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A Wedged Trophy in New York City

The Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Times Square: these are the ultimate tourist places that are on the top of everyone’s checklists when they think of visiting New York City. Unfortunately, what these tourists fail to realize is that this vast city has a wealth of obscure history, overshadowed by a few prominent buildings. In the hustle and bustle of New York City, it’s easy to miss a NYC landmark, even if you were to pass by it every day.

Wedged  between Broadway and Fifth Ave lies a peculiar building shaped in the form of a cast iron.  At 22 stories high, this Renaissance-style building came to be dubbed as “the world’s first sky scraper.” Originally called the Fuller Building upon completion in 1902 by the architect Daniel Burnham, it was intended  to be the headquarters of Harry Black’s Fuller Company. Locals began to call it the Flatiron Building because of the flatirons used during construction, and because of its distinctive cast iron shape. Today, it serves as an office building, housing book publishers and several stores on the ground floor.

There were many skeptics when the building first started construction. Locals would place bets on how far the debris would spread when a strong gust of wind knocked the building over. They claimed that a building constructed in a triangular shape would never hold up, calling it “Burnham’s Folly.” However, due to the steel bracing around the building, the Flatiron building was able to stand strong. 

Furthermore, because of the unique shape of the building, wind currents coming from either side of the building could create drafts that would often uplift girls’ skirts. This “burlesque” element gave rise to the phrase “23 skidoo,” which the policemen would shout at men who tried to get a glimpse up women’s dresses.

The building itself is constructed from limestone and glazed terra-cotta. Even after all the years of dust and wind erosion, the building still stands firm in the middle of the Flatiron District. It seems to be representative of how New Yorkers view themselves—bold and compelling.

So next time you find yourself in the Flatiron district, take a look at 175 Fifth Ave and  visit the building after which the neighborhood was named. Take a look at the building that was such an inspiration to artists, who describe it as a “bow of a ship coming at you.” Take a look at the building that inspired other buildings of its kind, like the Gooderham Building in Canada. It may not be the tallest or the most prominent landmark, but be assured; it has just as much history as the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.  

flatiron building

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