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.

Nov 19, 2019

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.

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.

Photo Credit: National Portrait Gallery 

Sep 27, 2019

Discover Flatiron: The Art Students League of New York

In NYC, October is also known as Archtober, or Architecture and Design Month, the annual 31-day celebration of the stellar architectural sights found within the five boroughs, including Manhattan’s Flatiron District! In addition, October 3, 1887, marks of the debut of the Art Students League of New York in Flatiron at 143-147 East 23rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. In celebration of the League’s arrival in the neighborhood more than 130 years ago, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look back at the early days of one of the nation's premier schools for aspiring artists and designers and its five-year occupancy in the area. 

When the Art Students League classes were launched on September 15, 1875, the organization was comprised mostly of women, who had been students at the National Academy of Design in New York City. As new League members, their mission would be, according to the Art Students League of New York’s website, “emphasizing the importance of artistic creativity, maintaining the greatest respect for artists who devote their lives to art, and educating students in the process of making art in an environment where anyone who wishes to pursue an art education can realize his or her full potential.” The League would also reportedly become the first major institute to allow women to do live drawings.

The League’s first school occupied the top floor of a building located at 108 Fifth Avenue near the corner of 16th Street. In 1878, the League voted to become an incorporated organization and also sought a charter from the State of New York. “This revolutionary approach to running an art education institution, which remains in place today,” notes the League’s website, “assured students a central part in the future of the League and granted them power in making decisions that would affect their own development as artists.”


(via Art Students League of New York) 

In 1882, the League, now growing in popularity with an enrollment of nearly 500 students, relocated to lease much larger headquarters on the top three floors of 38 West 14th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The League would shortly thereafter seek an even more sizable accommodation for their expanding operations within the Flatiron District. On October 3, 1887, the League commenced classes at 143-147 East 23rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. This site had been the former wareroom of Sohmer & Co., the noted piano manufacturer that reportedly claimed Oscar-winning composer and lyricist Irving Berlin of “White Christmas” fame as one of its customers. 

The East 23rd Street relocation had been spearheaded by League president Charles R. Lamb, who would soon become the architect behind the 1899 design of the military triumphal Dewey Arch at 24th Street and Fifth Avenue. “The classes are large and full of enthusiasm,” wrote Appletons’ Dictionary of New York and Vicinity about the League in 1889.  Class costs varied in each category, which included $70 for the season or $12 a month for a half-day portrait class, or $120 for the entire season or $22 a month for a full-day session.


(via Art Students League of New York)

Within a year, the League proved to be a success in the neighborhood. “The 19 classes had been in daily session since October 3, embracing four life, three painting, five antique, two modeling, two costumes, sketch, composition, and artistic anatomy classes,” reported The New York Times on April 18, 1888. “During the season 652 students from all parts of the country and from Canada have been at work. Receipts for the year were $17,000 and expenditures $22,000, including $6,500 spent on improvements to the building.”

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose 13-foot, nude weathervane copper statue named Diana appeared atop Madison Square Garden on East 26th Street from 1893 to 1925, was one the League’s leading instructors at the East 23rd Street location. And even some individuals from the world of literature considered the League an ideal workspace. Novelist Stephen Crane reportedly wrote The Red Badge of Courage at the East 23rd Street property. In the 20th century, the League’s Midtown Manhattan site would become the go-to destination for a number of prominent artists who were either students or taught at the institute, including Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and Helen Frankenthaler. 

In 1892, with a reported 900 students, the League sought an even larger property with considerably more desirous conditions. “Rodents scampered around in search of crumbs from the dried bread that students used as erasers,” reported The New York Times on September 9, 2005, about the East 23rd Street facility. “Pungent aromas from neighborhood stables and sewer gas filled the rooms. Enough was enough, even for artists, hardy souls that they are. In 1889 the League–or rather its governing board, a third of which must consist of enrolled students–decided to secure a permanent home. And it did so the way it did everything else, cooperatively.”

The League’s search for a new home ended with its arrival at 215 West 57th Street, between Seventh Avenue and Broadway. “Three stories of the building are occupied by the League,” wrote The New York Times on October 16, 1892, “and fitted with the finest and most completely appointed, best ventilated and lighted classrooms and studios devoted exclusively to art instruction in the world.” This relocation proved to be an advantageous one for the League, then and now. 

