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: United Charities Building History

As we enter the 2019 holiday season of giving, the Flatiron Partnership offers a snapshot of the 1893 debut of the United Charities Building, a pioneer headquarters for a number of nonprofit organizations that provided social services to those in need. The Renaissance Revival-style building shared the address of 287 Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) and 105 East 22nd Street.  

The location for UCB had been the former site of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, once described as “one of the most massive and strongly-constructed buildings in the city,” wrote The New York Times on September 24, 1891. Noted designer of homes in the Hamptons, Robert H. Robertson, and the team of Rowe & Baker, who had offices at 10 West 23rd Street near Madison Square Park, were the architects behind the blueprint for UCB. The land where UCB would be built had been purchased by New York philanthropist and banker John S. Kennedy for a reported $300K. The estimated total construction costs for the 121,059 square foot building was valued between $500K and $700K. 

Kennedy nominated four organizations to inhabit UCB: the Children’s Aid Society, the Charity Organization Society, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and the New York City Mission and Tract Society. The nominated organizations were desingated to benefit from USB as, “The building is expected to be self-supporting, and any surplus revenue, after providing for maintenance and perhaps extension, will be devoted to the general purposes of the four societies named,” according to The New York Times on March 10, 1891. The day before UCB officially opened its doors for occupancy on March 6, 1893, a dedication service for the property was held at the location. Scheduled attendees at the event included political dignities such as former New York City Mayor Abram S. Hewitt and future Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., as well as members of the City’s wealthy Gilded Age society such as financiers J. P. Morgan and Russell Sage.


(Drawing by Hughson Hawley From: King's Handbook of New York City.
Planned, edited and published by Moses King, Boston, Mass. Copyright, 1892)

Other soon-to-be UCB occupants included The Hospital Book and Newspaper Society, the Society for the Prevention of Crime, and the New York Cooking School, which trained individuals “to cook cheap and nutritious food,” and “supply luncheon to all the employees in the building,” noted The New York Times on March 5, 1893. 

During this era, a number of charitable organizations were headed by women. According to the book Landmarks of American Women's History, the National Consumers’ League was “one of the most influential women’s reform organizations” and the group decided to locate their offices at UCB in 1899.

In addition to the offices that were being used by the charities, UCB featured five elevators, an assembly hall, artists’ studios, and ground-level space for two stores as well as a Penny Provident Fund branch, which promoted itself as a financial institution that would “better safeguard” the accounts of its low-income clients. There were also “free baths to be managed by the Children’s Aid Society,” according to The Times

One of the most appealing architectural aspects of UCB was its entranceway. In a 1986 report issued by the National Register of Historic Landmarks about UCB’s pending status as a landmark, the entry doors were described as being “flanked by granite Ionic columns. The arch is enhanced by guilloché, egg and dart, and bead and reel patterns. On either side of the arch are decorative cartouches. Surmounting the entrance is the legend United Charities Building in bronze letters, and a tripartite semi-circular window with floral pilasters.” Five years later, on July 17, 1991, and nearly a century after its opening, UCB was designated a National Historic Landmark.

(
(Picture by  Beyond My Ke vis Wikipedia)

But in 2014, and for the very first time in the building’s real estate history, UCB went on the market to be sold. The property was purchased by a developer for a reported $128 million, with the intent to build condominiums. “This deal is part of a larger trend, where nonprofits city-wide are taking advantage of a hot condo-development market and selling off their headquarters, downsizing to smaller ones or moving to less pricey areas,” reported the website Curbed New York on September 14, 2014. 

Following a gut-renovation of the property, however, Spaces, a global office and room provider, became UCB’s newest occupant leasing more than 100K square feet in the mixed-used property, noted published reports. And acclaimed British steakhouse Hawskmoor indicated its first U.S. restaurant would open at the building’s ground-level location. 

The legacy of charity launched by financier John S. Kennedy, however, still maintains an active role within the Flatiron District today. The UCB founder’s idea of a place “to which all applicants for aid might apply with assurance that their needs would be promptly carefully considered” continues more than a century later, with almost 30 nonprofit organizations that offer various services throughout the community.

Header Photo Credit: National Portrait Gallery 

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: Nancy Hou and Josh de Sousa of Hou de Sousa, Winners of the 2019 Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition

Meet Nancy Hou and Josh de Sousa, cofounders of the award-winning architectural, art, and design studio Hou de Sousa. The pair is also this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition held by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute.

Hou de Sousa’s art installation, Ziggy, features 20,000 feet of iridescent cord that visually converge and dynamically filter the surrounding context with shifting patterns, color, and light. Ziggy will be on display on the Flatiron North Public Plaza as part of the Partnership’s “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” holiday programming from November 18th through January 1st. Check out Ziggy sneak peek photos

1. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition for your art installation, Ziggy. What was your reaction upon hearing the news?

