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 26, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Turning Back the Hands of Time

Sunday, November 4th marks the return to Standard Time. This year is also the centennial anniversary of the Calder Act, or Standard Time Act of 1918, a U.S. Federal law that implemented Standard and Daylight Saving Time. As we prepare to set clocks back one hour this weekend, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a look at a few notable street clocks that have appeared in the neighborhood. 

Cast-iron street clocks were a form of novel advertising that began during the mid-19th century, according to New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. “A small business concern that stayed in the same location year after year would buy a street clock and install it directly in front of the store, often painting the name of the business onto the clock face,” noted the Commission in their 1981 Landmark Designation Report about the Fifth Avenue Clock Building at 200 Fifth Avenue. “When the business owners moved, they usually took their clocks with them.”

When the MetLife Clock made its debut in 1909, it became known as the world’s largest timepiece. The community’s most prominent clock, located at the top of the MetLife Tower at 5 Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets, features four dials. Each of the clock’s four faces measures 26.5 feet in diameter, with minute hands 17-feet long and hour hands 13 feet and 4 inches. The cast bronze numerals are four-feet high. 

The New York Times on May 26, 1996 described the Tower, which was designed by architects N. LeBrun & Sons and based on the Campanile at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, as “all white Tuckahoe marble, with a giant four-faced clock and a beacon at the top.” It’s also where the quarter hour was signaled at night by flashing lights and Westminster Chimes played every hour from 9 am to 10 pm.

On August 22, 2001, the Times also wrote that the Clock “is not a timepiece as much as a work of architecture, hugely scaled yet intricately detailed. In each dial face are three delicate, concentric necklaces of cornflower blue and turquoise. These are made of countless thousands of tesserae, small mosaic tiles laid in a radial pattern.”

“For those scurrying too quickly to check its mammoth dials, chimes mark every hour with a series of hard-to-miss gongs,’’ reported the New York Daily News on April 12, 1998. “The building is also known for its light beacon; in the days before radio, mariners used its light to guide their ships into New York Harbor. The beacon also served as the inspiration for the famous ad slogan: ‘The light that never fails.’ ”

The Fifth Avenue Clock, located at 200 Fifth Avenue, was also installed in 1909 with the construction of the Fifth Avenue Building. It features the the building’s name on its face. As “a stylish advertisement, the ornate cast-iron clock is composed of a rectangular, classically ornamented base and a faulted Ionic column with a Scammozi capital,” wrote Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel in her book The Landmarks of New York, Fifth Edition: An Illustrated Record of the City’s Historic Buildings. “Its dials are marked with Roman numerals, framed by wreaths of oak leaves, and crowned by a cartouche.”

The double-faced clock with "Fifth Avenue Building" marking its dial stands 19-feet high and was created and installed by Hecla Iron Works. The Fifth Avenue Building was designed by architects Robert Maynicke and Julius Franke. The clock replaced a previous one that had been installed by the famed Fifth Avenue Hotel, a former occupant of the commercial property once owned by real estate developer Amos Richards Eno.

In August 1981, the clock was designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “On the basis of a careful consideration of the history, the architecture and other features of this structure,” the Commission declared in its report, “the Landmarks Preservation Commission finds that the Sidewalk Clock, 200 Fifth Avenue has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”

When legendary jeweler Tiffany & Co. relocated its corporate offices from Midtown to 200 Fifth Avenue in 2011, the business decided to refurbish the clock, which had “fallen into disrepair over the years after an auto accident damaged the clock’s base and left it in poor working condition,” reported the New York Post on June 11, 2001. 

A few doors northward, the Lincoln Trust Company occupied a seven-story office building at 208 Fifth Avenue. Designed by architects Charles Berg and Edward Clark, the building was constructed between 1893 and 1894 and also shared the address 1130 Broadway. Notable and wealthy Fifth Avenue Hotel proprietor Alfred B. Darling was the property’s owner. 

“The building went through from Fifth to Broadway,” says Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks and a Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership walking tour guide, “and both façades were mirror images of each other—each featuring a ground floor entry with pediment and columns and a sidewalk clock.”

“The first two stories of both façades,” noted the Madison Square North Historic District Designation Report published by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2001, “were substantially altered in 1902 for the Lincoln Trust Co., which leased the space from the Estate of Alfred B. Darling.”