In 1968, the organization’s 57th Street location gained designation status as a New York City landmark and later appeared on the list of National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The League’s former location on East 23rd Street, eventually become an SRO hotel known as Kenmore Hall. It was a reported “hotbed” for crime before its 1999 renovation and conversion into affordable housing for individuals coming out of the city’s shelter system, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and homeless veterans. Also, in 1999 the Kenmore received a Best Practice Award from HUD and was named a Finalist for a Fannie Mae Foundation Maxwell Award for Excellence. 

As the Art Students League of New York commemorates the organization’s 132 years in the City, including the Flatiron District, it remains “a place where you are an artist if you say you are,” noted The New York Times on September 9, 2005. “Nobody–except maybe a fellow painter with outsize ambitions and an unrequited crush–is likely to say: “You're going nowhere. You're not cool.” And if somebody does, fine. Don't leave. Show up on time for class, get down to business and feel a New York art monument, one that we can all be a part of, breathe.”

Sep 16, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Madison Square Post Office

With its eight 1930s-era interior murals depicting various New York neighborhoods and an exterior panel of five bronze sculpture reliefs (a work of art that projects from the wall it belongs to), the Madison Square Post Office gained a coveted spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. To celebrate the property’s 30-year-old designation anniversary and its official opening on September 20, 1937, at 149-153 East 23rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look back at the Classical-style structure. 

Created by Lorimer Rich, the American architect best known for the design of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, New York’s Madison Square Post Office would reportedly become the most important post office in the city when it made its debut 82 years ago. The new Madison Square Post Office was actually a replacement branch that shared the same name as its predecessor, which had been located at 122 East 23rd Street. “In response to this growing concern over inadequate facilities, a new federal policy for constructing buildings ‘exclusively for post office purposes’ was established early in the twentieth century,” according to a National Register of Historic Places report issued by the United States Department of the Interior in 1988. 


(via Public Buildings) 

The designated site for the proposed post office had been acquired for a reported $379,693 and the building’s total construction cost would be $495,581, wrote C.W. Short and R. Stanley Brown via Public BuildingsWhen the three-story, 80,000 square feet, state-of-the-art post office opened for business, it was the first branch to resemble a banking institution with its décor. “An interesting feature of the lobby is the ‘bank screen’ treatment of the counters, the lobby, and workroom all being one room and not separated by a partition as is usual,” noted C.W. Short and R. Stanley Brown in their book Public Buildings. The facility was well-received by neighborhood retail owners and its publicity gained press coverage. In attendance at the opening day ceremony were Postmaster Albert Goldman along with “several members of the Twenty-Third Street Association and representatives of large wholesale houses in the district,” reported The New York Times on September 21, 1937.         

          

(via
Smithsoinan American Art Museum, Kindred McLeary's Murals,depicting Scenes of the Lower East Side (right) and Central Park (left).

According to The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Lisa Keller, and Nancy Flood, “A few post offices in the city were designed in the austere Modern Classical style that became popular for public buildings during the 1930s, including the Madison Square Station. The Treasury [Department] also commissioned works of art for 10 of the new buildings,” which included “eight murals with urban street scenes by Kindred McLeary” that would feature images by the artist ranging from Central Park to Wall Street to the Lower East Side for display in the Madison Square Post Office. The five exterior bronze façade reliefs were designed by sculptors Edmond Amateis and Louis Slobodkin.

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum website says that “post offices built in the 1930s during [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt’s New Deal were decorated with enduring images of the ‘American scene.’ In the 1930s, as America continued to struggle with the effects of the depression, the federal government searched for solutions to provide work for all Americans, including artists. During this time, government-created agencies supported the arts in unprecedented ways. As Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's relief administrator said in response to criticism of federal support for the arts, “[artists] have got to eat just like other people.” 

Adds the Smithsonian website, “Often mistaken for WPA art [the public works sponsored arts project known as Works Progress Administration and later renamed Work Projects Administration], post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as ‘the Section,’ it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. By providing decoration in public buildings, the art was made accessible to all people. Artists working for the Section were not chosen on the basis of need, but through anonymous competitions where the national jurors were often other artists.” 

Following its 1937 debut, the new Madison Square Post Office would soon become “the most important postal station in New York City,” according to C.W. Short and R. Stanley Brown in Public Buildings. And it was during this period that this post office location would begin to generate “annual postal receipts of approximately $5,000,000, and a daily handing of 1,000,000 letters and 2,500 sacks of outgoing parcel-post mail.” Today, the Madison Square Post Office remains a travel-pick destination, according to Reuters list of unique post offices around the world, which cites that the “murals by Kindred McLeary make this post office a must-see."

