Must-See NYC Landmarks – Flatiron Building
23rd St., between Broadway and Fifth Avenues
A trip to New York is never complete unless you see some of its famous skyscrapers from close quarters and learn a thing or two of interest about them. The seeing, obviously, has to wait till you actually get there, but there is no such restriction on the learning part! It can begin right here with one of the most curious attractions in the city: the Flatiron Building.
The building was created in a Beaux-Arts style, inspired by the buildings erected for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a celebration of the three-hundred-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage.
A structural as well as a historical landmark, the Flatiron Building was designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham in 1902 and is considered to be the first skyscraper in New York. Its shape is so unusual because of the limited space Burnham had to work with when designing it—the building was specifically built for that oddly-shaped plot of land. The building is one of the most beloved and famous in the city.
The Flatiron Building stands 285 feet tall, with 22 stories. At its most narrow, on the tip, it is just 6.5 feet wide. The building has a steel frame with a limestone and glazed terra cotta tile facade. The stonework is modeled after French and Italian renaissance designs and the building has three distinct horizontal motifs, using fleur-de-lis, gargoyles, and eagles, among other adornments.
It is certainly not one of the tall and imposing skyscrapers that dominate the famous skyline of the city, but its structural shape and its design elements will make you stop and look twice, as you hover around the intersection of Broadway and 5th Avenue on 23rd street. The prow of this triangle-shaped building is placed at the intersection itself, while in its entirety, the building looks like a vertical expansion of the triangular island block between two converging streets on which it has been built. It is a rather narrow piece of land, which is why from a particular angle the building gives the impression of being just a single thin sheet of concrete. However, don’t mistake it for being brittle or the engineering suspect. The Flatiron building has stood this way for 108 years.
The architect of this building is Daniel Burnham, a prominent architect from Chicago, and the style of architecture he has employed for the Flatiron building combines Gothic and Renaissance elements, and is known as the Beaux-Arts style. The effect he has achieved is that of a renaissance palazzo lifted to a height of 285 feet (87 meters). However, Burnham’s inspiration for the building goes even further back: it is based on the idea of the classical Greek column. As a result, it is distinctly divided into three parts – the base, the pale-colored terra-cotta and brick body, and a capital characterized by arches and columns. To top the capital, there is a heavy cornice projecting out and a balustraded roof, thus completing the intended look. At its tip, its triangular tower is a mere 6.5 feet wide. However, there is nothing ancient about the construction method of the building. It is a steel-framed skyscraper, which engaged the most modern construction techniques of the time.
The 22-story Flatiron building is an office building that was put by the George A. Fuller Company of Chicago, an American contracting firm. This is why it was initially known as the Fuller Building. The building was a speculative project, and it was intended to pioneer a new business district north of Wall Street. However, this was the first and last attempt to that end. The building, though, was a pioneering attempt at something else too. It was the first time that out-of-town investors had taken on real estate development. So far, real estate was a local enterprise all over America. But the age of the skyscraper was about to change all that, and this was the first indication of that change. When the building opened in 1902, its design and architecture received a mixed reception from critics. However, over time it has come to be regarded as an essential part of the heritage of New York.
The Flatiron Building in Popular Culture
The building is a very popular fixture in the arts and media. It has famously been used as the headquarters of the Daily Bugle newspaper in the Spider-Man films. It has been used on countless other occasions to represent New York in some way or the other in films as well as television.
The Flatiron Building is a widely recognized icon of New York City and visitors can find postcards, replicas, key chains, and all sorts of souvenirs bearing its likeness. The building has been featured in a number of films, including the “Spiderman” movies (as the headquarters for the “Daily Bugle” newspaper), “Godzilla,” “Bell, Book, and Candle,” and “Hitch.”
The Flatiron Building also begat the (now dated) phrase “23 skidoo,” meaning “scram.” It seems the unique shape of the building created bursts of wind along 23rd Street and groups of boys would gather to see the wind blow up the girls’ skirts. (Remember: this is the early 1900s.) The beat policemen would call to the boys “23 skidoo” to disperse the crowd.
Visiting Flatiron Building
Madison Square Park, across from the southern end of the building, is a good place to sit and admire the unobstructed view of the Flatiron.
Location: 175 Fifth Avenue (bounded by Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street & Broadway), New York City, NY
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