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

So look around explore, enjoy, and Discover Flatiron! 

 

Flatiron History

Discover Flatiron: Christmas Society at Madison Square Garden

When Madison Square Garden’s second redesign of the 26th Street and Madison Avenue site opened for business in 1890, the new indoor arena set out to keep its status as a first-class event space. One way the venue attained this goal was serving as the location for a charitable holiday party that would distribute thousands of gifts and goody bags to New York City’s neediest children. This month, the Flatiron Partnership recalls the philanthropic efforts of the innovative Christmas Society and their Garden gathering held on Christmas Day 1891.

“To make the day memorable for the unfortunate little ones, to bring smiles to prematurely old faces, and to fill the old-young hearts with wonder and delight, are the self-imposed tasks of the newly-organized Christmas Society,” wrote The New York Times on December 3, 1891about the group’s pledge to aid others. The Society, reported The Sun on December 22, 1891, would also “afford an opportunity for the children of the rich to exercise the divine virtue of benevolence.”

During this era of excess, known as the Gilded Age, “industrialists lived high on the hog, but most of the working class lived below poverty level,” noted the website History.com. “While the wealthy lived in opulent homes, dined on succulent food, and showered their children with gifts, the poor were crammed into filthy tenement apartments, struggled to put a loaf of bread on the table, and accompanied their children to a sweatshop where they faced a 12-hour workday.”

For Syracuse native Oliver Sumner Teall, a Yale graduate and Albany Law alum who was now in New York City’s elite political and social circles, his concern for the lives of impoverished children during the year-end holiday season led to the creation of the Christmas Society. Teall served as President. Lispenard Stewart, once a New York State Senator, held the title of Treasurer. And, Herbert Livingston Satterlee, who later became Assistant Secretary of the Navy under U.S. President and Flatiron native Theodore Roosevelt, was named Society Secretary.

“The children of the rich are given toys and presents at all times of the year, and receive many more at Christmas,” proclaimed Teall about the vast evidence of economic inequality among the classes in New York City. “It is the object of the Society to afford them an opportunity to give from their abundance to the children of the poor; for though churches and charitable institutions provide for many, there are thousands entirely neglected at Christmas.”


(Image: Byron Company. Charities, Salvation Army Christmas Dinner Kettle.
Museum of the City of New York.)

Teall’s team soon made an appeal for holiday gifts for the underprivileged children. Prosperous patrons who reportedly made donations included members of the Carnegie family, whose wealth had been derived from steel manufacturing and the Vanderbilts of shipping and railroad fame. Madison Square Garden, located in the affluent Madison Square area and the residential community for many of the city’s wealthy, was selected by the Christmas Society as the site for their holiday party. Event ticket prices ranged from $1 for gallery seats to $20 box seats.

The efforts by Teall proved to be a philanthropic success when he revealed that “the Christmas Society has received in gifts, and donations of money with which to buy gifts, enough presents for 18,273 children and has found the children who need the presents.” By the time the Garden’s doors officially opened to the public on Christmas Day 1891 at 1:30 p.m., the line for children, along with their parents or guardians, had extended around the block.

For possible crowd control, 200 police officers were dispatched to the Garden, but little was needed for the nearly 10,000 adults and children from diverse ethnic backgrounds who came to the arena. “So many of those who tried to enter, however, had no tickets, that it was decided to admit all until the Garden was filled,” reported The New York Times on December 26, 1891.

Once inside, attendees marveled at the attractions. “Stretching from floor to roof were a hundred ropes, intermingled with streamers of red, white, and blue, which were burdened with the toys that had been sent into the Christmas Society,” wrote The Times. “Everything in the line of a plaything was on those ropes, from a $75 hobby horse to a penny doll. Down through the center of the Garden ran a platform, which was heaped high with presents.” Some 12,000 toys, more than 10,000 bags of candy, and as many bags of fruit were given to those in need.

Teall’s Christmas Society, however, would last for only two seasons. The group faced mounting resentment by “established charitable agencies, who saw it as drawing attention (and contributions) away from their own work,” according to Stephen Nissenbaum in his book The Battle for Christmas. The Society had also accumulated a financial deficit that surged from $748.39 in 1891 to $3,144.02 one year later, with Teall personally assuming the debt. And, just days before Christmas 1898, published reports disclosed that Teall was being sued for divorce.

By 1906, Teall had an estate valued at a mere $125 when he died of heart disease on June 7th at the age of 54. His legacy of generosity, however, apparently left an ever-lasting impact on the lives of many that Christmas Day 128 years ago. “Perhaps some or many youngsters received more than their share,” reported The New York Times on December 26, 1891 about the Society’s Garden party, “but nobody who assisted in the distribution was unhappy for having done so. For all of these saw smiles light up hundreds of pinched little faces as the result of their labors.”

Header Image: Jacob A. (Jacob Augustus) Riis.
Christmas gifts at 48 Henry Street. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.386 

 

 

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: Founder-Chef-Baker Paul Allam, Bourke Street Bakery

Meet Paul Allam, Founder-Chef-Baker at Bourke Street Bakery, located at 15 East 28th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, in the Flatiron District. “We feel a bakery should be a welcoming place, a part of the community,” says Allam, who initially opened Bourke Street Bakery in his hometown of Sydney, Australia in 2004. “We really believe that good food and community are essential ingredients for a better life.”