Aug 12, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Remembering Elvis on East 24th Street

August 16th marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of rock 'n’ roll pioneer Elvis Presley. In commemoration of the singer’s early recording days in the neighborhood, the Flatiron Partnership recalls the year 1956 when Elvis performed and produced a number of hit songs at the RCA Records studios located at 155 East 24th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Elvis Presley reportedly visited New York City for the first time in March 1955. At this point in his career, the 20-year-old aspiring singer and musician had been appearing in a series of one-night shows mostly throughout the South. His arrival in Manhattan, however, led Elvis to try out for a television talent show audition. Presley’s performance was rejected and soon the young singer was on the road again, but not for long.

By December 1955, Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, returned to Manhattan for a meeting with RCA Records management, which had reportedly purchased the singer’s contract with Sun Records for $35,000 (equivalent to $334,515.11 in 2019). Sun Records facilitated the contract deal due to financial difficulties that were threatening the studio's survival. Additionally, Sun Records President, Sam Phillips explained, "By releasing his contract to RCA we will give [Presley] the opportunity of entering the largest organization of its kind in the world, so his talents can be given the fullest opportunity" (via Scotty Mooroe). The RCA team immediately set up a publicity photoshoot for their new talent acquisition at the company’s studios at 155 East East 24th Street. Presley’s attire for the session included $60 worth of clothing (equivalent $573.45 in 2019) from a local store in Memphis, Tennessee. 

“The studio looked like a set from a 1930's science fiction movie,” noted Presley photographer Al Wertheimer in the singer’s biography Last Train to Memphis written by Peter Guralnick. “It was a large rectangular space of acoustical tile walls ribbed with monolithic half cylinders. The high ceiling rippled with more parallel cylinders and two pipes of fluorescent light. In the center of the room lay a patch of carpet on which the musicians had placed their instruments.” This RCA photoshoot marked an important shift in Presley's career. 

After an appearance on the Jackie Gleason-produced Stage Show on January 28, 1956, Presley returned to the East 24th Street studio. Two days later, the singer would make music history. According to the New York Daily News on August 14, 2008, Elvis and a number of musicians “recorded for seven hours that day, then three hours on January 31, and another several hours on February 3.” The songs that were reportedly recorded during these sessions included Blue Suede Shoes, Shake, Rattle and Roll, and Lawdy, Miss Clawdy.” 


(Bill Black, D.J. Fontana, The Jordanaires, Elvis and Scotty
recording "Hound Dog" July 2, 1956 Photo © William "Popsie" Randolph
)

"Blue Suede Shoes was the only hit single in the bunch,” noted the Daily News, “but the sessions were crucial in Elvis history because they marked the point at which he started moving away from his raw, pure Sun sound to the more commercial and mainstream sound RCA envisioned for him.” And several months later in July 1956, the singer revisited the studio once again to record the two chart blockbuster hits Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel. Take 31 of Hound Dog became the version that was released, and the single sold 10 million copies globally becoming his best-selling song that topped the pop chart for 11 weeks - a record that stood for 36 years (via Mega Rock Radio).


(Depiction of RCA Studio building at 155 East 24th  - circa 1971 via Baruch College)

The 1880s-constructed building was located in an area that had a rich social and architectural history. According to New York Magazine on November 20, 2014, “24th Street east of Madison Square—once known as Old Stable Row because of its saddlers, blacksmiths, and horse doctors—thrived during Edith Wharton–era New York.” RCA Records studios then referred to as The Victor Recording Company, acquired the 24th Street property at an auction in early 1928 from Fiss, Doerr & Carroll’s. The business was Manhattan's leading supplier of coach, livery, and workhorses, that supplied horses for the New York transit system, and later for use by the U.S. military in World War I (via Swing and Beyond). Victor Recording Company's office consisted of two recording studios in the ground floor space of the 24th Street building, referred to as studios A and B. Studio B, the smaller of the two, was used for piano and chamber music recordings, and the larger Studio A could accommodate groups of up to 35 musicians. Presley recorded his songs in Studio A. 

