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.

Mar 30, 2021

Discover Flatiron: Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust

April 4-11 marks the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust.  In memory of the victims of the Holocaust and in honor of the survivors as well as the rescuers and liberators, the Flatiron Partnership reverently recalls the historic installation of our neighborhood’s own Holocaust memorial while rededicating ourselves to the active promotion of human dignity and the confrontation of hate whenever and wherever it occurs.

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Photo Credit: Smithsonian Learning Lab

The marble obelisk-shaped sculpture, known as the Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust, is erected on an exterior wall of the annex at the Appellate Division Supreme Court of the State of New York on Madison Avenue and 25th Street. Created by artist Harriet Feigenbaum, the monument was the first of its kind to appear on a U.S. public building in 1990.

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Photo Credit: New York Courts

In 1987, the Appellate Division’s Presiding Justice Francis Murphy and attorney David Finkelstein were engaged in a meaningful discussion. The topic was “the indifference towards injustice,” remembered Finkelstein in a Daily News interview on January 21, 1990. “And the talk just leaned towards injustice being the cause of the Holocaust. The fact is that indifference continued for so long it created the Holocaust.” The subject prompted Justice Murphy to assemble a team of consultants to consider the idea of a privately funded Holocaust memorial.

To finance the monument, a reported $200,000 was raised from various New York City law firms. More than 60 artists applied for the commission, but only five were asked to submit their proposal to a panel comprised of Justice Murphy, a representative from the Department of Cultural Affairs, and three individuals connected to the arts. Then, in May 1988, the group selected Harriet Feigenbaum, who had attended Columbia and the National Academy of Design.  

For her proposal of a memorial, Feigenbaum studied for more than a month “photographs of the death houses and a rendering of the main camp at Auschwitz in Poland, drawn by a prison inmate in 1944,” according to The New York Times on July 27, 1988. Feigenbaum explained, “I want people to be drawn to the sculpture and to want to discover what the Holocaust was–the methodical method of murder, the horror that was Auschwitz.” She then traveled to Querceta, Italy to design the monument, which would be crafted from Carrara marble, the same type of milky white material that reportedly had been used to build the Appellate Division courthouse.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Upon its completion, the structure was shipped to New York City. The Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program describes Feigenbaum’s Holocaust memorial design as “a six-sided half column rising 27 feet above its base. The five-sided concave base extends one story below ground level, the overall height of the memorial being 38 feet. Carvings of flames along the length of the column recall the flames of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. They appear to blow in the direction of the courthouse as if to threaten the symbol of Justice. A relief of an aerial view of the main camp at Auschwitz is carved into the base at eye level. An inscription ‘Indifference to Injustice’ has been carved above the relief, ‘Is the Gate to Hell’ below it.”

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The monument also cites specific locations within the Auschwitz camp complex, including the Torture Chamber, Execution Wall, Gas Chamber, and Crematorium 1, Commandant's House. The Department of Cultural Affairs says that Feigenbaum’s primary source for her depiction of the death camp was “a photograph taken during an Allied bombing raid on August 25, 1944. By the selection of this photograph, the artist is saying that the Allies must have known of the camp and they took no action. On the base under the relief is a giant flame extending below ground level as a final reminder of Crematorium 1 at Auschwitz.” 

For the public unveiling of Feigenbaum’s Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust, dignitaries and the artist gathered outside the Appellate Division courthouse on May 22, 1990. One year later, on October 22, the sculptor’s installation would garner an Excellence in Design award from the city’s Public Design Commission. “Every day our city sees countless acts of human kindness, decency, and justice,” said Mayor David Dinkins at the May ceremony. “This memorial is one such act.” Former Mayor Ed Koch shared that “the survivors of the concentration camps are now elderly and many are feeble. Soon they will be gone and no one will be left to recall personally what happened. This monument will serve as a remembrance.”

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Photo Credit: PBDW Architects

Justice Murphy, who had also authorized the location of the memorial with clearance from Mayor Koch and the New York City Art Commission, expressed that “this Holocaust Memorial is now and forever a part of this Temple of Justice. It will speak forever of justice under law.” And, noted then New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, the memorial “transformed through the artistry of Harriet Feigenbaum from a mute shaft of Carrera marble into a powerful and striking symbol of monstrous injustice, will be for all who see it a reminder of events we dare not forget.”

