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.

Oct 1, 2013

Herman Melville

Considered a rising star among New York's literary elite in the 1840s, Moby-Dick novelist and native Manhattanite Herman Melville had published several books by the age of 35. Within a decade, however, the public's adulation for the author's work had begun to fade. The married father of four also realized he could no longer provide the proper financial support for his family's lifestyle by farming and writing at their Pittsfield, Massachusetts home he called "Arrowhead."

Allan Melville, a lawyer and younger brother of the writer, offered to sell his 104 East 26th Street townhouse in Flatiron to Herman, according to Melville historian Hershel Parker in the 1997 edition of the Harvard Library Bulletin. "Elizabeth Melville paid over to Allan approximately $5,750 from her inheritance from her father, who had died in 1861," said Parker of the property purchase, and by 1863, the family made their move to the District.

The three-story home measured 20' x 45' on a 98' 9" lot with "a narrow backyard stretching a good forty feet," noted Parker. "It was dark--no windows on either side because it was a row house." The New York Times wrote in 1982, "Melville could look up from the stoop of his home and see a nude golden Diana, the mythical huntress, poised on one foot, aiming her arrow in his direction from her tower crown on Stanford White's gleaming new Madison Square Garden." 

Mostly furnished with inherited items, the home's features included a green fabric sofa, a set of Empire chairs with dolphin handrests, and oil paintings of Melville and his maternal grandfather, American Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort. According to Herman's granddaughter Eleanor in Hershel Parker's Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2 1851-1891, his second floor study was seen "as a place of mystery and awe. The great mahogany desk, heavily bearing up four shelves of dull gilt and leather books." Added granddaughter Frances, "There was no wall space at all, just books, books, books. His huge desk had interesting things on it including a rolling ruler decorated with different varieties of green ferns, a large velvet pincushion mounted on an iron stand and a little black metal candlestick for sealing wax."

Primarily a poetry, magazine, and occasional book writer now, Melville's wages reportedly contributed little to the household's income. His earnings, however, changed in 1866 when he was hired as a $1,000-a-year Custom House Service district inspector. ''He walked from his house west to the Hudson River," said Prof. Stanton Garner of the University of Texas at Arlington to The New York Times in 1982 about Melville's work in the civil service sector until his resignation in 1885. "But he used his idle hours near the piers to write on little scraps of paper.'' 

Melville lived the last 28 years of his life in the townhouse. He died of heart failure at his home on September 28, 1891 at the age of 72 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. Within several months of his death, Melville's wife Elizabeth sold their Flatiron home for a reported $16,250.

In tribute to the late author, the Herman Melville Society, whose members are dedicated to the study and appreciation of the 19th century writer, placed a bronze plaque at the former location of Melville's Flatiron home in 1982. It reads: "Herman Melville The American Author Resided from 1863-1891 at This Site 104 East 26th Street Where He Wrote Billy Budd Among Other Works." And in 1985, the Society dedicated the intersection of Park Avenue South and 26th Street as Herman Melville Square in 1985. "Melville was a born romancer," reported The New York Times in their 1891 obit essay. "It was the romance and the mystery of the great ocean and its groups of islands that made so alluring to his own generation the series of fantastic tales in which these things were celebrated."

Image via Biography.

Sep 1, 2013

History of Residential Buildings Surrounding Madison Square Park

Today, the Flatiron District is a vibrant mixed use community, but the history of the neighborhood shows a neighborhood dramatically transformed. The roots of luxury residential real estate surrounding Madison Square Park can be traced back to the mid-19th century when the Flatiron District began to emerge as a neighborhood and home for a number of New York's elite.

A few historic residential properties of the past:

New York City mayor Daniel F. Tiemann, who held office from 1858-1860, and was also an heir to his family's paint factory fortune, shared a home with his parents on 10 acres located opposite the southeastern end of Madison Square Park from 1832-1839. 

At 32 East 26th Street stood the six-story Jerome Mansion. Built in 1859 by Wall Street stock king Leonard Walter Jerome, it was also the childhood home of his daughter Jennie, a socialite and later mother of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

And real estate entrepreneur Amos R. Eno relocated his family from their home in Washington Square Park to a brownstone at 26 East 23rd Street, in order to oversee the development of his Fifth Avenue Hotel at 200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets. The property opened in 1859 and often served as a meeting place for politicos, who included Flatiron native and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, until it shutdown in 1908 due, in part, to the community's increasing development as a commercial property enclave. 

The Colgate family, founders of the firm that began as a starch, soap and candle manufacturer in lower Manhattan in 1806, owned a brownstone at 22 East 23rd Street from 1851-1918. Today, the site comes full circle with the relaunch of sales at One Madison.

Flatiron’s much anticipated One Madison is a 60-story glass condominium on 23rd Street and where Manhattan's iconic Madison Avenue begins. The building has 65 apartments, offering sweeping views in all directions, is managed by global real estate developer Related Companies and features amenities that include a lap pool, screening room, yoga room, and 24-hour doorman and concierge service.

