Sunday, May 18, 2003

The Flatiron blog.

On Wednesday morning, the associate publisher of Real Estate Chicago, Gail, and I had a few hours before we had to go to LaGuardia. Just the thing for a morning walk. It counted as business, however, since we did discuss plans for the magazine along the way — a peripatetic business meeting beats a conference room most any day.

Especially when you’re walking in an urban core as lush as Manhattan. Always something to see, sometimes too much. Our route took us west on 34th, past Macy's, to Broadway. Then we followed Broadway south, through a section populated by jewelry shops, until the Flatiron Building came into view. I’d seen that building 20 years ago, from more or less the same vantage at Madison Square Park (just east of the junction of Broadway and Fifth Ave., and slightly north of the structure), but now I’ve had decades of intervening experience in looking at buildings. It’s a famously triangular office building, 101 years old, which was built to shoehorn into a narrow triangular lot formed by the meeting of those two major streets.

The following is a nice description — a little gushing in some places, which I’ve mostly edited out — from a site called “…The Flatiron's most interesting feature is its shape — a slender hull plowing up the streets of commerce as the bow off a great ocean liner plows through the waves of its domain. The apex of the building is just six feet wide, and expands into a limestone wedge adorned with Gothic and Renaissance details of Greek faces and terra cotta flowers…

“Some consider the Flatiron Building to be New York City's first skyscraper. It certainly was one of the first buildings in the city to employ a steel frame to hold up its 285-foot tall facade, but not the first. Some felt its shape (like a flatiron) was less artistic and more dangerous. They thought it would fall over, and during construction the Flatiron Building was nicknamed ‘Burnham's Folly.’ ”

In its rush to gush about things New York, this particular Web site doesn’t bother to mention that Burnham — architect Daniel Burnham — had come from Chicago for this commission, since indeed he’s one of Chicago’s best-known architects. Still, I suppose that Chicago has so many great buildings that lending a few to New York couldn’t hurt.

It certainly looks like the kind of thing Burnham would build. And not only that, if you look at it from the right angle it looks practically two-dimensional, like some kind of lavish prop from a lost D.W. Griffith spectacle. Not something you see everyday, in New York or Chicago.

Tomorrow: A man, a plan, a canal…


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