Header Photo Credit: New York Courts

Thumnail Photo Credit: Untappedcities

Mar 2, 2021

Discover Flatiron: Theodate Pope, Trailblazing Architect

To mark the 40th anniversary of the origins of Women’s History Month, the Flatiron Partnership looks at Theodate Pope and her restoration of one of the neighborhood’s most notable properties of the 20th century. Pope was New York’s first licensed woman architect and received the commission to renovate the brownstone that was the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt at 28 East 20th Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South.

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(Photo Credit: 6sqft)

Born in Salem, Ohio on February 2, 1867 to Alfred Pope, an industrialist, and his wife Ada, a homemaker, Effie Pope was the couple’s only child. The Popes lived a life of privilege in nearby Cleveland. When Pope attended one of the area’s private girls’ schools, her classmates included the daughters of Presidents James Garfield and Rutherford Hayes. In 1886, Pope then left Cleveland to continue her education at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. Around this time, she also changed her given name to Theodate to honor her paternal grandmother.

When the family took a 10-month European tour beginning in 1888, the trip sparked a life-changing passion in Pope. She became “enchanted by the beauty of the English countryside, the Cotswold vernacular, and Tudor styles,” notes hillstead.org. In her diary, Pope wrote that she was “quite interested in Papa’s suggestion of my studying architecture. My interest in architecture has lasted perhaps two weeks (may it last as much longer). I mean to read up on the subject.” Reportedly, she soon decided to “be an architect, not a debutante.”

Pope studied with tutors from Princeton University, where women were not allowed to enroll in classes at that time. She then accepted an apprenticeship at McKim, Mead, & White in the 1890s. The architectural firm’s achievements included the second design of Madison Square Garden, then located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue. Previously, Pope and the company had served as design collaborators on her parents’ Farmington estate known as Hill-Stead. Her work there, however, would receive memorable recognition from someone who later played a considerable role in Pope’s career. On a visit to the residence in 1911, Theodore Roosevelt reportedly said that the property was “the ideal of what an American country home should be.”

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(Photo Credit: Hill-Stead Museum)

By 1916, Pope had become a licensed architect in a male-dominated profession where she had encountered obstacles. “Early in her career Theodate Pope submitted a photograph of herself for inclusion in a publication on prominent architects and their work,” according to connecticuthistory.org. “When the publication’s editors saw the photograph and realized that she was a woman, they opted not to include her in the book.” Pope’s perseverance for her craft, however, led her to an architectural assignment that would become history in the making.

In 1920, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association commissioned Pope to reconstruct Theodore’s childhood home on East 20th Street. It was the 1848 brownstone where the former President had been born on October 27, 1858 and lived until the age of 14. But by 1916, the property had been demolished to make way for a two-story café. When Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, the Association decided to pay off the $25,043.63 mortgage that covered the brownstone’s location, as well as the adjoining building owned by Theodore’s uncle, Robert.

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(Photo Credit: National Park Services)

“This transaction completed the first step in a long process of restoring and renovating the late President's childhood home into a memorial,” notes nps.gov. “The Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association wanted to transform the buildings into more than just museums, they wanted to create an interactive experience to promote the principles that helped shape Theodore's strong character.” And, according to Real Estate Record and Builders Guide on August 21, 1920, “to make the plans of the restoration more certain, Mrs. [Anna Roosevelt] Cowles, the oldest sister of the Colonel [Theodore Roosevelt], was consulted and looked over the plans very carefully until they coincided with the memory of the old house.”

The property’s restoration blueprint contained specifications right down to the smallest details. “It was to be complete with family portraits, original furniture, and other Roosevelt heirlooms,” writes nps.gov. “Any original pieces that could not be salvaged were to be reproduced exactly. The 26 East 20th Street home would be renovated into a museum and a library, holding influential works, in addition Theodore's own writings. The fourth and fifth floors of both buildings would hold auditoriums where New York school children could attend assemblies on the history of the country and the state, as well as the life and work of Theodore Roosevelt.”