Jun 1, 2013

Alexander Joy Cartwright, Father of Modern Baseball

To mark the celebration of Father's Day this Sunday, June 16th, we highlight the Flatiron history behind baseball's present-day bylaws created by native New Yorker and game hobbyist Alexander Joy Cartwright.

Flatiron's ties to baseball can be traced back to 1845 when game changer Alexander Joy Cartwright and his amateur team known as the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club brought a new set of rules to play their game at a vacant lot on 27th Street.

Credited as the "father of modern baseball," Cartwright established the nine-inning game, diamond playing field, and 20 designated regulations that are still used today. They include that all disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the umpire, from which there is no appeal; members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance; and a ball knocked outside the range of the first or third base is foul.

It was common to see men gather for a game after work in New York. Cartwright and his team reportedly "played for pleasure and for the champagne suppers that followed their games," with one member who wrote in his will, "All relations and immediate friends are well informed that I desire to be buried in my baseball suit, and wrapped in the original flag of the old Knickerbockers of 1845, now festooned over my bureau." 

Cartwright's own passion for stickball began as a child growing up on Manhattan's Lower East Side and in Flatiron. Born on April 20, 1820, the second of seven of children to shipping businessman Alexander Sr. and his wife Ester Rebecca, young Alexander, known as "Alick," was forced to work at the age 16 due to the economic panic of 1837. He held a number of jobs, including stock brokerage clerk, bank teller, book store owner and volunteer fireman. In 1849, Cartwright moved to the West Coast for California's Gold Rush before settling with his wife and their five children in Hawaii, where he also established a baseball field.

Sixty years after his death, Cartwright's contributions to the sport were acknowledged by Congress and he was declared the inventor of the modern game of baseball in 1953. Also posthumously, Cartwright was inaugurated into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1938 in Cooperstown, New York with a bronze plaque that reads: “Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. ‘Father of Modern Baseball.’ Set Bases 90 Feet Apart. Established 9 Innings as a Game and 9 Players as Team. Organized the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of N.Y. in 1845. Carried Baseball to Pacific Coast and Hawaii in Pioneer Days.”

Image via Britannica.

May 1, 2013

Jennie Jerome

A brunette beauty with bold brows, Jeanette "Jennie" Jerome was born on January 9, 1854, the second child of New Yorkers Leonard Jerome, 36, and his wife Clarissa, 28, at the couple's four-story brownstone in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Of the three girls, it was Jennie who became her father's favorite, and as a young woman, along with siblings Clarita and Leonie, gained status in high society as the "Dollar Princesses." Leonard Jerome had become one of New York's richest residents by engaging in stock speculation, gaining the nickname "King of Wall Street," and dubbed as "Father of the American Turf" for his horse racing track properties.

The family's growing fortune afforded the Jeromes relocation to Manhattan's fashionable Flatiron District, where their dream house became a reality at the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue in 1859. Built for a reported $200,000, the six-story Jerome Mansion also included an $80,000 black walnut stable for thoroughbreds, fulfilling a passion for horses held by Jennie and her father.

At an August 1873 regatta reception on England's Isle of Wight, Jennie, then 19, met Lord Randolph Churchill, 24, a newly elected member of Parliament. After just three days, the pair became engaged and married at the British Embassy in Paris on April 15, 1874. Several months later, Lady Randolph Churchill gave birth prematurely to their first child Winston on November 30, 1874, in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. The couple's second son, John, was born on February 4, 1880 in Dublin, Ireland. 

By the time Winston was eight, he was enrolled at a boarding school, and often wrote notes to the mother he missed so much, signing off his correspondence with 'Your loving son, Winny.' Recalled Winston of his childhood, "She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly––but at a distance." Their bond grew in later years and Winston noted, "She left no wire unpulled, no stone unturned, no cutlet uncooked."

Jennie Jerome died from a hemorrhage at the age of 67 on June 29, 1921. More than half century after her death, the family's lavish Flatiron mansion was replaced by Forty-One Madison, the 42-story New York Merchandise Mart. Reflecting on his mother's passing, Winston revealed, "I do not feel a sense of tragedy but only loss. Her life was a full one. The wind was in her veins."

Image via Britannica.

Mar 20, 2013

Flatiron's Edith Wharton, 1st Female Pulitzer Prize Winner

When Edith Wharton was growing up in Manhattan's Flatiron District, her passion for writing would lead to a path of art imitating life. The aspiring novelist from New York's upper class, who began her craft as a teen, often used her background as a backdrop for many of her 38 books, including 1921 Pulitzer Prize winner "The Age of Innocence." Wharton's award as the first woman recipient of the Pulitzer Prize remains a source of inspiration now, and every March, during the annual celebration of Women's History Month.