A sidewalk clock was also a form of business branding for restaurants, notes Berman. Dorlon’s Oyster House, which had the joint address of 6 and 7 East 23rd Street, between Broadway and Madison Avenue, “had a sidewalk clock to advertise their eatery—probably in about the 1890s,” says Berman. 

William Grimes, author of Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York  and a former New York Times restaurant critic noted that “big spenders went to Madison Square, where hotels like the Hoffman House and the Brunswick had fine restaurants, and, on the south side of the park, Dorlon’s specialized in oysters and grilled meats.”

In addition to shellfish, wrote Grimes, “patrons could order a porterhouse steak, fried tripe, or game in season, including canvasback duck, partridge, woodcock, or venison.” To accompany a meal at Dorlon’s, diners could imbibe beer, wine, or quality champagnes such as Veuve Clicquot, which then cost $2.00 a pint or $4.00 for a quart. They could also cap off the evening with a slice of pie or strawberry shortcake for dessert—a perfect end to a night well spent during a treasured time in the Flatiron District. 

Photo Credit: MetLife Clock Tower, Martin Seck

Oct 2, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Arrival of Gilded Age Social Clubs

The fall social season is now in full swing! To celebrate the occasion, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership makes a brief return to the Gilded Age when a number of noteworthy and diverse social clubs populated the district. These clubs helped define the neighborhood as the premier clubhouse location in New York during the late 19th century.

In the summer of 1836, social club fever reportedly hit New York City. A number of prominent New Yorkers sought to replicate the style of the “great clubs of London, which give a tone and character to the society,” notes the website of the Union Club, one of the first men’s social clubs to organize in New York in 1833. Such clubs would offer visiting clientele a chance to meet for a drink, have dinner, and socialize with others. 

By the latter half of the 19th century, the majority of these clubs representing varied interests could be found in the Flatiron District. The community was also the City’s primary site for entertainment venues, including numerous hotels and opulent private residences of high-profile, wealthy individuals.

There were reportedly 119 clubs in the City by 1893, with membership totaling approximately 24,000 people, noted Club Men of New York by J. H. Rossiter. “Few men in New York do not belong to at least one club, and most of them have membership in one,” according to King's Handbook of New York City by Moses King. “The desirable clubs are usually full to their extreme limit.”

Most clubs were male only, with a few designated for women. One of the first notable women’s clubs was Sorosis, which was established in 1868. The organization encouraged “agreeable and useful relations among women of literary, artistic and scientific tastes,” wrote the Madison Square North Historic District Designation Report issued by the New York City Landmarks Commission in 2001. The club’s 350 members would meet twice a month at Delmonico’s restaurant at 212 Fifth Avenue, at 26th Street.

The best-known clubhouse in the area, however, was the Jerome Mansion at Madison Avenue and 26th Street, and was once the home of financier Leonard Jerome. Nicknamed the “King of Wall Street,” Jerome was later known as the maternal grandfather of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Most clubs in the community existed in much smaller properties in the neighborhood such as townhouses, hotels, and restaurants.

Initially, Jerome, who was a Union supporter during the Civil War, leased space to the Union League Club, a group of Union preservationists, in 1867 for a reported $18,000 per year. In 1899, the University Club, which was founded by Yale graduates as an alumni meeting place, became the mansion’s new occupants. Shortly after, the Manhattan Club became the mansion’s newest tenant, and the property reportedly served as a gathering place for political luminaries including U.S. Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland, as well as New York City Mayor James “Jimmy” Walker.  

Other significant clubs in the Flatiron District included the Harvard Club of New York City, located at 11 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The Club made its debut in the community in 1865 “to advance the interests of the University, and to promote social intercourse among the alumni residents in New York and vicinity,” according to King’s Handbook. The Annual Book Club for New York and Vicinity: The Elite Catalogue of Clubs for 1890-91 reported that Harvard's membership was $410 for residents and $200 for non-residents.

The Quill Club at 22 West 23rd Street was formed in 1890 for “the promotion of fellowship and interchange of views on questions in the domains of religion, morals, philosophy, and sociology,” noted King’s Handbook. The initiation fee was $3 and yearly dues were $15.

The Lotos Club, located at 149 Fifth Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets, was organized in 1870 “to promote social intercourse among journalists, artists, and members of the musical and dramatic professions, and representatives, amateurs and friends of literature, science and fine arts,” reported King’s Handbook. The initiation fee was $100 and the yearly dues were $60 for residents and $25 for non-resident members.