On January 6, 1921, the second anniversary of Theodore’s death, construction on the property got underway. It included the addition of a porch with a 7-foot tall railing “as it was when Roosevelt spent his boyhood days there trying to gain his health,” wrote Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. The publication also reported that the auditorium would seat 250, and be “complete with stage, dressing rooms, moving picture booths, storage room and complete serving pantry, which will be used when banquets are held.” Pope’s work received much praise. According to The New York Times on December 18, 2005, “Without salvaging any of the woodwork or floors, she erected on the site of 28 East 20th as near a replica as she could build.”

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(Photo Credit: 6sqft)

Then, in 1923 on what would have been the former President’s 65th birthday, the Roosevelt home reopened as a memorial and museum after a reported $1.2 million construction cost. Nearly four decades later, Pope’s project was designated a national historic site when President John F. Kennedy, who described the property as “priceless,” signed a bill on July 26, 1962. The brownstone would now be maintained by the National Park Service and officially known as the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Subsequently, on March 15, 1966, the building was proclaimed a landmark by New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Commission cited particular aspects of the Gothic Revival-style property. “An unusual note of elegance is shown in the drawing room windows at first floor level, which are full length and open upon a handsome cast-iron balcony,” according to the organization’s report.  “Wing-walls were added at each end where the adjoining buildings project forward, thus helping to retain the brownstone character of the two houses which were preserved.” The Commission concluded that “on the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture and other features of this building, the Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that the Theodore Roosevelt House has a special character, special historical and anesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”

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(Photo Credit: Heritage Museum and Gardens)

Restoration of the Roosevelt brownstone was not the only major milestone in Pope’s life. She had also designed homes and schools primarily in Connecticut, such as Avon Old Fams, a boys’ prep school. In 1916, Pope married John Wallace Riddle, a diplomat who served as ambassador to Russia during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. And, for her entire life, Pope was the proud owner of a 1912 Packard Victoria, which was her first car and a gift from her parents.

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(Photo Credit: 6sqft)

Pope died at her home at Hill-Stead in Farmington on August 30, 1946. She was 79 years old. “Theodate Pope’s biography and lack of formal training do not fit easily into the traditional pattern of the professional architect of the early twentieth century,” wrote architectural historian James O’Gorman about Pope’s legacy in Hill-Stead: The Country Place of Theodate Pope Riddle. “That makes her achievement all the more noteworthy and nonetheless real. Many an architect has had to wait for years of experience to accomplish work of the personality, quality, and importance that she saw rise from her ideas on the knoll at Farmington.”

Header Photo Credit: National Park Services, Sketch Rendering of 28 East 20th Street,
Thumbnail Photo Credit: Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame

Feb 19, 2021

Discover Flatiron: James Weldon Johnson, Writer and Civil Rights Activist

In honor of Black History Month, the Flatiron Partnership takes a look at the trailblazing ties of civil rights activist and writer James Weldon Johnson in the neighborhood. Johnson’s legacy includes his vision for the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1917, and composing a campaign song for presidential candidate and Flatiron native Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.

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Photo Credit: Theodore Roosevelt Center

When James Weldon Johnson and his younger brother Rosamond left their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida for New York City in 1901, they set out for careers as Broadway music songwriters. The siblings had been “raised without a sense of limitations amid a society focused on segregating African Americans,” notes the website, Biography. Their father James was a freeborn Virginian hotel head waiter, and their Bahamian mother Helen was a teacher and musician.

Johnson, who was born in 1871, graduated from Atlanta University in 1894. The following year, he launched The Daily American newspaper, and in 1897, became the first African American to pass Florida’s bar exam since the Reconstruction era, notes Britanncia. Rosamond, who was two years younger and a music prodigy, had studied at the New England Conservatory. The pair’s interests in writing and music lead to their collaboration “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a poem written by Johnson and set to music by Rosamond.

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The brothers then teamed with Robert Cole to write theater tunes. In a five-year span, “they composed some 200 songs for Broadway and other musical productions, including such hit numbers as “Under the Bamboo Tree,” “The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground,” and “Didn’t He Ramble,” notes The Poetry Foundation. “The trio, who soon became known as “Those Ebony Offenbachs,” avoided writing for racially exploitative minstrel shows but often found themselves obliged to present simplified and stereotyped images of rural Black life to suit white audiences. But the Johnsons and Cole also produced works like the six-song suite titled The Evolution of Ragtime that helped document and expose important Black musical idioms.” 