1. At Bourke Street Bakery your day begins at 4 am. Describe your role there and how your day unfolds.

It’s dark and cold and quiet…it’s feels like the whole world is asleep…It’s peaceful here. I fire up the ovens and put my favorite music on. It’s pretty peaceful till 7 am when we open the doors and the regulars come in for coffee. I have two other wonderful bakers working with me now who have learned the Bourke Street way, so I share the load with them.

2. You’ve defined your Flatiron café as an Australian bakery with an American twist of “service food but very relaxed and casual.” Tell us more.

We are an all-day bakery café. We don’t take shortcuts with our food and only buy the best ingredients we can lay our hands on. Most of our food is handmade and takes a long time to make. We serve breakfast, lunch, and everything in between. We are very serious about food. We are milling grains for our sourdough breads and making all our pastries, cakes, and cookies from scratch. What’s most Australian about us is that we are crazy about coffee. Australians are fanatical about coffee and it’s a huge part of what we do. We also make sandwiches and soups and seasonal plates. Despite having strong food values, we are always very relaxed and friendly with our service.

3. What bakery items do you recommend to customers during this holiday season?

You must try our limited edition fruit mince pies–they are irresistible! Also, our gingerbread people. We have a great quince and strawberry jam on the shelf at the moment. I love quince. Also, our chocolate sauce makes a great gift!

4. You began your career as a savory chef. What led you to pursue a career in artisanal baking, and what’s the best advice that you can offer to those who are interested in pursuing this profession?

I became a trained chef when I finished school and starting working in restaurants in Sydney, Prague, and London. I got a chance to work with some wonderful chefs who prioritized the highest quality produce and real artisan techniques, and I got to make sourdough with one of the chefs I worked for, her name was Alex Herbert. I just loved it. I always loved working with my hands and there is something meditative about making sourdough–it’s such a long process. The way we make it often milling the grains and mixing and shaping and resting with long fermentation and high hydrations. It’s a handmade product and there are so many factors that you have to get right. I like that no two loaves are 100% the same. It’s so satisfying when the loaves come out blooming and baked well. It’s a gift for me.

5. You, your wife Jessica, and children relocated to New York. As a Sydney native, what you do find most appealing about Flatiron (personally and professionally)? What do you miss about your hometown?

Jess and I are both loving being in NYC. This neighborhood is especially lovely–what is most appealing is our wonderful customers! Many live in the neighborhood or work close by. They are so warm and polite, and very grateful that we’ve opened. They love our coffee and food and often come back sometimes several times a day–that is very heartening for me. It’s always great when I make something and see people enjoying it and coming back for more. What I miss most about Sydney, apart from my family and friends, is having a garden. In Sydney, we had chickens and fresh eggs every day and fruit trees and a veggie garden and a pizza oven in the backyard. That was pretty special.

6. You have also authored three books: Bourke Street Bakery: The Ultimate Baking CompanionAll Things Sweet: Unbeatable Recipes Recipes From the Iconic Bakery, and The Bread & Butter Project: How to Make Perfect Bread. Do you plan to publish more culinary books? What do you find rewarding about writing on this subject?

Sure, I’d love to write one about Bourke Street Bakery: The New York Recipes, sharing all the new dishes we’re making and baking here.

7. Switching gears to your life outside of work–how do you like to spend your time away from the bakery?

Before I had three children, I spent every spare minute or cent eating, reading, or traveling. Now I spend most of my free time with the kids (often still eating, reading, and traveling!). They do accompany me to lots of great restaurants and have wonderful and varied appetites, so food is a big part of my life when I’m not at the Bourke Street Bakery. I play a lot of basketball, soccer, and tag with the kids. I bake and cook and play chess with them. They keep me endlessly entertained and worried–depending on what’s going on!

8. As a lover of food, are there some standout dishes in the neighborhood that you make a point to enjoy (other than your own)?

We’ve had fantastic meals at Atoboy. I love their food! The chefs are very talented and the service is excellent.

9. What do you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the community?

Kalustyan’s is a hidden gem for me as I’m always running there for magical ingredients–it’s like an Aladdin’s Cave for a chef.

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

Historic. Creative. Convenient.

Photo Credit: Gary He

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What People Are Saying see

“Village meets midtown.”

When asked to describe the Flatiron District in three words

Brandon Stanton
photographer, Humans of New York

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

When asked about his favorite thing about the Flatiron District

Marc Glosserman
Founder & CEO Hill Country Hospitality + local resident

“You are building a community like no other!”

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

Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President

Quick Stats

22M+

Square feet of commercial real estate

39M+

Total 2018 MTA riders for 23rd Street (1,6,N,W,F,M) and 28th St (1,6,N,R) stations

6,500

Hotel rooms

7,563

Taxi drop offs per weekday in 2017

3.3+

Dollars invested in the Public Plazas by the BID

160K

Citi Bike trips originated or ended within Flatiron in June 2018

580

Ground floor business in the Flatiron District