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Triangle in the Sky: The Flatiron Building

Jeffrey Syken

“…When it was completed in 1902, in the triangular block bounded by Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Twenty-second and Twenty-third Streets, the twenty-two story edifice occupied a strategic position in what was then the fashionable shopping district centering in Fourteenth and Twenty-third Streets…”
The New York Times, July 2, 1933

As NYC expanded northward during the second-half of the 19th Century (as a result of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which divided much of Manhattan Island into about two-thousand rectangular blocks), irregular plots of land remained un- or under-developed. One of the most well-known of these was the narrow, triangular plot at 23rd Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. The “Flat Iron,” as it was known, changed owners many times, but wouldn’t be developed until the Chicago-based Fuller Company bought the site in 1901, intending for the Skyscraper they would construct there to be their NYC headquarters.

Fuller, an A-list General Contractor, commissioned Daniel H. Burnham - one of the finest Architects of the “Gilded Age,” to design a building that would maximize use of the triangular plot, which had an apartment building at its southern-end and small buildings to the north. It wasn’t the first time a triangle-shaped building was built, but its great height and terra-cotta/limestone facade would draw attention, especially from photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. As a matter of fact, the Flatiron Building is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Then again, there were those timid souls who would avoid the building entirely for fear of it falling over in a strong wind.

The building became infamous for the strong winds generated by the unusual shape and height of the building. In fact, the term “Twenty-three Skidoo” has its origins with the Flatiron Building (men would gather at the “prow” of the building to get a glimpse of ladies’ skirts being blown-up by the wind so the beat cops would chase them away with the phrase, meaning “move-on”). When it was completed in June 1902, the building, adjoining Madison Square Park, was part of the fashionable “Ladies’ Mile” district. Declared a NYC landmark in 1966, the neighborhood, and the building, would change with the times. Now, the building is poised to regain its former glory as one of NYC’s most iconic Skyscrapers.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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