During this period, the 1904 presidential campaign was also underway. Johnson had been recruited to become chairman of the house committee for New York City’s newly formed Colored Republican Club on West 53rd Street. “The campaign to elect Theodore Roosevelt to succeed himself in the Presidency was just beginning to warm up,” wrote Johnson in his 1933 autobiography Along This Way. Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, was also a New York City native who had grown up in a brownstone located on East 20th Street. When asked by one of the club officials to “give us something good to sing” for Roosevelt’s campaign, the team of Cole and Johnson delivered “You’re All Right Teddy” within days, reported The Sun on July 31, 1904.

“To appreciate that song you have to hear it with music,” according to The Sun about the melody’s presentation before a club audience.“There is a jubilee shout about the chorus which carries you off your feet. The quartet sang the words and the club chorus of fifty voices came into the chorus, and by the third repetition everyone was singing it. They encored and encored until the quartet ran out of words and [James] Johnson had to improvise on the spot. Then the audience tore the shingles down with applause.” Next came the candidate’s seal of approval. “Rosamond carefully made a manuscript copy, which was sent to Mr. Roosevelt,” remembered James. “He wrote complimenting us on having written ‘a bully good song.’”

Roosevelt was elected and upon his return to the White House, James was soon offered positions in the administration. Reportedly fluent in French and Spanish, Johnson was selected to serve as consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in 1906, followed by Corinto, Nicaragua in 1909. He resigned from the latter post in 1913 when Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was elected President, and reportedly on the belief opportunities for advancement were limited due to racism.

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Photo Credit: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

In 1916, Johnson was named afield secretaryfor the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Johnson worked at opening new branches and expanding membership,” notes naacp.org. “In 1920, the NAACP appointed him executive secretary. In this position, he was able to bring attention to racism, lynching, and segregation.” Johnson’s efforts included launching the idea for the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade on July 28, 1917 because of racially motivated acts of violence against Black people in East St. Louis, Illinois on July 2nd.

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Photo Credit: Miami Herald

The Fifth Avenue march began at 59th Street and concluded at 23rd Street. “On July 28, nine or ten thousand Negroes marched silently down Fifth Avenue to the sound only of muffled drums,” recalled Johnson. “The procession was headed by children, some of them not older than six, dressed in white. These were followed by the women dressed in white, and bringing up the rear came the men in dark clothes. The streets of New York have witnessed many strange sights, but I judge, never one stranger than this; certainly, never one more impressive. The parade moved in silence and was watched in silence. Among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.”

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Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

After 10 years at the NAACP, Johnson resigned to pursue other job opportunities. They included a creative writing professorship at Fisk University, the historically Black college in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1930, and as a visiting professor on the same subject at New York University beginning in 1934. Over the years, Johnson had either written or edited numerous works of literature such as his 1912 novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, and the 1930 book Black Manhattan, which detailed African American life during the Harlem Renaissance.

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Photo Credit: Johnson Weldon Johnson Papers

Johnson was also a Harlem resident and had married Grace Nail, the daughter of a real estate developer, in 1910. Said Johnson of the time the couple first met, “She carried herself like a princess.” Sadly, on June 26, 1938 when the Johnsons were on vacation at their Wiscasset, Maine summer home, their car was hit by a train at a grade crossing. Johnson, who was then 67, had been killed and his wife suffered severe injuries.

Two days later following the loss of James Weldon Johnson, The New York Times noted that “few lives are so rich in various experience and accomplishment as his, so tragically ended.” In a pledge about his life as a Black man, the writer and civil rights activist once wrote: “I will not allow one prejudiced person or one million or one hundred million to blight my life. I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I shall defend and maintain its integrity against all the powers of hell.”

Header Photo: James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts
Thumbnail Photo: Poetry Foundations

Jan 7, 2021

Discover Flatiron: Legacy of the Great Blizzard of 1888 in Madison Square

As the neighborhood weathers this year’s winter season, the Flatiron Partnership looks at the legacy of the Great Blizzard of 1888 in the area then known as Madison Square.

With temperatures in the mid-50s, it felt like an early spring day in New York City on March 10, 1888. But soon, an unexpected change in climate would alter the atmosphere. “Cold Arctic air from Canada collided with Gulf air from the south and temperatures plunged,” noted History. “Rain turned to snow and winds reached hurricane-strength levels. By midnight on March 11th, gusts were recorded at 85 miles per hour in New York City. Along with heavy snow, there was a complete whiteout in the city when the residents awoke the next morning.”  