A little more than a decade after the success of Hound Dog, however, the sound would fade from the East 24th Street music studio. RCA Records studios relocated to Midtown Manhattan at 1133 Avenue of the Americas near 44th Street in August 1970. Notable New York City architect Emery Roth was the new office’s designer, who would create an insulated facility for the recording company. “An engineer does not normally regard with affection the sound of a flushing toilet during the pianissimo section of a Brahms symphony,” wrote The New York Times on August 9, 1970. The building of the 24th Street studio was sold in 1968 to what was then City College (now University) of New York, which was in use for thirty years until 1998. CUNY then demolished the building and began construction on Newman Vertical Campus, Baruch College's $319 million campus expansion project that opened in 2001 according to The New York Times.

 Header Photo: Hoyt Hawkins, Elvis, Neal Matthews, Scotty, Gordon Stoker,
DJ and Hugh Jarrett in Studio A - July 2, 1956. Photo by Alfred Wertheimer.
 

 

  

Jul 1, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Scott Stamp & Coin Co.

The United States' first-ever general issue postage stamps were sold in New York City on July 1, 1847. Today, this date is recognized as National U.S. Postage Stamp Day and National Postal Worker Day. In honor of these occasions, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership journeys back to the 19th century for a look at the Scott Stamp & Coin Co., then the nation’s leading stamp and coin dealer, located at 18 East 23rd Street and Madison Avenue.

Londoner John Walter Scott’s career as a stamp dealer reportedly began in his hometown around 1860. He departed for New York City in 1863, however, Scott chose to move briefly to California as a Gold Rush prospector. But by 1867, Scott returned to his stamp business in New York City, where he would ultimately gain fame and fortune as “the Father of American Philately” and publisher of the definitive stamp periodical American Journal of Philately.

The Scott Stamp & Coin Co. made its Flatiron District debut on 23rd Street in 1892. “It was here on Madison Square that Scott housed his vast treasure of stamp and coin history, including specimens issued by every nation,” according to Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks, and a Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership walking tour guide. “Stamp and coin enthusiasts came here from far and wide to see and purchase Scott’s rare finds as well as items necessary for their hobbies, such as the International Stamp Album with a capacity to hold 15,000 varieties of stamps, and equivalent receptacles for their coins.”

King’s Handbook of New York edited by Moses King wrote that “the Scott Stamp & Coin Company is indisputably the foremost concern in either continent devoted to the stamp business. The headquarters on 23rd Street are the rendezvous of thousands of stamp and coin collectors, amateur, advanced and professional, from all parts of the world, who while visiting or sojourning in New York City, have occasion to seek coins and stamps.”

Scott was known for its popular stamp packets. They included one packet that was valued at $85 and contained 4,000 different stamps from nearly all of the stamp issuing areas throughout the world at that time. “This splendid Packet is a fine collection in itself,” noted a company ad, “and contains many scarce and desirable stamps.” For $55, another packet featured 3,000 different stamps from areas such as Bolivia, the Niger Coast, and the Hawaiian Islands.

Some stamp packets were given names. They ranged from the Columbus Packet, which was valued at $25 and featured 700 different stamps from countries in the Western Hemisphere, to the Mexican Packet, which contained 150 different stamps at a cost of $15. “Some years ago we purchased all the remainders from the Mexican Post Office,” according to the company, “and thus enabled to offer a finer and cheaper packet than any other dealer.”

Coins and paper money were also sold in packets. Notable company packets were a set of coins with the heads of the 12 Caesars, including Julius Caesar, for $12; another with 20 half dollars from the years 1795 to 1837 for $15; and a set of five bills issued by the Continental Congress and used before and during the American Revolution that retailed for $1. Collectors could also purchase coin boxes here, which Scott described as “the best thing out.The boxes were cardboard holders and had wooden tops or headings.

But by 1885, Scott sold his business, although, he decided to continue to work at the firm as a minority partner and editor of the company’s publications. On January 4, 1919, which coincidentally was the same day Scott died at the age of 73, an article in the Real Estate and Record Guide reported that the Scott Stamp & Coin Co. would soon move to 33 West 44th Street. According to the publication’s description of the company’s celebrated past, which included its headquarters in the Flatiron District, “The new tenant is one of the oldest dealers in rare stamps and antique coins in the country, having been established more than fifty years.”

