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: Role of 1930s New Deal Programs in Flatiron

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke the memorable words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, he set out to inspire Americans to engage in work-related programs to ignite the economy out of Great Depression. This month, the Flatiron Partnership highlights some of the notable policies known as New Deal programs that were instituted by Roosevelt and Congress to offer relief, recovery, and reform to the Flatiron District and other communities across the nation.

With the Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, “the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established with approximately $5 billion in funding, providing public jobs for the unemployed–the largest jobs initiative in American history,” notes The Encyclopedia of New York City. This Executive Order-created agency was later renamed as the Works Projects Administration in 1939.

Other relief programs included the Public Works Administration (PWA), initiated in 1933, which “paid private contractors to build large-scale projects proposed by states,” the National Youth Administration (NYA) that began in 1935 as an agency that hired young men and women who were either in or out of school, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of 1933 (FERA), which awarded “grants to states for works programs to hire the unemployed and provide direct relief payments to the indigent."

Subway excavation workers by Andrew via NYC Department of Records and Information Services.

The railways were a major form of mass transit for New Yorkers and the system was a work in progress. To help subsidize and set in motion the public system’s future for generations to come, PWA funds were issued for the line’s construction. The proposed Independent Sixth Avenue subway line (IND) was viewed as the modern-day answer to the former elevated railway system. This new underground corridor, which featured six IND stations, including the 23rd Street subway stop in Flatiron, could transport a rider for a nickel under Sixth Avenue.

For a reported cost of nearly $60 million, the two-mile portion of the IND line made its debut on December 15, 1940. “Mayor Fiorello La Guardia had dedicated it to public use by cutting a red, white and blue ribbon stretched across a battery of turnstiles at the south end of the huge station at Thirty-Fourth Street,” noted The New York Times that day. Most importantly, the subway structure generated jobs for "657 additional operating employees, trainmen and station agents ...131 maintainers, trackmen, and special policemen," wrote The Times.

Admiral Farragut Monument at the north end of Madison Square Park via NYC Parks.

The mid-1930s also introduced the WPA-sponsored restoration efforts of national monuments. One Flatiron statue in need of repair was Madison Square Park’s Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. Located at the north end of the Park at 25th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, the 9-foot tall Farragut statue was granted a Park dedication in 1881 to honor the Rear Admiral’s defeat of Confederate forces at Alabama’s Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, where he reportedly proclaimed his immortal phrase: “Damn the torpedoes…full speed…ahead!” Several decades later, New Yorkers would pull together to restore the Farragut statue. With the readiness of the team underway, according to The New York Times on August 23, 1936, “expert carvers... will soon be at work on a pedestal for the famous Farragut statue".

Robust funding of the arts was also a signature of the New Deal. Harry Hopkins, who led New York City's WPA, declared in response to criticism of federal support for the arts, “[artists] have got to eat just like other people.” The Treasury Department chose to commission eight murals by architect Kindred McLeary to appear inside the Madison Square Post Office, located at 149-153 East 23rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. This facility was reportedly the “most important postal station in New York City.” McLeary’s creative artistry featured City scenes ranging from Central Park to Wall Street to Greenwich Village.

Scenes of New York-Central Park by Kindred McLeary via Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Another local art commission included nearly 1,000 square feet of oil on canvas murals by artist and painter Erle (Earl) Lonsbury displayed at the 69th Regiment’s Lexington Avenue Armory headquarters, located between 25th and 26th Streets. Lonsbury’s Armory wall murals featured the Regiment's most noteworthy missions he Wheatfield at Gettysburg in 1863, the 1918 Battle of the Ourcq, and a New York welcome home parade from 1865. 

WPA and municipal funds were also used to pave the way for a street redesign that included the Fourth Avenue expansion, now known as Park Avenue South, between 14th and 23rd Streets. Reportedly, 2,500 WPA men removed 33 miles of trolley tracks throughout New York City.

The end result of New Deal programs and related infrastructure proved to be a success. By the mid-1940s, many programs ended operations due to various factors, including worker shortages created by World War II. President Roosevelt, a cousin of Flatiron native and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, expressed great satisfaction with the achievements and accomplishments the policies provided to the populace and the architectural upgrades that reshaped structural designs.