(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

The Great Blizzard of 1888, also known as the Great White Hurricane, dropped as much as 55 inches of snow across the northeastern region of the United States from March 11th to 14th. “There were numerous accounts of people stranded and freezing to death,” writes the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The storm became legendary in New York City: as the economy was struggling, most workers went to their jobs regardless of the weather conditions. More than 400 people died from this storm, 200 in New York City alone.” Property damage in the five boroughs was estimated at $25 million. 

For its nearly 2 million occupants, the city’s “many early risers on the 12th were dazed to find their doors and first-story windows covered by packed snow. Four-fifths of its 10,000 telephones were silent, and practically all of its electric lights and the great majority of its more numerous gas lamps were blacked out that night,” wrote Blake McKelvey in Snow in the Cities: A History of America’s Urban Response.  

“When the storm struck, though, the technological conveniences and amenities of urban life were suddenly exposed as vulnerabilities,” reported The Atlantic on January 26, 2015. “Late 19th-century cities were monuments to man's mastery of nature. Elevated railroads whisked passengers about; streetlights banished the darkness of night; telephone and telegraph wires crisscrossed the roads; horses hauled hundreds of millions of riders around the street railroads; and delivery carts ferried coal, dry goods, and all conceivable comestibles about the streets.” 


(Image Credit: Library of Congress)

In Madison Square, elevated railways were delayed due to the storm. “Trains on Sixth Avenue were blocked much earlier on account of the curves, and the greater demand for transportation on that division,” wrote The Sun newspaper on March 13, 1888. “At 10 minutes past 10, a train stopped at 23rd Street, and after a wait of several minutes, the guards announced that there was a solid block of trains extending southward as far as Chambers Street. Most of the ‘standees’ and a few of the others promptly left the train, and proceeded the rest of the way downtown on foot. At that station, the ticket agent had sensibly closed the gate to his office, so that patrons were not induced to buy tickets and endure a hopeless wait upon the chilly platform.”

But not all Madison Square area businesses shuttered their doors. Some local residents and stranded visitors chose to see the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth circus attraction at Madison Square Garden on 26th Street and Madison Avenue. According to venue proprietor P.T. Barnum in The New York Times on March 13, 1888, the “storm might be a great show, but he still had the greatest show on earth and he wants everybody to come to see for themselves.”  

There was a three-hour matinee and also an evening show on March 12th. Each show entertained about 100 spectators and featured animals such as a “wonderful performing goat,” reported The New York Times on March 12, 1988. “If only one customer had come, I would have given the complete show,” said Barnum, according to American Heritage. “My duty is to the public and nothing shall ever keep me from honoring that duty, except Judgement Day itself.” Three years later, Barnum reportedly died of a stroke at the age of 80 on April 7, 1891. The website barnum-museum.org notes that some of the final words from the showman included the question: “What were the receipts at the Garden?”

For another neighborhood notable, the blizzard proved to be a perilous plight. Roscoe Conkling, a former U.S. Senator and House of Representatives member, was a $100,000-a-year lawyer on Wall Street. On March 12th, Conkling recalled that he was “not thinking that the city would be dark at night” when he left his downtown office, reported The Sun on March 14, 1888. 

Conkling soon discovered that “there wasn’t a cab or carriage of any kind to be had. Once during the day, I had declined an offer to ride uptown in a carriage, because the man wanted $50, and I started up Broadway on my pins. It was dark, and it was useless to try to pick out a path, so I went magnificently along shouldering through drifts, and headed for the north.”

The athletically fit attorney, who engaged in the sport of boxing as a form of exercise, confessed that he “was pretty well exhausted when I got to Union Square. There was no light, and I plunged right through on as straight a line as I could determine upon. When I reached the New York Club at 25th Street I was covered all over with ice and packed snow, and they would scarcely believe me that I had walked from Wall Street. It took three hours to make the journey.” '


(Photo Credit: NYC Parks

Conkling’s exposure to the elements of the storm reportedly contributed to his death at the age of 58 on April 18, 1888. In his honor, donors financed an eight-foot-tall, 1,200-pound bronze statue of the statesman, which was dedicated in 1893. The figure now stands atop a granite pedestal in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park at 23rd Street and Madison Avenue. 

