Thursday, July 01, 2010

Fuller's Flatiron Building in the early 1900s

New York's Flatiron Building is easy to like. Erected in the early years of the twentieth century, it has always been a magnet for photographers and artists. I thought about its visual appeal on reading Jonathan Yardley's nice review of a new book: The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It by Alice Sparberg Alexiou.

Designed by a Chicago company, the building was formally called the Fuller Building, but instantly became universally known by the name of the triangular plot on which it was built. A steel-framed building, it has its lower three stories faced with stone and the remainder clad in terracotta. It was not the first nor the tallest of the new skyscrapers, but was the first to capture the romantic imagination of New Yorkers, New York's visitors, and many others who saw the images that depicted it.

Yardley does a good job of describing its significance and the affection he feels for it. He says, "When I lived in New York in the early 1960s I made regular pilgrimages to Madison Square in order to gaze reverently at the Flatiron, after which I walked a few blocks south to Union Square and the used book district that -- O lost! -- then thrived nearby. This was long before New York's renaissance, and the neighborhood was distinctly grubby, but even under a deep coat of soot the Flatiron's beauty and dignity shone through, and it was easy to imagine how much it had startled and thrilled the city six decades earlier."

Unfortunately, the review is accompanied by a single not very impressive photo.

I've done two previous web posts celebrating it in photos from the beginning of the twentieth century: (1) Flatiron, 1905 and (2) Madison Park 1905.

Here are some more of the many images that celebrate the building and the great expanse of Madison Square which it overlooks. You can find others via web search, including the great ones by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

1. This brief film pans from street level to roof along the axis of the building's apex.

{Photographed October 8, 1902 by Robert K. Bonine for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, this shows a view looking south from Madison Square, across the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Twenty-third Street, to the famous Fuller (or "Flatiron") Building. The cameraman elevates his camera, going from street level to the roof. Source: Library of Congress}

These still images all come from LC's Prints and Photos Division unless otherwise noted.

2. Some photos and a drawing made during its first decade of existence.

{"Flat Iron" Building, Fifth Avenue and Broadway, stereograph by the Keystone View Company, c1903}

{Fuller Building, N.Y. by A. Loeffler, c1902}

{Fuller Building (The Flatiron) by Irving Underhill, c1905}

{Fuller Building (The Flatiron) by Irving Underhill, c 1908}

{Fuller Building (The Flatiron) by Irving Underhill, c1910}

{Flatiron Building from Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Seventh Street by Joseph Pennell, drawing on dark brown paper: colored crayons, pencil; sheet 29.3 x 23.2 cm. made between ca. 1904 and 1908}

3. The structure in the foreground is the Victory Arch, put up to honor soldiers who were killed in World War I and later taken down.

{Victory Arch and Flatiron Bldg. by Irving Underhill, 1919}

4. The Flatiron building is located at the southern end of the great intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue called Madison Square. To the east of the intersection lies Madison Square Park.

{Flatiron Bldg. from Madison Square Park, by the Detroit Publishing Co. between 1902 and 1910}

{Flatiron Building from Madison Square Park, by the Detroit Publishing Co. between 1902 and 1910}

5. We are looking down Fifth with the park on the left.

{Fifth Avenue, by the Detroit Publishing Co. c1906}

6. This panorama shows: at right, the sharp northern corner of the Flatiron Building, called the cowcatcher; in the middle, Madison Square; and in the background, Metropolitan Tower.

{Madison Square, New York, 1908 showing part of the Flatiron Building, at right, and the second Madison Square Garden, built in 1890, in the center background; source: wikipedia}

7. We are looking south down Madison Avenue, one block to the east of Fifth. The Met Tower dominates the photo, but you can see the trees of the eastern side of Madison Square Park at its foot in the hazy distance.

{Madison Avenue and the towers, by the Detroit Publishing Co. between 1900 and 1915}

8. The photographer stands at the western side of the park and points his the Flatiron Building on his left, out of sight.

{A hansom at Madison Square, by Byron, ca. 1900}

9. The Flatiron Building is out of sight to the left in this view; the artist was an American impressionist who specialized in cityscapes.

{"After the Rain" painting of Madison Square by Paul Cornoyer, c.1900; source: wikipedia}

10. The photographer is located in the building just behind the triangular plot where the Flatiron Building will be erected. The camera is pointed north; Broadway extends to the left, Fifth Avenue to the right. The image is a scanned from a printed halftone that was made in the decade before the Flatiron Building was constructed.

{Madison Square looking north, Manhattan, New York City, in 1893, reproduced from The Street Book by Henry Moscow; source: wikipedia}

11. As the captions say, these stereoscopic photos show Broadway just south of Madison Square.

{Broadway from Union Square to Madison Square, stereograph by Strohmeyer & Wyman., c1892}

{Broadway from Union Square to Madison Square, stereograph by Strohmeyer & Wyman., c1892}

12. The photographer is facing north and is standing at about the spot where the Flatiron Building will later be erected.

{Madison Square, by Alfred S. Campbell, c1896}

13. This shows the north and east sides of the Square. The photographer would have to turn 90° to the left in order to see the Flatiron Building.

{Bird's-eye view of Madison Square, as seen by the workmen on Metropolitan Tower, stereograph by H.C. White Co., c1908}

14. This short movie shows windy Madison Square near the Flatiron Building.

{This street level view is of the Broadway side of the Flatiron, or Fuller Building, near the narrow north corner. Filmed on a very windy day, pedestrians of various descriptions are seen passing by the camera, clutching hats and skirts against the wind. According to some New York City historians, this corner was known as the windiest corner of the city, and in the era of the long skirt, standing on it was considered a good vantage point for a glimpse of a lady's ankle. Policemen would chase away such loungers from the 23rd Street corner, giving rise to the expression "twenty-three skidoo." Source: Library of Congress via Youtube}

Soon after the building was erected it became apparent that its shape and location resulted in erratic and quite severe gusts. The engineers had anticipated this problem and included extra wind bracing in the framework of the structure.


Some sources:

See in particular THE FLATIRON BUILDING, photos from

THE FLATIRON BUILDING; New York Architecture Images

Flatiron Building; Glass, Steel, and Stone

Flatiron Building on wikipedia

The Flatiron Building; the Birth of the Skyscraper

Flatiron Building; a view on cities

Beaux-arts architecture in New York: a photographic guide by Edmund Vincent Gillon, Henry Hope Reed (Dover Publications, 1988)

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