Friday, April 09, 2010

Flatiron, 1905

I saw this photo on Shorpy and, somewhat laboriously, managed to find it in the Prints and Photos website of the Library of Congress. (Though they recently overhauled their website, I still can't easily find what I'm looking for. My fault or theirs?)

It's called Flatiron Building, Broadway and Fifth Av., New York City. The year is 1905 and the photo is not one I've previously made available on this blog. As with so many of the New York City photos I reproduce from LC collections, it was made by the Detroit Publishing Co. and 'tho it shows a copyright insignia, it's now in the public domain.

Here are some cropped images from it.

1. The clock tells us it's 9:20. That's in the A.M. as we can tell by the orientation of the camera, shooting from the north, and the direction of the sunlight, coming strongly and acutely angled from the east.

2. The photographer chose a moment when the sun was poring directly down the side streets; not only was it morning, but morning in one of the late-fall or early-spring months when the sun was low on the horizon at that hour.

3. In the main photo you can see the flags and chimney smoke blowing in a west wind. This wind was stronger and less uni-directional down at street level. After the Flatiron building was erected, the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue came to be called "The Windiest Corner in the World".* The workmen in this segment of the photo may be repairing wind-caused damage.**

4. It's actually relatively calm this day. Note in this image the reflection in the plate glass window of the man who's just starting to pass by the goods wagon on his right. This wagon has attracted the attention of the local police. Notice how many policemen are within this picture as a whole. Broadway at Fifth Avenue must have been very well protected from unwanted occurrences.

5. Here we have a man out on a ledge for a purpose difficult to determine. His posture suggests that he's not fearful of wind gusts. The man above is more cautious and seems mainly intent on catching some rays and observing the scene below.

6. The horse-drawn cabs and wagons go where they will across the wide intersection, mingling freely with but not threatening pedestrians or each other. In this image my eye is drawn to the man at right striding purposefully with head lowered against the bright facing sun.

7. In this part of the picture the traffic is all going in the same general direction although one wagon is intent on cutting off another. I expect the pace of both is slow enough so there's no real problem here. It's interesting that the one has two wheels and two horses while the other has four wheels and one horse. The traffic also includes a two-man, two-wheeled conveyance of the kind we used to see at railway stations when I was young. I think they're just called handcarts.

8. This last segment contains an interesting pattern of trolley tracks, with their mid-track groove for electric supply. The composition is also interesting for contrast of the horizontal movement in the lower section with the diagonals of the upper part. Notice among the left-right traffic a handsome horse pulling a gig; it's the only conveyance I notice that seems to be privately owned.

The the photographer has placed the camera just behind and above Worth Monument in the building at 204 Fifth Avenue. This photo shows the monument and that building (with its White Horse whiskey sign) at center.

Here's a link to a Google map of the area.



*In an article with this as its title, the author said, "the building, towering above all nearby structures, is the only obstruction to the breeze that sweeps unimpeded from North River to East River. This, in connection with the open space afforded by Madison Square, forms an eddy, or windwhirl. The 'Flat Iron' building presents to East and West winds, a flat surface like an enormous fence, three hundred by two hundred feet in size, and the winds sweep over the top and down into the street where they meet other winds coming up or down Broadway and still others coming up or down Fifth Avenue, and all these winds join hands and romp and gambol in the street, and do things that no nice gentlemanly wind would do."

**The same author wrote: "On the opposite side of Broadway [i.e., across from the Flatiron building] is a row of smaller buildings and the plate glass window of one of these shops seems to have been particularly singled out by the untamed wind; it has been crushed in a number of times, and the owner of the shop has brought suit to recover damages. Why the wind should have a spite against that particular shop no one can tell, but to have one's plate glass continually falling in or out is quite a blow. But it is rather difficult to see how owners of the 'Flat Iron' building can stop the wind, for wind is noted for blowing 'where it listeth,' and it listeth to blow in the windows of that shop.

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