On nearby 22nd Street during the storm, Mayor Abram Hewitt governed New York City while hunkered down at his residence at 9 Lexington Avenue. Ironically, just weeks before the blizzard, Mayor Hewitt had introduced initial plans for a state-of-the-art underground transportation system. Shortly after the storm, he was “convinced now that the blizzard would have one good effect…as it shows the necessity for an underground rapid transit railroad and for getting the wires underground,” according to American Heritage.

The Mayor’s proposal, however, was originally viewed as a financial liability by operators of the elevated railways. “Owners of the elevateds opposed it, despite the overcrowding of their systems,” wrote Roger R. Roess and Gene Sansone in The Wheels That Drove New York: A History of the New York City Transit System. “The elevateds were making money on their crowded trains, and had no desire to dilute their investment by building additional lines.” 

But after a decade of debate, the mass transit plan became policy when the first completed section of the New York City subway system made its debut at the City Hall station in Manhattan on October 27, 1904. Mayor Hewitt, who died of jaundice a year earlier on January 18, 1903 at the age of 80, later received the posthumous name acknowledgment of ‘Father of the Subway.’ 

The transit idea launched by Mayor Hewitt and the impact of the Great Blizzard of 1888 may have also given rise to the formation of “the modern American mayor,” as well as a citizenry seeking “greater protection,” noted The Atlantic on January 26, 2015. “In 1888, the Great White Hurricane bore down on the metropolises of the eastern seaboard, destroying infrastructure and paralyzing commerce. The devastation it left behind convinced voters that America's burgeoning cities could function only if local governments assumed a larger, more proactive role.” 

Header Credit: The New York Times 
Thumbnail Credit: The Brooklyn Museum

 

 

 

 

Dec 21, 2020

Discover Flatiron: Holiday Feast in Flatiron That Fed Thousands

In this season of giving, the Flatiron Partnership shares notable highlights from the 1899 Christmas Day dinner for New York City’s neediest residents. The event was then known as the largest holiday feast ever held at the former Madison Square Garden on 26th Street and Madison Avenue.

During the final decade of the 19th century, New York grappled with financial challenges created by the nation’s economic downturn in 1893. And although the country’s wealth may have been bolstered by 1898’s Spanish-American War, where Flatiron native Theodore Roosevelt served as lieutenant colonel of the “Rough Riders” regiment, nevertheless, many New Yorkers faced misfortunes including food insecurity.  

A hearty holiday meal proved to be a welcomed gift of hope for thousands when the Salvation Army presented a feast for the City’s neediest on Christmas Day 1899. The Garden dinner hosted by the global charitable organization was arranged to feed nearly 25,000 men, women, and children.

Expenses for the event included public donations deposited in the Salvation Army’s red kettle pots on the corners of city streets. These pots swung “from a tripod bearing a placard setting forth the plans for the Christmas feast,” according to The New York Times on December 26, 1899, “and closing with the adjuration ‘Keep the pot boiling.’” The Garden gathering reportedly required a total of 10 days of preparation and cost an estimated $7,000. 


(Photo: Christmas Dinner Kettle in NYC via Salvation Army)

In addition to soliciting funds for the festivities, the planning committee requested cookware contributions. “Crockery and cutlery of all kinds,” as well as “persons having any cups, saucers, knives, forks or spoons to part with–no matter how old they are or what bad shape–to send them to the 26th Street side of Madison Square Garden, where they will find someone to receive them,” wrote the New York Journal on December 18, 1899. 

Holiday décor was in full display at the Garden. “The interior of the building was decorated with streamers of holly and wreaths of mistletoe,” noted the New-York Daily Tribune on December 26, 1899. “Over the 26th Street door was a huge silken banner, in which was the season’s greeting, ‘Merry Christmas.’ At the 27th Street entrance was a similar banner, bearing the words ‘Happy New Year.’ At the Madison Avenue door was one which bore the word ‘Welcome,’ and over the Fourth Avenue door (now Park Avenue South) hung the largest banner with the sentence ‘Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.’”