The Salmagundi Club at 49 West 22nd Street sought to promote “social intercourse among artists, and the advancement of art,” according to King’s Handbook. Incorporated in 1880, members included crayon artists, sculptors, and draughtsmen. The initiation fee was $20 and the yearly dues were $20.

Other notable social clubs in the area included the Lambs Club, a professional theater group, located at 34 West 26th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues; Columbia University at 15 East 26 Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues; Yale University at 17 East 26th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues; Manhattan Chess Club at 21 West 27th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway; American Jockey Club at 22 West 27th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway; and New York Horticultural Society at 26 West 28th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, wrote the Madison Square North Historic District Designation Report

At the beginning of the 20th century, an increasing number of businesses and residents were relocating to New York’s next big cultural and economic location—Midtown Manhattan. This geographical transition would ultimately include the northward exit of a vast majority of social clubs that once decorated the Flatiron District landscape during the Gilded Age more than a century ago.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Sep 10, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Recent Television Shows Filmed in Flatiron

As the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony prepares to honor TV’s 2017-2018 season on September 17th, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership highlights several notable series that filmed episodes here in the Flatiron District.

Seven-time Emmy nominee Liev Schreiber, star of the critically-acclaimed Ray Donovan series, along with his cast and crew, relocated from the West Coast to the East Coast at the end of Season 5 in 2017. Filming in Flatiron last year included Schreiber’s appearance at a 23rd Street R/W subway entrance and the actor standing beside the Fifth Avenue Building clock between 23rd and 24th Streets. The Showtime series about the fixer for the rich and famous returns for its sixth season on October 28th.

The Flatiron Public Plazas are a popular site for productions in the District. In 2016, the NBC TV debut series This Is Us filmed in the area at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street. Now a recipient of 10 Emmy nominations, including three wins since its premiere, the family drama stars Outstanding Lead Actor winner Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore and will return for its third season on September 25th.

Another show that selected the Plazas as a filming location is Younger, the romantic comedy created by Sex and the City Emmy winner Darren Star. The series features Sutton Foster as Liz, a 40-something single mother who needs a job and is hired for an entry-level editorial book publishing position by claiming she’s 27 years old. The TV Land program, which will return in 2019 for its sixth season, also filmed inside Rizzoli Bookstore at 1133 Broadway, located between 25th and 26th Streets. 

With his first Emmy nomination, Rami Malek received a 2016 Outstanding Lead Actor win for the role as Elliot Alderson in the techno thriller series Mr. Robot. Last year, the show, which will air its fourth and final season in 2019, filmed on Broadway between 25th and 26th Streets. An interior set was designed and exterior signage created for Mr. Robot’s fictional Red Wheelbarrow BBQ restaurant at Num Pang Kitchen, located at 1129 Broadway.

Nominated this year for her performance as a defense attorney in Fox TV’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, Edie Falco is a 14-time Emmy nominee and four-time winner, receiving one for her starring role in HBO’s Nurse Jackie (2009-2015). According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), production permits for the comedy drama included 26th Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue; Fifth Avenue, between East 22nd and 23rd Streets; and 26th Street, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South.

The three-time Emmy-nominated series Elementary, which made its debut in 2012, features a modern-day version of the crime-solving duo now known as Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Filming permit locations in Flatiron, notes the MOME, included 33 West 26th Street; West 27th Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue; and 29 West 28th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway.

Before her two Emmy-nominated performances as an ex-con and a hip-hop mogul’s wife on the current hit drama Empire, Taraji P. Henson played a corruption-fighting detective on the sci-fi crime series Person of Interest (2011-2016). Flatiron District production permits, according to the MOME, included Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets; 24th Street, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South; and 23rd Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue.

And although the popular scripted series White Collar on the USA Network never received an Emmy nomination during its five-year run from 2009-2014, the program remains a viewer favorite in syndication. The showfeatured Matt Bomer as a con man who offered his expertise to the FBI in capturing criminals. Flatiron District film permits were granted, notes the MOME, for areas that included Madison Square Park’s Fifth Avenue sidewalk between 25th and 26th Streets; 26th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue; and Broadway between 25th and 26th Streets.

Photo Credit: Spoiler TV (White Collar)

Aug 28, 2018

Discover Flatiron: The History of Learning at 55 East 25th

As students head back to school, one's thoughts turn to crisp autumn leaves, shiny apples in brown paper bags, and the wonderful musty smell of the school library. One particular block of the Flatiron District, 55 East 25th Street, also springs to mind, as it has had the great fortune to be the address of not one, but two innovative institutions of learning: School for the Physical City and Baruch College Campus High School.

