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 16, 2019

Discover Flatiron: The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) was the first agency of its kind with initial offices in the Flatiron District. In honor of the April 1875 incorporation of the NYSPCC, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look back at the neighborhood origins of this groundbreaking organization.

It was the plight of an orphan that led to the creation of the NYSPCC. “She is a bright little girl, with features indicating unusual mental capacity, but with a care-worn, stunted, and prematurely old look,” wrote The New York Times on April 10, 1874 in its description of the New York State Supreme Court proceedings on behalf of the child. “Her apparent condition of health, as well as her scanty wardrobe, indicated that no change of custody or condition could be much more worse.”

The young girl’s story had captured the attention of Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which had various office locations in the Flatiron District during the latter half of the 19th century. According to The New York Times on December 9, 2009, Bergh “saw the girl–like the horses he routinely saved from violent stable owners–as a vulnerable member of the animal kingdom needing the protection of the state.” 

The case would also inspire the ASPCA founder to start a child protection agency. Bergh, along with philanthropist John D. Wright and ASPCA attorney Elbridge T. Gerry, decided to launch the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) in December 1874.  In April 1875, the SPCC became incorporated as The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Their mission was “to respond to the complex needs of abused and neglected children, and those involved in their care, by providing best practice counseling, legal, and educational services,” according to the NYSPCC website.

In April 1880, the NYSPCC purchased a four-story brownstone at 100 East 23rd Street near Fourth Avenue (present-day Park Avenue South) that would serve as office space and temporary housing for abandoned and mistreated children. This location would make New York City history as the first children’s shelter. The agency also acquired an adjoining property in 1888.

By 1892, however, plans were underway for a new NYSPCC eight-story building and shelter at the same location. Noted area architects Renwick, Aspinwall & Renwick were selected as designers of the property, which had a reported construction cost of nearly $500,000. “The whole building will be extremely plain on the outside,” reported The New York Times on February 21, 1892, “with the idea of saving as much as possible of the building fund for securing interior conveniences and the latest modern appliances.” 

When the property made its debut with the address of 297 Fourth Avenue in April 1893, the building’s features included marble-finished walls, dormitories, elevators, a kitchen, and a roof garden with railings that served as a playground. “This Society was the origin of the numerous similar organizations which are now springing up in both America and Europe,” noted The New York Times on February 21, 1892, “[and the NYSPCC] intended to make the new headquarters an example worthy of being followed.”

Due to its expanding role, the NYSPCC sold its eight-story building in 1920 and signed a two-year lease for temporary headquarters at 214th Street and Bolton Road in Upper Manhattan. The property would also be remodeled to accommodate 200 children. 

Then, in 1922, the NYSPCC's shelter moved to Fifth Avenue and 105th Street. According to The New York Times on August 29, 1922, “From the cheerful little reception rooms, decorated with illustrations of fairy stories, to the big open-air playground on the roof, overlooking Central Park, there is everything to appeal to childish fancy.” 

However, to be closer to the courts handling child protection cases, the NYSPCC moved to its current Lower Manhattan location at 161 William Street in 1980.

Photo Credit: ASPCA of Henry Bergh, Co-Founder of NYSPCC and Founder, ASPCA

Mar 11, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Top-Tier Jewelers

In celebration National Jewel Day (March 13th), the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership shares some notable highlights about three prominent jewelers who have operated here in the Flatiron District.

From 1868 to 1885, pearl purveyor Jacob Dreicer & Co. was located at 1128 Broadway, between 25th and 26th Streets. “Dreicer’s appreciation for the subtle hues of the gem and his sense of design–he often uses them in settings with diamonds and platinum–made the firm’s jewels highly sought after,” noted the book Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, and Society edited by Donald Albrecht, Jeannine Falino, Susan Gail Johnson, Phyllis Magidson and Thomas Mellins.

Seeking potential customers, Dreicer often dined at nearby elite eatery Delmonico’s on Fifth Avenue and 26th Street. “Many of the famous strings and ropes of pearls and collections of jewels owned by persons prominent in modern social and business worlds were assembled by Dreicer & Co.,” wrote The New York Times on November 8, 1926. “The collection of these gems entailed a constant search of the world’s markets for stones of the highest quality. One 30-inch string of perfectly matched pearls assembled by the firm was of such rarity and beauty as to sell for $1,500,000 which is said to have established a record price for a string of pearls of this length.”  

A decade after Dreicer's arrival in the area, Theodore B. Starr, an acclaimed silversmith, jeweler, and Dreicer competitor, moved next door to the pearl aficionado. Starr’s store, however, shared two entranceways, 206 Fifth Avenue and 1126 Broadway, during its occupation in the neighborhood from 1877 until 1911.