Attendees at the Garden had been prescreened to receive tickets for either the morning food basket distribution or an invitation to the evening meal. Lines of people formed at the building a couple of hours before the morning basket giveaway at 11 a.m. Noted the New-York Daily Tribune, guests “presented their tickets, received their baskets and passed out through the 26th Street door into the street. Fully two-thirds of those who received baskets were women. Although most of the guests of the [Salvation] Army were of the poorest types, they included a large number of men who were warmly and respectably clothed and who obviously had temporarily fallen on hard times.” 


(Picture: Carrying Christmas Dinner To-Go Baskets via Library of Congress)

Entrants treated each other with care and kindness, including one notable example published by the New York Journal on December 26, 1899. “One in line was a little, old woman, stooped and blind,” wrote the paper. “She was thinly clad. She felt her way with a small wooden cane. There was no pushing or crowding where she was. An old man behind her discovered she was blind and offered his arm. Others made way so that this pair might not have to wait.” It was also reported that 40 police officers from the neighborhood’s West 30th Street station helped direct guests into the Garden.

Behind-the-scenes, a culinary team of 10 to 20 cooks were roasting, baking, stewing, and boiling food on large range stoves temporarily placed in the venue’s gallery. The holiday menu featured a cornucopia of provisions that included 2,000 pounds of turkey, 5,000 pounds of chicken, 250 geese, 250 ducks, 1,000 pounds of pork and mutton, 1,000 pounds of suckling pig, 125 barrels of potatoes, 100 barrels of mixed vegetables, turnips, carrots, onions, and beets, 10 barrels of cranberries, and 4,000 plum puddings.

“Although the dinner was not served until 6 o’clock, the doors were thrown open soon after 2 o’clock in order that the waiting crowd might not be compelled to spend the intervening time standing in the cold,” wrote the New-York Daily Tribune. “As early as noon they began to arrive, and when at length they were admitted to the Garden they filed quickly and without crushing to seats in the galleries, where they were told to sit until the call for dinner was sounded.”  


(Photo: Santa Claus and Musicians entertaining Children via Library of Congress)

There were 40 long tables, each with 50 chairs, and, noted the New York Journal “at the end of many of the tables there were Christmas trees” and “the scene was warm and bright.” More than 5,000 guests were seated, 2,200 at a time, and waited upon by 300 Salvation Army personnel dressed in their traditional red jackets and high-crowned caps. “Guests were men and women, old, young, middle-aged,” reported the New York Journal. “There was no distinction of color.”

Diners, according to The New York Times, “ate their fill without money and without price. It does not take a hungry person long to eat even a Christmas dinner.” Baskets of food, which contained enough edibles to feed at least five people, were also distributed to those who were unable to attend or stay at the Garden holiday dinner that evening.  

Some of the city’s wealthiest, were in attendance. “When the feast was at its height,” wrote The New York Times, “sat many thousands of well-fed and prosperous people, among them many women who had come in carriages and were gorgeously gowned.” The paper also noted the “men in high hats and women in costly wraps, position and fortune forgotten for one brief moment while all sang in unison ‘Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.’” 

The publication Dissent also cited in their 2014 magazine article that “a few rich New Yorkers,” who had also paid a dollar fee for admission to the holiday dinner, “descended from the gallery to circulate among the guests, dispensing further charity.”

“In an era of expanding inequality,” Commander Booth-Tucker reportedly told guests, “events such as the Christmas dinner were bridging the gulf between the rich and the poor.” Booth-Tucker later revealed to the crowd a telegram that he had received as a holiday message reply from now New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt. Wrote the future U.S. President to the Salvation Army Commander: “Hearty thanks. Warm Christmas greeting and good wishes to all.”