Nancy Hou: The opportunity to participate in this annual competition is an incredible honor. We had followed the results over the years, and really admire the quality and cleverness of the past pavilions. So, when the news arrived that we had actually won, we were ecstatic!  

2. Tell us about Ziggy. What was your inspiration for the installation and its name?

Josh de Sousa: We began by thinking about the footprint and form of the Flatiron Building and how its shape is a direct consequence of urban planning, and the consistency of the Manhattan grid thrown off kilter by Broadway’s diagonal route.

NH: Ziggy will be located on Flatiron North Plaza, but rather than attempt to occupy the entirety of the space, we thought of the site as a sort of pool table that limits the trajectory of the design. I don’t remember who it was, but one of us doodled a sketch of a ricocheting pool ball, and the rest of the design flowed from there.

JD: In terms of the name, we figured Ziggy was apropos given the zigzagging course of the project, plus, who doesn’t love David Bowie? 

3. What do you hope the public’s takeaway will be when experiencing the artwork?

NH: Nothing all that fancy or profound, just that it provides some joy and seating for those in need of a break. 

JD: Now that we’re pretty far along with the fabrication of the project, we’ve tested out the lighting and it’s clear that Ziggy must be experienced in person. While the project is 100% analog, its iridescent glow suggests that you’re observing and walking around a collage of the digital and the real or some form of augmented reality. 

4. Your firm Hou de Sousa “promotes innovative, culturally progressive and environmentally responsible solutions.” Please elaborate on this and briefly describe your roles at Hou de Sousa.

NH: Design is a process that takes time and involves lots of folks. We try to work with organizations that have a positive public impact, and we strive for solutions that are simultaneously novel, classic, and considerate of the environment. 

JD: We don't have fixed roles at the office and each person does a bit of everything. We've worked with each other since our school days, so our understanding of architecture is really intertwined. Nancy often finishes my sentences during design meetings and vice versa. 

5. What inspired you to create Hou de Sousa? Can you share with us some of the ways you keep your architectural practice fresh and creative?

JD: We worked on a couple of projects together in school, and quickly realized that we were coming up with better projects together than individually. When the first commission opportunity arrived years later, it didn’t seem so crazy to go after it. 

NH: For us, the start of each project is pretty informal. Architecture is the marathon of problem-solving. With each new project, there is a ton of information to parse through and a constellation of constraints to consider. Along the way, we tend to entertain every idea that pops up, even during the early stages. Sometimes these initial hunches have worked out really well or got us on the right track. 

6. Nancy and Josh, you both studied architecture in undergraduate and graduate school. What sparked your interest in architecture? 

NH: My interests growing up tended to always involved making something, whether it was art, origami, or cooking. 

JD: I can remember the specific moment. I was playing with my cousins in Portugal when we were all around 11 or 12 years old. We were at this rocky shore and started rolling large stones around in order to build the outline of a small swimming pool. It was surprisingly satisfying to piece together this simple wall and watch the water fill in. Imagining physical possibilities, and then executing the outcome, was tremendously addictive. 

7. Outside of New York City, which cities do you consider architecturally interesting or significant? Any favorites come to mind?  

JD: It’s tough to narrow down the list, and it would be lovely to visit many more places. Paris really stands out due its consistency, whereas Tokyo and Barcelona are compelling for the exact opposite reason. Rio’s topography and Hong Kong’s density are astounding. If Rome only had Borromini, it would already be incredible. I also love the quality of the light and enormous scale of Los Angeles.   

NH: The list of buildings is much longer, but some that always manage to come up in conversation include Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals in rural Switzerland, the Seattle Public Library, and the High Line [in New York City].

8. Your offices are located in nearby Union Square. However, when you’re in the Flatiron District and it’s time to grab a bite, where do you like to eat? Do you have a go-to dish?

NH: On special occasions, our favorite is Cosme. We visit Periyali, Scampi, and Eataly’s Il Pesce more regularly, as we both grew up eating lots of seafood. I’m getting hungry just thinking about Periyali’s octopus and Il Pesce’s flounder. 

JD: Oh, and Xi’an Famous Foods when we’re craving something spicy. 

9. What do each of you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" gem in the Flatiron community

NH: Of course the Flatiron Building. Its svelte tapered form factor cloaked with a rich texture of ornament is timelessly chic.

JD: Allied Works’ renovation of Eleven Madison Park is incredibly elegant as well. Love the way the molding details fold across between the walls and ceiling. 

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

Abundant. Cheerful. Elegant.

 

Walking Tour

Weekly Free Walking Tour

Join our professional guides on a 90-minute journey through this vibrant neighborhood, viewing some of the City’s most notable landmarks.

Click here for more information.

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

44M+

Total 2016 MTA riders for 23rd Street (1,6,N,W,F,M) and 28th St (1,6,N,R) stations

4,650

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