Built in 1912 for a reported $300,000, the East 25th Street property was the creation of New York City public school alum and shirt manufacturer Israel Unterberg. Area architects Simon I. Schwartz, Arthur Gross, and B.N. Marcus were commissioned by Unterberg to design the 16-story, L-shaped structure. When the building opened for occupancy, it shared the dual street address of 352 Fourth Avenue and 55-59 East 25th Street.

For the next several decades, Fourth Avenue real estate provided an economic boom to the neighborhood as “the center of one of the important business districts in the city,” reported the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide on September 4, 1915. “There are thirty-one new commercial structures on this thoroughfare, varying in height from one to twenty stories.” Tenants of the area’s dynamic properties included leaders in the silk trade and woolen industries. 

Toward the end of the 20th century, however, the commercial community would welcome to the neighborhood a real estate trendsetter–a public high school. Located on the first five floors of 55 East 25th Street, the School for the Physical City was “part of an experiment begun under the former Schools Chancellor, Joseph A. Fernandez, to establish smaller, easier-to-manage schools with student bodies that would ultimately be one-third of the average at the 124 older high schools in the city,” wrote The New York Times on October 31, 1993.

“It is one of the new, small theme schools inaugurated in 1993/94 by the New York City Board of Education with support from four non-profit organizations, initiated under the New Visions School Program by the federal government,” reported PEB Exchange: The Journal of the OECD Program on Educational Building in June 2000.“The commercial location reinforces a growing trend in city planning philosophies which leans toward the creation of mixed-use facilities and districts.” 

After spending its first two years at a temporary site on West 17th Street, the School for the Physical City moved to its permanent location on East 25th Street, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South, in 1995. The school’s new 55,000 square foot home featured floor plans designed by the award-winning architectural firm of RKTB. The building offered a level of infrastructure awareness to its student body composed of grades 6 through 12. 

“Structural columns on every floor are painted vivid green, overhead water pipes are painted blue, and air conditioning ducts are painted in a variety of colors,” noted the architecture industry website Architizer. “At the same juncture on every floor there is a small viewing panel, painted green, that lets one see into the room containing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment for that floor.”

Mark Weiss, the school’s then principal, told The New York Times on October 31, 1993, “It's a matter of inventing it as we go along. It's difficult what it takes to incubate a school. You have to start somewhere, and if you didn't push the edges of possibility you might not get started at all.” Two years later, on May 28, 1995, the newspaper hailed the institution with its Sunday magazine cover headline: “A City School Experiment That Actually Works.”

But by the beginning of 2010 academic year, the School for the Physical City closed based upon a report issued by the NYC Department of Education. The School and four other public high schools “had notably low four-year graduation rates, did a particularly poor job helping students who were already behind as incoming freshmen, and proved exceedingly unpopular with prospective students,” wrote The New York Times on December 12, 2006.

The former School for the Physical City property would soon become the home of another groundbreaking educational institution, Baruch College Campus High School, a liberal arts college preparatory public high school featuring grades 9 through 12 that would be located on a college campus. According to the BCCHS website, the school “is dedicated to providing a challenging interdisciplinary liberal arts education for students” and “asks students to explore the philosophical, ethical and aesthetic issues of the human experience.”  

Established in 1997, BCCHS was a collaboration between New York City’s Community School District 2 and the City University of New York’s Baruch College. Former superintendent of Community School District 2 Anthony Alvarado, and Matthew Goldstein, a former President of Baruch College, were the school’s co-creators. The school’s initial location was 111 East 18th Street. It briefly relocated to the upper floors of Baruch College at 17 Lexington Avenue, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, before moving to its present location at 55 East 25th Street in 2009.

Since its arrival on East 25th Street, BCCHS has undergone a series of improvements, including the debut of a $150,000 science laboratory in 2013. The school also continues to maintain a record of academic excellence with its current gold medal ranking on the U.S. News & World Report list of Best High Schools, an achievement building developer and former public school alum Israel Unterberg would certainly be proud of.

Photo Credit: RKTB Architects P.C.

