Interesting facts about the Flatiron Building

flatiron building

The Flatiron Building, originally the Fuller Building, is a triangular 22-story steel-framed landmarked building located in New York City, and is considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper.

It was built in 1902 at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, at the time one of the most prominent locations in New York City.

The distinctive triangular shape of the Flatiron Building, designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham allowed it to fill the wedge-shaped property.

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The building initially received widespread skepticism when construction began with many residents believing that the triangle shape combined with the height would cause the building to fall down, giving it the nickname “Burnham’s Folly.”

At 94 meters (307 feet), the Flatiron was never the city’s tallest building, but always one of its most
dramatic-looking, and its popularity with photographers and artists has made it an enduring symbol of New York for more than a century.

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Its unique design was made possible by a sturdy steel skeleton — a newer construction technique at the time — allowing for thin, graceful walls and a quicker build using pre-cut frames.

Around the steel skeleton is a limestone base, which changes to terra-cotta as the floors go up, featuring French and Italian Renaissance influences.

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Shaped like a perfect right triangle, it measures only 2 meters (6.5 feet) across the narrow end; viewed from above, this pointed end of the structure describes an acute angle of about 25 degrees.

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On the ground floor of the triangular front is a free window-like exhibition, known as the Sprint Flatiron Prow Art space.

flatiron building sprint flatiron prow art space

The building was intended to serve as offices for the George A. Fuller Company, a major Chicago contracting firm.

It was to be named the Fuller Building after George A. Fuller, founder of the Fuller Company and “father of the skyscraper“, who had died two years earlier in 1900, but locals persisted on calling it “The Flatiron“, a name which has since been made official.

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In October 1925, Fuller’s son-in-law, Harry S. Black, in need of cash for his U.S. Realty Company, sold the Flatiron Building to a syndicate set up by Lewis Rosenbaum, who also owned assorted other notable buildings around the U.S. The price was $2 million, which equaled Black’s cost for buying the lot and erecting the Flatiron.

In 2009, the Sorgente Group, an Italian real estate investment firm, bought a majority stake in the building with plans to turn it into a world-class luxury hotel.

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The value of the 22-story Flatiron Building, which is already zoned by the city to allow it to become a hotel, was estimated to be $190 million.

The Flatiron Building is a quintessential example of popular sentiment winning over architectural critics. Architectural Record thought it was awkward, and criticized the large number of windows (the horror!). The New York Times called it a “monstrosity,” The New York Tribune describing it as a “stingy piece of pie,” the Municipal Journal & Public Works called it “New York’s latest freak in the shape of sky scrapers” and the Municipal Art Society went as far to say it was “unfit to be in the Center of the City.”

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The Flatiron Building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

When the Flatiron Building first opened, female tenants were at a disadvantage, as the building’s designers had failed to include any ladies’ restrooms. Management had to designate bathrooms for men and women on alternating floors.

The so-called downdraught effect causes the wind to increase in speed at the foot of the Flatiron. At the time building became known as the site where gusts of wind often lifted women’s skirts, exposing their ankles, much to the delight of young men.

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Ever hear the old expression “23 Skidoo”? It means “get lost,” and it came from the NYPD Officers who regularly patrolled in front of the Flatiron, chasing away the men hoping watch women’s skirts fly up in the wind.

The Flatiron Building was such a popular tourist destination that Seeing New York operated its open air New York City tours from the building every hour, all seven days of the week for $1.

Today, the Flatiron Building is frequently used on television commercials and documentaries as an easily recognizable symbol of the city, shown, for instance, in the opening credits of the Late Show with David Letterman or in scenes of New York City that are shown during scene transitions in the TV sitcoms Friends, Spin City, and Veronica’s Closet.

In the 1998 film Godzilla, the Flatiron Building is accidentally destroyed by the US Army while in pursuit of Godzilla, and it is depicted as the headquarters of the Daily Bugle, for which Peter Parker is a freelance photographer, in the Spider-Man movie.

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