Photo Credit: WorthPoint

Jun 24, 2019

Discover Flatiron: Pioneer Groups in Pride History

This year’s NYC Pride March, beginning at noon in the Flatiron District on Fifth Avenue and 26th Street on Sunday, June 30th, will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn rebellion that led to the modern-day LGBTQIA+ rights movement. In honor of the occasion, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership looks back at two pioneer groups that once occupied offices in the neighborhood while campaigning for gay and lesbian causes before the 1969 Stonewall uprising.

Considered one of America’s first gay rights groups, the Mattachine Society was established in Los Angeles in 1951. The nonprofit organization’s name had been derived from the Italian word mattachino, a court jester who would dare to tell the truth to the king. One of the Society’s major missions was repealing discrimination laws, which included the 1953 executive order issued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower that banned homosexuals from Federal employment.

Shortly thereafter, the Mattachine Society began expanding nationwide, which included a New York City chapter created in 1955 by Sam Morford, an industrial psychiatrist, and Tony Segura, a research chemist. In 1959, MSNY opened its headquarters in Flatiron at 1133 Broadway, also known as the St. James Building, between 25th and 26th Streets. At this location, the organization provided on-site and outreach social services to individuals in rooms 304 and 412.

“Advice was given by phone, by mail and in-person without charge and for those who needed professional assistance, referrals were made to physicians, attorneys and psychotherapists who were known for their compassion for and understanding of the problems of gays,” according to records in the New York Public Library’s Archives & Manuscripts division.

In a show of solidarity, MSNY soon offered to share their workspace with the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), one of the first U.S. organizations for lesbians. Its name paid tribute to the erotic poetry collection known as The Songs of Bilitis. Founded in San Francisco in 1955, DOB’s New York City chapter was established in 1958 by Barbara Gittings, the daughter of a U.S. diplomatic corps member, and Marion Glass, who was also Gittings’ friend and her hiking partner.

Gittings was an advocate for gay youth to have library access to books about sexual orientation. As a college undergraduate, she reportedly had been the subject of rumors based on her close association with a female student. This episode led Gittings to a period of exploration, ranging from reading textbooks about homosexuality to novels that featured lesbians. “At last here were lesbians shown as real people,” Gittings said about the latter in Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities by John D’Emilio. “They didn’t exactly have lives of bliss, but at least they were functioning people and had their happiness.”

During this time, members of the LGBTQIA+ community often encountered hostile environments. This included businesses in New York City where gay men and lesbians were “not served alcohol in public due to liquor laws that considered the gathering of homosexuals to be “disorderly,’” according to the History Channel’s website (history.com). “In fear of being shut down by authorities, bartenders would deny drinks to patrons suspected of being gay or kick them out altogether; others would serve them drinks but force them to sit facing away from other customers to prevent them from socializing.”

MSNY members decided to take action. Led by Dick Leitsch, who was the group’s president from 1965 to 1969 and an openly gay journalist and former bartender, MSNY chose to hold a number of ‘sip-in’ demonstrations. Equivalent to the era’s civil rights ‘sit-ins,’ MSNY “visited taverns, declared themselves gay, and waited to be turned away so they could sue,” notes history.com. In 1966, the group was  “denied service at the Greenwich Village tavern Julius’, resulting in much publicity and the quick reversal of the anti-gay liquor laws.”

By 1968, however, MNSY and DOB had moved out of their offices in the St. James Building, and within two decades, both organizations would cease to exist. Internal feuds, lack of funds, and diminishing support from the public, who now saw MSNY as “too timid, passive and ‘square’ after Stonewall,” reportedly brought an end to the New York City chapter in 1987. A decade earlier, DOB’s national organization also reportedly closed its doors due to conflicting views about their future direction, which included whether to align itself with gay men’s groups or lesbian separatist feminists. Some local DOB chapters were able to stay active for several more years.

But, to this day, the actions initiated by MSNY and DOB activists of the Flatiron District still remain memorable milestones for the LGBTQIA+ community and others. Shortly before his death at the age of 83 in 2018, Dick Leitsch received a letter of appreciation from President Barack Obama, reported The New York Times in their obituary about the gay rights advocate. “Thank you for your decades of work to help drive our nation forward on the path toward L.G.B.T. equality,” the President wrote to Leitsch. “Our journey as a nation depends, as it always has, on the collective and persistent efforts of people like you.”

Photo Credit: Dick Leitsch, 1965; Louis Liotta, New York Post Archives