During his third inaugural address on January 20, 1941, President Roosevelt declared that “most vital to our present and to our future is this experience of a democracy which successfully survived crisis at home; put away many evil things; built new structures on enduring lines; and, through it all, maintained the fact of its democracy.” 

Photo Credit: NYC Department of Records and Information Services

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: Dr. S. David Wu, Baruch College President

Meet S. David Wu, PhD, President of Baruch College, one of the world’s leading and affordable institutions of higher education, located at 55 Lexington Avenue (at 24th Street) in the Flatiron District.

1. Congratulations on becoming Baruch College’s eighth President and the first Asian American to serve as President of a CUNY college. You were also recently named on City & State’s 2020 Power of Diversity 100 list of influential Asian Americans in New York politics and policy, and City & State’s Education Power 50 list of higher education leaders.  What are your thoughts on achieving these milestones?

I am humbled and honored to have been chosen as Baruch’s eighth president and the first Asian American to lead a CUNY college. Baruch is a remarkable institution that has truly distinguished itself by delivering the highest-caliber, most rigorous academic programs at an affordable price to a historically underrepresented population. Recently, Forbes magazine published an article called “Elite Colleges that You Can Actually Afford,” and they cited the ranking that looks at the most selective colleges around the country and compared the actual cost of attending them. Baruch is ranked No. 1 in the country as the “Elite College You Can Actually Afford,” I think that is quite remarkable.

I am also proud to join the CUNY family who has a long history of success in educating students from all echelons of society, many of whom have become Nobel Laureates, Fulbright Scholars, Barry Goldwater Scholars, and pillars of society that contribute to all aspects of New York and beyond.

To be acknowledged among such prominent and impressive New Yorkers on City & State’s lists is a tremendous honor. It is incredibly humbling to receive these recognitions, and to be acknowledged among movers and shakers in New York, and among my esteemed colleagues in higher education—chancellors, presidents, deans, and innovative influencers. Forty years ago, I traveled from my native Taiwan to New York as an international student. After receiving my doctorate and spending 30 some years in academia, to come home to this great city and state to lead a prestigious institution that plays such an important role in American higher education is a dream come true for me. I am thrilled. 

2. Briefly describe the responsibilities of your role as President serving more than 18,000 students attending Baruch’s three schools: the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, the George and Mildred Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and Zicklin School of Business. What aspect of this job most excites you?

As President, I am the chief executive responsible for delivering the core mission of Baruch College—providing an inclusive, transformational education in the arts and sciences, business, and public and international affairs to students from New York and around the world, and creating new knowledge through research and scholarship. I oversee a cabinet comprised of the College’s senior leadership team who are responsible for all aspects of the College’s education, research, and day-to-day operations. In my role, I report to the CUNY Chancellor, and am bound by the governance of the Board of Trustees. However, the aspect of the job that excites me the most is the impact and transformation we engender on each student. This is particularly meaningful at Baruch as we often serve the underprivileged, immigrants, and underrepresented minorities. The transformation from a college education is profound and path-changing.

3. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, you immediately convened a task force at the College to cope with the crisis. Tell us more about this effort.

The global pandemic, ironically, opens a rare window of opportunity for colleges and universities to take a fresh look at what we do and why we are doing it, and to challenge ourselves to reimagine what is possible. We recognize that the road to recovery is bumpy, but it is likely to take us to a “new normal,” which could lead to a fundamental paradigm shift in higher education. It is for this reason that, before even assuming my official duties as President, I set up a “Task Force for the Future.” The idea is not only to contemplate our place in the “new normal,” but to help guide the paradigm shift in a way that is beneficial to our students and to our communities. I charged the Task Force to use this crisis to put Baruch on a path to lead, to envision a transformation that allows us to deliver our mission with better quality, more flexibility, to assure the health and safety of our people, and to help hard-hit communities in New York City in the recovery from COVID-19. The Task Force is charged to map out a multi-stage “reopening” plan for the coming year that is sufficiently flexible and adaptable to CUNY, NYS, and NYC policies, while positioning the College for long-term growth.