Exclusive designs were often on display at Starr’s business, according to The New York Times on April 18, 1893. They included "a tiara containing 300 diamonds and 8 large emeralds, a corsage piece of pearls and diamonds arranged around a large sapphire, a necklace of emeralds and diamonds strung on an invisible gold chain, and a diamond studded hair ornament–a sword with a gold blade.”

An array of decorative items were also available for purchase, reported The Times. “The clocks—cathedral clocks with sweet chimes; the bronzes, wonderful in skillful workmanship—showing how hard and unyielding metal can be made to assume the appearance of soft-flowing draperies, and the vases and porcelains, all form a bewildering display.”

But by the beginning of the 20th century, Dreicer, Starr, and other commercial enterprises had followed the economic trend of moving north to Midtown. A century later, however, premier jeweler Tiffany & Co. announced, in 2010, the arrival of its corporate offices to the Flatiron District. Tiffany leased a reported 260,000 square feet for their new headquarters at 200 Fifth Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets. 

In 2017, Tiffany expanded its Flatiron footprint by nearly 17,000 square feet at 53 West 23rd Street. But, if you plan to purchase any of their dazzling diamonds on this National Jewel Day, you’ll still need to visit Tiffany’s iconic 57th Street and Fifth Avenue flagship store, which has been located in Midtown Manhattan since 1940.  

Photo Credit: Daytonian in Manhattan

Feb 8, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Henry Maillard, Confectioner

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look back at the 19th century neighborhood chocolate retail store, restaurant, cooking school, and factory created by celebrated French confectioner Henry Maillard, who also became a leading manufacturer of chocolate in the United States.

When Henry Maillard migrated from France to New York City in 1848, he established a factory and catering business in Lower Manhattan shortly thereafter. He then began to receive raves as “confectioner par excellence in America,” according to King’s Handbook of New York edited by Moses King. Much of Maillard’s success in his new homeland was attributed to his elaborate catering at high-profile events. 

One such occasion was a White House renovation unveiling party hosted by President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, in 1862. “The gala boasted as its centerpiece a Maillard-made confectionery steamship flying the Stars and Stripes, along with sugar models of Fort Sumter and the Goddess of Liberty,” noted The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets edited by Darra Goldstein.

During this period, Maillard also initiated plans to open a store and restaurant. His factory had already relocated to 24th and 25th Streets just west of Sixth Avenue in Chelsea in the 1870s. Later, around the turn of the century, Maillard’s ground floor restaurant and store at 1097 Broadway (at 24th Street inside the Fifth Avenue Hotel) received recognition as a designated go-to destination. The site “quickly became a sparkling jewel in Manhattan’s crown,” noted William Grimes in his book Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York.

“Confectionary and pastry of the oddest and most ingenious shapes and varying in size from tiny candies to monumental decorative pieces several feet high in length, are the skillful products of this establishment,” reported King’s Handbook of New York. “Especially popular on Valentine’s Day for young suitors of means was the $500 box of chocolates containing one special morsel embedded with a diamond ring,” wrote author and Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership walking tour guide Miriam Berman in her book Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks.

In circa 1900 photographs, Maillard’s retail store and restaurant featured “an Edwardian fantasy of mirrored walls, crystal chandeliers, mahogany display cases, and a cherub-painted ceiling,” noted The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. “Surrounding the staff are tables of beautiful baskets and boxes of chocolates, as well as candy novelties like a life-size bust of a woman that could be mistaken for a customer. Chairs and tables along one wall reinforced Maillard’s claim that this was ‘An Ideal Luncheon Restaurant for Ladies.’"

Women, however, weren’t Maillard’s only patrons. New York City Mayor Smith Ely Jr., who held office for just one year (1877-1878) and lived in the community for more than two decades, was a steady customer. Ely told The Medico-Legal Journal in a 1908 article about longevity in life that “it was my regular habit on my way home from clubs and entertainments, to stop at Maillard’s and have a meringue glacé, followed by a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.”

Chocolate products for Maillard’s restaurant and other retailers were manufactured at the confectioner’s five-story factory at 114-118 West 25th Street. Reportedly the largest of its kind in New York City, the property extended an entire block and had a second entranceway at 113-117 West 24th Street. 

“Four hundred people are employed at all times, and in the busy season this number is increased,” wrote King’s Handbook of New York. “Six traveling salesmen are engaged in making the products of the factory known to people in other cities; and in this work they have valuable assistance at the hands of the women of New York and their provincial friends.” 