Oct 22, 2020

Discover Flatiron: Corinne Roosevelt Robinson & The 1920 Presidential Election

This year marks the centennial passage by Congress of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote and marked their first-time participation in a presidential election. In honor of these history-making achievements, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership highlights the life of political activist, published poet, and Flatiron native Corinne Roosevelt Robinson. She was the first woman to address a presidential convention, and was the younger sister of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, a distant cousin of fellow Commander-in-Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an aunt of FDR’s First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Born on September 27, 1861, Corinne was the youngest of four children of businessman and philanthropist Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and his wife Martha Bulloch. The family’s residence, a three-story brownstone with a backyard, was located at 28 East 20th Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South. “The first recollections of a child are dim and hazy, and so the nursery at 28 East 20th Street, in New York City, does not stand out as clearly to me as I wish it did—but the personality of my brother overshadowed the room, as his personality all through life dominated his environment,” wrote Corinne in her memoir My Brother Theodore Roosevelt

Left to right: Theodore Roosevelt, age 14; Elliott Roosevelt, age 13; Maud Elliott, age 12; and Corinne Roosevelt, age 11. (Photo via My Brother Theodore Roosevelt by Corinne Roosevelt Robinson)

Educated by private tutors and at the exclusive Miss Comstock’s School, Corinne was an aspiring poet and writer. One of her playmates included Edith Kermit Carow, who would become the First Lady and second wife of Corinne’s brother Theodore. Corinne, too, married at the age of 20 to Scottish-born financier and real estate broker Douglas Robinson on April 29, 1882. The couple had four children, Theodore, Corinne, Monroe, and Douglas, and the Robinsons maintained homes in Orange, New Jersey and in the Adirondacks. 

In addition to life as a wife and mother, Corinne’s passion for the written word, as well as encouragement from Flatiron friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton, led to a writing career. Corinne’s first published poem was "The Call of Brotherhood" in 1911. Other published works included One Woman to Another and Other Poems (1914), Service and Sacrifice (1919), and My Brother Theodore Roosevelt (1921).

26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt. (Photo via My Brother Theodore Roosevelt by Corinne Roosevelt Robinson)

Corinne greatly admired her brother Theodore’s politics. During Theodore’s tenure as a statesman, she “supported TR’s political aspirations, frequently hosting dinner parties and roundtable discussions in her home,” writes The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. “Corinne, who made regular visits to the Executive Mansion during TR’s presidency, later commented that she and her brother would frequently engage in all-night discussions.” Corinne was politcally active herself, and reportedly “in great demand as a speaker” for the Republican National Executive Committee.

Corinne was a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, which led to the June 4, 1920 passage and the August 18th ratification of the 19th Amendment. However, during the suffrage movement, many Black women continued to experience discrimination from white suffragists. In Catherine Rymph's book Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism From Suffrage Through the Rise of the New Right, she wrote that the Executive Committee, where Corinne was a member, was all white and that “a black woman, Lethia Fleming of Cleveland, was selected to head a separate black women’s advisory committee that was assembled for the 1920 presidential campaign.”

A group from the Cincinnati chapter of the League of Women Voters stands in front of a board showing voter registration by city ward. (Photo by Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images)

With the 1920 presidential campaign underway and just four days following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Republican party commenced their nearly week-long presidential nomination convention in Chicago. Here, Corinne became the first woman called upon to second the nomination of a national party convention candidate. She nominated U.S. Army Major General Leonard Wood, who served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during Theodore’s administration, to head the top of the Republican team’s ticket. The delegates, however, decided to go with Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding, who later won the presidential election along with vice presidential choice Calvin Coolidge on November 2, 1920, defeating Democratic opponent James M. Cox and his running mate and Corinne’s cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

“Suffragettes, such as Corinne Roosevelt Robinson...adamantly promoted support for the Republican candidates,” notes the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. And many “Republicans saw a chance for millions of new voters to turn out at the polls supporting the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.” That election year, “more than 8 million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the first time”.

Corinne Roosevelt (top left) at the 1920 Republican Convention. (Photo by Underwood & Underwood: Library of Congress)

After the 1920 election, Corinne retained an active role in Republican politics, which included an advisory committee post during presidential candidate Calvin Coolidge’s campaign. She also later worked with nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. According to the New York Times, Corinne had formed the New York City Committee for Fatherless Children of France and served as the group’s temporary chairman and also its secretary.

However, with failing health, which included 16 eye surgeries, Corinne withdrew from her work as a political and nonprofit advocate. She died of pleural pneumonia at her Upper East Side home at the age of 71 on February 17, 1933. In her poem Life, A Question, Corinne shared these words on the subject: "Life? and worth living? Yes, with each part of us–Hurt of us, help of us, hope of us, heart of us. Life is worth living.”

Header Photo Credit: Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images
Thumbnail Photo Credit:  Underwood & Underwood: Library of Congress