In the meantime, I have been writing blogs and op-ed pieces to reimagine higher education in the “new normal” and encourage others to weigh-in on constructive dialogue. My goal is to share ideas, research, and perspectives that impact the campus community, higher education, and society at large.

4. During the current fall semester, Baruch’s courses will be offered through distance learning, an exclusive online learning program due to the pandemic.  What has stood out to you as the university and student body adapted to this change?

This fall we are teaching 98% of our classes in an online format. The rest are classes that are being taught in a hybrid mode, given some classes such as laboratory and studio classes require some in-person instruction. Interestingly, our enrollment has increased by over 4.5% this fall, with over 19,500 undergraduate and graduate students matriculated. Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly all summer to get us ready to deliver high-quality instruction and student services in the online format. What has stood out to me as the student body has adapted, is their perseverance and technological sophistication. Our students are truly prepared to lead in this new world.

5. Baruch is also one of the most ethnically diverse student bodies in the country. Students speak more than 110 languages and have roots in more than 160 countries. What’s one of the fondest memories that you can recall as an international student arriving in New York City from Taiwan 40 years ago.

One of the fondest memories I have when I arrived in New York City 40 years ago is the dynamic energy of the City, and its great cultural diversity. I often say that you can feel the “electricity” in the air. A city where dreams can come true, and where you can find every type of food, music, and art that the world has to offer. I can still feel that excitement and sense of possibility even today. 

6. Since then, you’ve become a distinguished scholar whose career has included serving as Provost and Executive Vice President of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Can you offer any advice to those individuals who may be interested in pursuing a professional path in academia?

I would say the most important characteristic of an academic career is a sense of wonderment, intellectual curiosity, and an eagerness to share that with others. There is a great joy in pursuing something you love, while opening the door to a whole new world for generations of students. I am a strong believer of high-quality, rigorous education as that truly unlocks the human potential. For someone who truly believes in the mission, it is an incredibly fulfilling profession. In academia, there are many jobs and professional opportunities that varying levels of education can prepare you, from having a bachelors’ degree, a master’s, or doctoral degree. Of course, I would also encourage people to look at Baruch College, which is truly a gem. 

7. Baruch College has been a beloved institution since its founding in 1847 as the Free Academy and America’s first free public college. What do you enjoy most about working on this campus?

First of all, the Flatiron location has so much history, and Baruch itself is rich in history. And yes, Baruch originated from the Free Academy, which pioneered a set of different ideas about higher learning—a scholastic “experiment” focused on educating individuals from all backgrounds and social classes with the highest academic standards. This is a radical departure from other higher education institutions in 1847.

I also appreciate the architectural aspects of Baruch’s historic linkage to New York. The original Free Academy building was built in 1849 in the style of the Gothic town halls of the Netherlands on land that was sparsely developed. Baruch’s Neumann Library occupies the Lexington Building, on East 25th Street, which was built in 1895 as the power station for the Lexington Avenue cable-car line. By the way, East 24th Street was once ''Old Stable Row' boasting the ''largest dealer of horses in the world.''

Not far from my office and my residency, I see the iconic Flatiron Building, one of New York’s oldest original skyscrapers. My wife and I enjoy the neighborhood a great deal since we moved in mid-July. 

8. Outside of the campus venue, what do you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" hidden gem in the community?

On East 20th Street, I know that people often walk by the birthplace and childhood home of the 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt–who I understand was the first U.S. president to be born in New York City. I heard there is also a wonderful museum, and we look forward to visiting after the site reopens.

9. When it’s time to grab a bite to eat in the area, where do you like to outdoor dine or grab takeout in the neighborhood and why? What’s your favorite go-to dish?

The neighborhood is teeming with restaurant choices—featuring nearly every ethnic cuisine—and many are open now. We are still exploring—or eating—our way through the neighborhood, but I discovered a wonderful Italian restaurant offering Sicilian cuisine, a top-rated Japanese vegetarian restaurant, a tasty thin-crust pizza place, and we just experienced a remarkable Indian “dosa” dinner the other day. I’m enjoying this food tour of Flatiron and welcome suggestions! 

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

The Flatiron District is the perfect home for Baruch College–we share the same descriptive words: Vibrant, Historic, and Welcoming to everyone.

Walking Tour

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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