Jul 9, 2018

Discover Flatiron: Madison Cottage

It’s July and time for a summer getaway! In recognition of this time-honored New York tradition, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a journey back to the 1839 opening of the popular inn, Madison Cottage, at the corner of 23rd Street and Broadway.

Much of the Flatiron District was still farmland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Neighborhood landowners included wagon-and-wheel-maker John Horn, who owned property between 21st and 23rd Streets. Horn was also the proprietor of one of the area’s first pubs, Buck Horn Tavern, at 22nd Street and Broadway. The Tavern was where General, and future first U.S. President, George Washington reportedly met with the public in 1783. 

A half century later, one of Horn’s grandchildren, Margaret, and her husband Christopher Mildeberger, were in the midst of seeking a new site for their Fifth Avenue farmhouse, since the major thoroughfare where the property stood was undergoing a northbound extension. By 1839, their home would not only find a new location, but also a new direction as a commercial property at the corner of Broadway and 23rd Street.

That year the farmhouse was leased to a gentleman known as Corporal Thompson, who then transformed the building into a roadhouse. It was called Madison Cottage, a name chosen by Thompson in tribute to James Madison, the fourth President of the United States.

“This converted yellow farmhouse was for many the first stop leaving the city or the last stop before entering the city proper,” according to the Museum of the City of New York’s website. “It served as a post-tavern, stage coach stop, a cattle exhibition hall, and the de facto congregating point for horse-racing enthusiasts among young men of the upper class.”

Henry Collins Brown, author of Glimpses of Old New York, wrote that the cottage “was also the starting place of several stage lines that ran to the lower part of the city and notwithstanding its diminutive size from present day proportions it was a very important and well-known establishment.”

The inn’s entranceway had “a huge pair of antlers cast their shadow over its door,” reported Harper’s Weekly on January 7, 1893,and under that shadow passed every knight of the whip whose throat was parched by the dust of the road.”

Many Madison Cottage guests were “codgers, young and old,” revealed  Abram C. Dayton in Last Days of Knickerbocker Life in New York.“Scores of bon vivants would end their ride for the day by “smiling” with the worthy Corporal, and wash down any of their former improprieties with a sip of his ne plus ultra, which was always kept in reserve for a special nightcap.”

The inn’s perks were also publicized in newspaper ads. One announcement appeared in The New York Herald on May 9, 1847: “Madison Cottage–This beautiful place of resort opposite Madison Square, corner of Twenty-third Street and Broadway, is open for the season, and Palmer's omnibuses drive to the door. It is one of the most agreeable spots for an afternoon's lounge in the suburbs of our city. Go and see." 

An evening stay at the cottage cost four pence for a bed and six pence with supper, noted Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks. In addition, said Berman, there were a number of house rules for overnight guests, which included: “No more than five to sleep in one bed. No boots to be worn in bed. No dogs allowed upstairs.”

In 1852, Madison Cottage closed to accommodate the arrival of the amusement arena Franconi's Hippodrome in 1853, followed by the Fifth Avenue Hotel in 1909.

Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York

Jun 1, 2018

Discover Flatiron: District Building Designers

As we commemorate the June 1902 completion of the iconic Flatiron Building, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership takes a brief look at a few notable designers who made architectural history in the neighborhood.

Flatiron Building: Daniel Hudson Burnham

At the turn of the 20th century, America’s premier architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, a pioneer designer of skyscrapers and urban planning. Burnham had been born in a two-story limestone house in Henderson, New York in 1846. The Burhham family relocated to Chicago, a city that would have a significant impact on the development of Burnham’s career.

With business partner John Wellborn Root, Burnham designed 165 private residences and 75 buildings following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But Burnham’s most ambitious building effort in the Windy City came when he was named chief of construction and chief consulting architect for the World’s Columbian Exposition, more commonly known as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

“The fair helped popularize the City Beautiful movement–a trend in urban design which sought to endow American cities with some of the grandeur of European urban centers–of which Burnham was a major proponent,” noted the 1989 Ladies’ Miles Historic District Designation Report issued by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Following the World's Fair, Burnham was commissioned by one of his former contractors, George Fuller, to design a 22-story Beaux-Arts structure to be built at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, in New York. 

The property was popularly known as the Flatiron Building because of its resemblance to a laundress’ flat iron. Six years after the building’s completion, The Washington Herald asked Burnham to summarize his life achievements. “I haven’t done much,” he replied in an article published on March 1, 1908. “I have just served on a few commissions.” Burnham died in 1912 at the age of 65. 