The 25th Street building also served as the headquarters for Maillard’s New-York Chocolate School. According to King’s Handbook of New York, “Here free lessons are given on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, from October to June, in the art of making a cup of chocolate or cocoa, so that these delicious and nutritive beverages may be served in their perfection.” 

Following Maillaird's death in 1900, and the 1908 demolition of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, the retailer moved to 35th Street and Fifth Avenue. “There is but little question that Maillard is responsible for Americans being candy loving people,” reported Confectioners’ and Bakers’ Gazette in their obituary about the chocolatier. “Maillard’s chocolate, both to drink and to eat, gave us our first taste for a confection, which has since become one of the rivals of the staff of life.” 

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

Jan 4, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Staying Fit Then & Now

With the New Year upon us, now is the time to get your fitness routine back on track. One way to kick-start 2019 resolutions is a visit to any of the nearly 50 fitness facilities in and around Flatiron (some are offering January Joiner deals and discounts!). This month, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership explores the workouts of neighborhood residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the period of the Gilded Age, the Flatiron District was in the midst of an economic renaissance. This New York City neighborhood was often seen by the public as a pillar for society’s nouveau rich and famous. Real Estate and Record Guide on May 16, 1914, viewed the vicinity as “an exceedingly high-class residential district. It was composed of splendidly built private houses. The sidewalks of both 22nd and 23rd Streets were shaded with trees from river to river.”

Palatial properties included the 70-seat dining room Jerome Mansion at 32 East 26th Street, which was owned by Leonard Jerome, a Wall Street stockbroker and also later the grandfather of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill; the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a social gathering place for politicians, at 200 Fifth Avenue; and Delmonico’s, located at 212 Fifth Avenue, where notables noshed on the elegant eatery’s mainstay meals of Baked Alaska, Eggs Benedict, and Lobster Newburg.

This era of extravagance also gave rise to America’s physical fitness movement. According to the book Pop Culture Places by Gladys L. Knight, “Lifestyles of Americans changed drastically at the turn of the century. Inventions and technologies significantly lessened the daily burden of living; leisure time increased and life became more sedentary.” The author also notes the first U.S. gyms appeared in the late 19th century and “concurrent with the appearance of individuals who advocated the need for exercise and promoted an array of special custom-made exercise programs.” 

One notable format of exercise equipment for the upper class was a portable gym, which could conceivably fit inside any grand-scale residence. “With home manuals the exercise enthusiast of the 19th century needn’t leave his or her home to get some activity, especially if they were the owner of a portable gymnasium,” reported the website Digital Public Library of America in 2015. “The portable gymnasium and system of exercises was remarkably egalitarian in its aim to help both men and women improve their health.”

In his 1861 manual The Portable Gymnasium, Gustav Ernst detailed more than 20 different forms of exercise to improve one’s physique. The BBC’s website described the gym in 2014 as “the apparatus, consisting of wooden boards of the finest mahogany with various pulleys, weights and cords attached, was designed for families wishing to reap the benefits of exercise and people with spinal problems.”

The website also gave an account of the workout attire most likely worn by women and men. “The manual shows women in full, puffy petticoats and tight-fitting bodices attempting activities such as leg extensions, downward traction, jumping exercises and chest expansions,” noted the BBC. “And the men are resplendent in long coats, shirts and accompanying neckties, looking remarkably dapper as they work up a sweat.” 

Other popular forms of physical fitness during this era included boxing, stretching, lifting dumbbells, and tossing bean bags. “Throwing and catching objects in certain ways, requiring skill and presence of mind, not only affords good exercise of the muscles of the arms and upper half of the body, but cultivates a quickness of eye and coolness of nerve very desirable,” reported The Atlantic in 1862. 

It was cycling, however, that truly captured the hearts of exercise enthusiasts. “People began riding bicycles for fun and as part of a more active lifestyle,” wrote the website My House Fitness in 2017. “In fact, there was an outright ‘bicycle craze’ in the 1890s when an increasing number of people began taking advantage of the improved technology of the machines. Even women were increasingly permitted to cycle, with feminist Susan B. Anthony referring to the bicycle as the “freedom machine.”

Today, Flatiron “maintains its status as a hub of fitness gyms and studios in New York City,” according to the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership’s Where Then Meets Now report issued in the Fall 2018. “The Flatiron BID began tracking new fitness openings in the neighborhood in 2014, and since then there has been a 30.6% increase in the number of gyms and studios in and around the district.” These are numbers Flatiron is proud to have gained as well as the distinction as New York City’s “Fitness District.”

Photo Credit: Liven Up Health & Fitness

Nov 30, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Holiday Greeting Card Creators

It’s the digital age but conventional holiday cards remain a longtime favorite format of season’s greetings for family and friends. As traditionalists take their pen in hand during this 75th anniversary of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Mail Early” Christmas campaign, the Flatiron/23rd Partnership looks back at notable wholesale holiday card manufacturers and stationers who flourished throughout the neighborhood a century ago.

“Americans purchase approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year,” according to the Greeting Card Association (GCA). “Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated between $7 and $8 billion.” According to the GCA, Christmas cards are the most popular seasonal cards among consumers today, with some 1.6 billion units purchased each year, which includes boxed cards.

The beginnings of the U.S. greeting card industry date back to 1856 when Louis Prang, who was born in Breslau, Prussian Silesia, in what is now Poland, opened a lithographic business near Boston. By 1875, Prang made his debut with the first complete commercial line of Christmas greeting cards for the American market. Within five years, Prang reportedly produced more than five million cards a year and is now recognized as the “Father of the American Christmas Card” by the GCA.

“Collectors today still seek out Prang's beautiful Christmas cards,” notes the New England Historical Society website. “They were printed on high-quality paper and lavishly decorated with as many as 30 colors applied to a single print. Some were embossed, varnished and embellished with fringe, tassels and sprinkles. And, according to the website Quartz, “While Christmas took the lion’s share of season’s greetings, card makers soon added designs to celebrate other denominational holidays: by the 1920s, there were Jewish New Year cards, by the 1940s, Hanukkah cards.”

At the turn of the 20th century, greeting card businesses began to surface as commercial entities in the Flatiron District. One such notable manufacturer and wholesale dealer of greeting cards was the Thompson-Smith Company at 263 Fifth Avenue. “The 1914 Christmas line ranges in wholesale price from $15 per thousand to $5,000 per thousand,” reported The American Stationer in 1913 about the Thompson-Smith Company’s plans for the upcoming year. “It gives that portion of the public that wants to spent 5 cents for a greeting card the very best that can be offered at that price, and for those who want more elaborate cards there is a selection of up to $10 apiece.” 

Barse & Hopkins, publisher of the holiday book classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, was also engaged in the card making business at its 28 West 23rd Street location. At the 1922 Gift and Art Show, the company reportedly featured several samples of merchandise for retail buyers such as Christmas enclosure cards, tags and seals, and calendars that were displayed by the firm’s exhibit representatives William J. Barse and Irving G. Hopkins.

Christmas and New Year’s postcards were another format for customers to send holiday wishes. The Atlas View Card Company at 10-12 East 23rd Street offered leather postcards as well as picture postcards made from photos. A sample dozen reportedly sold for 15 cents, and a special sample selection prepaid offer cost 50 cents.  

Businesses also purchased print advertising space in publications seeking sellers for their festive cards. In a 1951 edition of Popular Mechanics, the Fanmour Corp. at 200 Fifth Avenue sought so-called “agents” who could “easily make $27.50 a day selling 50 outstanding Christmas boxes. Up to 100% profit.”

Nowadays, much of the card manufacturing industry has since moved from the Flatiron District. There are, however, a number of prominent and profitable stationers and retailers who continue to sell holiday cards in the community. They include Papyrus at 655 Sixth Avenue, between 20th and 21st Streets, and 940 Broadway, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, Flying Tiger Copenhagen at 920 Broadway, between 20th and 21st Streets, Memories of New York at 206 Fifth Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets, and Trader Joe’s at 675 Sixth Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets. The holiday greeting card legacy of Louis Prang also continues to prosper through his self-described definition as an artistic individual who produced “for the enjoyment of the masses.” 

Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

Oct 26, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Turning Back the Hands of Time

Sunday, November 4th marks the return to Standard Time. This year is also the centennial anniversary of the Calder Act, or Standard Time Act of 1918, a U.S. Federal law that implemented Standard and Daylight Saving Time. As we prepare to set clocks back one hour this weekend, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look at a few notable street clocks that have appeared in the neighborhood. 

Cast-iron street clocks were a form of novel advertising that began during the mid-19th century, according to New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. “A small business concern that stayed in the same location year after year would buy a street clock and install it directly in front of the store, often painting the name of the business onto the clock face,” noted the Commission in their 1981 Landmark Designation Report about the Fifth Avenue Clock Building at 200 Fifth Avenue. “When the business owners moved, they usually took their clocks with them.”

When the MetLife Clock made its debut in 1909, it became known as the world’s largest timepiece. The community’s most prominent clock, located at the top of the MetLife Tower at 5 Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets, features four dials. Each of the clock’s four faces measures 26.5 feet in diameter, with minute hands 17-feet long and hour hands 13 feet and 4 inches. The cast bronze numerals are four-feet high. 

The New York Times on May 26, 1996 described the Tower, which was designed by architects N. LeBrun & Sons and based on the Campanile at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, as “all white Tuckahoe marble, with a giant four-faced clock and a beacon at the top.” It’s also where the quarter hour was signaled at night by flashing lights and Westminster Chimes played every hour from 9 am to 10 pm.

On August 22, 2001, the Times also wrote that the Clock “is not a timepiece as much as a work of architecture, hugely scaled yet intricately detailed. In each dial face are three delicate, concentric necklaces of cornflower blue and turquoise. These are made of countless thousands of tesserae, small mosaic tiles laid in a radial pattern.”

“For those scurrying too quickly to check its mammoth dials, chimes mark every hour with a series of hard-to-miss gongs,’’ reported the New York Daily News on April 12, 1998. “The building is also known for its light beacon; in the days before radio, mariners used its light to guide their ships into New York Harbor. The beacon also served as the inspiration for the famous ad slogan: ‘The light that never fails.’ ”

The Fifth Avenue Clock, located at 200 Fifth Avenue, was also installed in 1909 with the construction of the Fifth Avenue Building. It features the the building’s name on its face. As “a stylish advertisement, the ornate cast-iron clock is composed of a rectangular, classically ornamented base and a faulted Ionic column with a Scammozi capital,” wrote Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel in her book The Landmarks of New York, Fifth Edition: An Illustrated Record of the City’s Historic Buildings. “Its dials are marked with Roman numerals, framed by wreaths of oak leaves, and crowned by a cartouche.”

The double-faced clock with "Fifth Avenue Building" marking its dial stands 19-feet high and was created and installed by Hecla Iron Works. The Fifth Avenue Building was designed by architects Robert Maynicke and Julius Franke. The clock replaced a previous one that had been installed by the famed Fifth Avenue Hotel, a former occupant of the commercial property once owned by real estate developer Amos Richards Eno.

In August 1981, the clock was designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “On the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture and other features of this structure,” the Commission declared in its report, “the Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that the Sidewalk Clock, 200 Fifth Avenue has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”

When legendary jeweler Tiffany & Co. relocated its corporate offices from Midtown to 200 Fifth Avenue in 2011, the business decided to refurbish the clock, which had “fallen into disrepair over the years after an auto accident damaged the clock’s base and left it in poor working condition,” reported the New York Post on June 11, 2001. 

A few doors northward, the Lincoln Trust Company occupied a seven-story office building at 208 Fifth Avenue. Designed by architects Charles Berg and Edward Clark, the building was constructed between 1893 and 1894 and also shared the address 1130 Broadway. Notable and wealthy Fifth Avenue Hotel proprietor Alfred B. Darling was the property’s owner. 

“The building went through from Fifth to Broadway,” says Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks and a Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership walking tour guide, “and both façades were mirror images of each other—each featuring a ground floor entry with pediment and columns and a sidewalk clock.”

“The first two stories of both façades,” noted the Madison Square North Historic District Designation Report published by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2001, “were substantially altered in 1902 for the Lincoln Trust Co., which leased the space from the Estate of Alfred B. Darling.”

A sidewalk clock was also a form of business branding for restaurants, notes Berman. Dorlon’s Oyster House, which had the joint address of 6 and 7 East 23rd Street, between Broadway and Madison Avenue, “had a sidewalk clock to advertise their eatery—probably in about the 1890s,” says Berman. 

William Grimes, author of Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York  and a former New York Times restaurant critic noted that “big spenders went to Madison Square, where hotels like the Hoffman House and the Brunswick had fine restaurants, and, on the south side of the park, Dorlon’s specialized in oysters and grilled meats.”

In addition to shellfish, wrote Grimes, “patrons could order a porterhouse steak, fried tripe, or game in season, including canvasback duck, partridge, woodcock, or venison.” To accompany a meal at Dorlon’s, diners could imbibe beer, wine, or quality champagnes such as Veuve Clicquot, which then cost $2.00 a pint or $4.00 for a quart. They could also cap off the evening with a slice of pie or strawberry shortcake for dessert—a perfect end to a night well spent during a treasured time in the Flatiron District. 

Photo Credit: MetLife Clock Tower, Martin Seck