Edith Newbold Jones was born on January 24, 1862 at 14 West 23rd Street in an Anglo-Italianate designed brownstone reportedly worth $20,000 and located near Fifth Avenue, Madison Square Park, and across from the high-profile Fifth Avenue Hotel. She was the third child and only daughter of real estate heir George Frederic Jones, 41, and his wife, Lucretia, 38, and sibling to two older brothers, Frederic, 16, and Henry, 12. 

For Edith's parents it was far more important their daughter have a formal introduction into New York society than lead a life as a lady of letters. It was at a Fifth Avenue dance that debutante Edith made her debut. According toEdith Wharton biographer Hermione Lee, the 17-year-old "bared her shoulders and put her hair up for the first time, wore a pale green brocade dress with a white muslin skirt and carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley and suffered an agony of shyness."

But by 1885, Edith, now 23, was ready to tie the knot with trust fund Bostonian bachelor Edward "Teddy" Robbins Wharton, 35, following her broken engagement to Harry Stevens, also 23, the only son of Fifth Avenue Hotel owner Paran Stevens, and resident of the Stevens House, which launched Flatiron luxury residential living in the 1870s. The Wharton’s modest noontime ceremony on April 29th took place at Trinity Chapel, now the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, on West 25th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. 

"Edith wore white satin with lace and silk mull," wrote My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann author Irene Goldman-Price. "On her mass of hair, securing the veil, rested the diamond tiara that had been worn by Lucretia on her wedding day, enhanced with diamonds given to Edith by Teddy." Reported The New York Times, "The wedding was a very quiet one, and the invitations were limited to the immediate relatives of the two families." A bridal party breakfast was later served across the street at 28 West 25th Street, between Sixth and Broadway, the home Edith and Lucretia shared following the death of George in 1882.

The newlyweds headed to Pencraig Cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, a gift to them from Edith's mother, and near the Joneses longtime getaway. Whenever Edith and Teddy visited New York City, they would often stay at Lucretia's house at 28 West 25th Street. But it was the year 1897 that proved to be a game-changing one for the couple when they relocated uptown to 884 Park Avenue. It was also the same year Edith's interior design manual "The Decoration of Houses," co-written with architect Ogden Codman, made her a first-time published author, a 35-year journey of a dream come true that got its start in the Flatiron District.

Image via Huffington Post

Feb 13, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt: 26th President, Flatiron District Born

It was a wedding gift most could treasure forever -- a neo-Gothic style four-story brownstone with a backyard, located at 28 East 20th Street in the heart of New York City's fashionable Flatiron District.

Wealthy Roosevelt in-laws, with real estate roots and founders of Chemical Bank now known as Chase, bequeathed the property in 1853 to newlyweds Martha Bulloch, who was raised in Georgia and reportedly the prototype for the Scarlett O'Hara character in Gone With the Wind, and her husband, philanthropist and sixth generation Dutch New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.

The couple's four children were born and educated in the brownstone. Of their offspring, the Roosevelts' second child and first son Theodore, Jr., who began his life on October 27, 1858, would most notably go on to become a Harvard honors graduate, New York City Police Commissioner, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the only native New Yorker and youngest person ever to occupy the White House as the 26th President of the United States. 

Young Theodore or "Teedie," because he disliked the nickname "Teddy," lived at the brownstone until the age of 14. Growing up there, he suffered from asthma and other ailments, including a sensitivity to horsehairs, a then popular filler for parlor room furniture. Recalled Roosevelt in his 1913 autobiography Theodore Roosevelt, "One of my memories is of my father walking up and down the room with me in his arms at night when I was a very small person, and of sitting up in bed gasping, with my father and mother trying to help me."

To comfort their son, the Roosevelts had a red velvet plush chair designed for "Teedie," whose boyhood interests ranged from the history of nature to keeping pet snakes and with dreams of being a zoologist. "I remember distinctly the first day that I started my career," wrote Roosevelt about his youth in the Flatiron District. "I was walking up Broadway, and as I passed the market to which I used sometimes to be sent before breakfast to get strawberries I suddenly saw a dead seal laid out on a slab of wood. That seal filled me with every possible feeling of romance and adventure."

The family left their beloved starter home in 1872 for a larger one at 6 West 57th, which would become in 1930 part of the Bonwit Teller department store site. At the turn of the 20th century, the Roosevelts' original 20th Street home was demolished for a two-story property featuring a restaurant and shops, according to the March 15, 1919 edition of Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. However, shortly after the 1919 death of President Theodore Roosevelt at age 60, the Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association reportedly purchased the property and hired one of America's first female architects, Theodate Pope Riddle, to build a replica of the original brownstone as a museum for $1.2 million.

Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site offers free hour-long guided tours Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. through 4 p.m., except at noon. Visitors can also view a 30-minute reenactment film about the early years of young "Teedie," native and favorite son of Flatiron and accomplished global statesman. 

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, 28 East 20th, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, (212) 260-1616.