Appellate Division Courthouse: James Brown Lord

New Yorker James Brown Lord was born in 1859. His paternal grandfather was Daniel Lord, founder of the blue-chip law offices of Lord, Day & Lord. His maternal grandfather was James Brown, who created the investment firm known today as Brown Brothers Harriman. 

Lord was a graduate of Princeton University and began his career with the architectural firm of William A. Potter. In 1896, Lord, now heading his own practice, received approval of his plans from the Court’s Justices to design the Appellate Division Courthouse at 25th Street and Madison Avenue. 

He “conceived of the building itself as an expression of the ideals of the law, which he achieved by integrating the architectural, pictorial and sculptural aspects into one monument,” notes the website about the property that officially opened its doors in 1900. 

The structure featured “two-story fluted Corinthian columns and repeated pilasters, arched and pointed moldings above the second story windows, a girdling entablature separating the second and third floors, and a low balustrade on the roof, crowned with statues.”  

The New York Times reported on June 2, 1902 that “the building is said to be the first ever constructed in America in which the architect had the entire control of the sculpture and mural decorations, as well as the construction of the building.”

Lord’s prolific career as an architect, however, was short-lived. His death at the age of 43 in 1902 was reportedly caused by a combination of an undisclosed illness and stress created by noise from renovations done at a next-door neighbor’s home.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower: N. LeBrun & Sons

Philadelphia native Napoleon LeBrun was born to French immigrants in 1821. His father, Charles, had once served as a U.S ambassador to France during President Thomas Jefferson's administration. After practicing architecture in his hometown, LeBrun moved to New York in the early 1860s. Twenty years later, he expanded his business to include sons Pierre and Michel and changed the firm’s name to N. LeBrun & Sons.

“Skyscraper design and construction was in its infancy during most of the firm’s early years, but skyscrapers, too, would figure prominently in the firm’s repertoire,” wrote Joseph J. Korom, Jr. in his book Skyscraper Faces of the Gilded Age.

One such structure was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s Clock Tower built in 1909. Located at 5 Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets, it became the world’s tallest building at 700 feet until 1913 when the new Woolworth Building surpassed it by 92 feet.

The New York Times on May 26, 1996 described the Clock Tower, which was based on the Campanile at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, as “all white Tuckahoe marble, with a giant four-faced clock and a beacon at the top.” The clockface features four-foot high numerals.

Priot to the Clock Tower building, N. LeBrun & Sons were commissioned by the FDNY as the official architects of 42 New York City firehouses between 1880 and 1895. LeBrun did not see the Clock Tower make its debut as he died in 1901 at the age of 80, eight years before it was finished by the firm he founded with his sons.

200 Fifth Avenue: Maynicke & Franke

Born in Germany in 1849, Robert Maynicke arrived in the United States when he was an infant. He attended New York City public schools before enrolling in night classes at Cooper Union, where he studied mechanics and mathematics. Julius Franke, Maynicke’s business partner and a New Yorker born in 1868, had also attended the area’s public schools, studied at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was a graduate of The City College of New York.

In 1895, the pair established their Flatiron District practice, Maynicke & Franke, and would design more than 100 large commercial structures, including 200 Fifth Avenue, a 14-story Neo-Renaissance retail and loft building constructed between 1908 and 1909.

This structure featured “a T-shaped marble-clad arcade with barrel-vaulted sections and richly embellished Neo-Renaissance detailing at the first story,” wrote the 1989 Ladies’ Miles Historic District Designation Report issued by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and “a stepped-back terra-cotta-clad central court with skylights of prismatic glass to provide ‘inner’ offices with ample air and natural light.”

In Maynicke’s New York Times obituary, the newspaper reported on October 1, 1913 that the architect was “a pioneer in the building of modern loft buildings.” Real Estate Record and Builders Guide on October 4, 1913 defined Maynicke as “a man of social habits, quick sympathies and varied intellectual interests.” 

Franke was an outspoken advocate for commercial real estate development. “As an investment, the office building compares with the best,” he wrote in the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide feature It Would Pay to Build Offices Now that was publishedon December 19, 1908. “It is stable and safe and the value and income of an office building fluctuates decidedly less than some popular investments.”

Maynicke died in 1913 at the age of 65. Upon his colleague’s death, Franke continued working at their firm before retiring in 1926 to pursue landscape painting. He passed away a decade later at the age of 68.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons