrote real estate and insurance magnate Wright Barclay in the February 3, 1917 edition of the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, “has attained this distinction in a little more than ten years.”

In 1959, between East 17th and East 32nd Streets, Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue South. Today, a diverse collection of businesses call Park Avenue South home, including Sarabeth’s and the luxury boutique Hotel Giraffe. The 16-story building still features the original name painted just below the roof on the structure’s southern side as a glimpse into its storied past.