The marvelous story of the Flatiron: the instantly recognizable building that signaled the start of a new era in New York history.
Critics hated it. The public feared it would topple over. Passersby were knocked down by the winds. But even before it was completed, the Flatiron Building had become an unforgettable part of New York City.
The Flatiron Building was built by the Chicago-based Fuller Company--a group founded by George Fuller, "the father of the skyscraper"--to be their New York headquarters. The company''s president, Harry Black, was never able to make the public call the Flatiron the Fuller Building, however. Black''s was the country''s largest real estate firm, constructing Macy''s department store, and soon after the Plaza Hotel, the Savoy Hotel, and many other iconic buildings in New York as well as in other cities across the country. With an ostentatious lifestyle that drew constant media scrutiny, Black made a fortune only to meet a tragic, untimely end.
In The Flatiron, Alice Sparberg Alexiou chronicles not just the story of the building but the heady times in New York at the dawn of the twentieth century. It was a time when Madison Square Park shifted from a promenade for rich women to one for gay prostitutes; when photography became an art; motion pictures came into existence; the booming economy suffered increasing depressions; jazz came to the forefront of popular music--and all within steps of one of the city''s best-known and best-loved buildings.
Its official name is the Fuller Building, but for the past century, the oddly triangular building that, to quote H. G. Wells, “ploughs up traffic” at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street in Manhattan, has been known to most people as the Flatiron. As shown by Alexiou, whose grandfather was once a co-owner of the building, the history of the Flatiron is a tale as much about architectural innovation as it is about the larger-than-life personalities who designed and financed the 22-story landmark. Among the latter are Daniel Burnham, the visionary who designed the steel-framed structure (one of the city''s first) in the Chicago school style; Harry Black, the “charming and ruthless” president of the Fuller Company; and Samuel Parks, the vindictive labor leader who ran afoul of the law. The most prominent character of this drama, however, may be turn-of-the-century New York City itself, beginning to flex its massive commercial muscles at the outset of the era of enormous skyscrapers. Engaging and panoramic, Alexiou''s narrative is not just for architecture buffs. --Brendan Driscoll
“Alexiou -- a native New Yorker and the granddaughter of a man who for a time owned the Flatiron Building in partnership with Harry Helmsley -- has written an engaging and informative account of the building''s construction and its lasting place in New York''s lore.” ―The Washington Post
“Alice Sparberg Alexiou''s The Flatiron joins such books as Jill Jonnes''s Conquering Gotham (2007), about Pennsylvania Station, and Gail Fenske''s The Skyscraper and the City (2008), about the Woolworth Building, in a budding genre that we might call biographies of buildings.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Though she ends on a note of permanence, as the landmarked and restored Flatiron is here to stay, Ms. Alexiou''s book is ultimately about the never-ending change that rushes by in the city, and, in evoking that, she succeeds.” ―The New York Observer
“The first history book about The Flatiron, one of New York City''s first skyscrapers, built in 1902, and still a favorite sightseeing stop for tourists.” ―Deseret News
“[Alice Sparberg-Alexiou] brings the building alive by profiling not only its owners and tenants but also the city''s mixed reaction to it.” ―The Christian Science Monitor
“Alice Sparberg Alexiou elucidates the complex web of human relationships built around the Flatiron, bringing life to the poignant and tragic story of the skyscraper, its creators, denizens, and critics in New York 1900--a rich and contentious setting shaped not only by buildings, streets, and squares, and the popular arts of music, theater, and film, but also by unbridled speculation, gambling, corruption, conflict, and intrigue.” ―Gail Fenske, author of The Skyscraper and the City
ALICE SPARBERG ALEXIOU is the author of Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary. She has been an editor of Lilith magazine and written for The New York Times and Newsday, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has a Ph.D. in classics from Fordham University. She lives in New York.