SKYSCRAPERS

The Flatiron Building or "Hurricane Corner"

The word "skyscraper" was originally a nautical term used to describe “the tallest mast of a sailing ship.” By the 1870's, "skyscraper" would define the tall 10 to 20 story "elevator buildings" being built in the cities of Chicago and New York. Before the age of skyscrapers, the tallest building in Manhattan had been the 22-foot spire of Trinity Church.

New York City and "skyscrapers" are synonymous although the first skyscrapers were built in Chicago. The Home Insurance Building, a 10-story structure rising to 138 feet, was built in Chicago in 1884 to 1885. More skyscrapers were constructed in Chicago following the devastating fire there in 1871 (the one allegedly started by O'Leary's cow). Skyscraper construction moved slower in New York City due to its stricter building codes. There were no buildings above five stories in New York City until after 1870.

Technologies and inventions of steel by Englishman Henry Bessemer along with that of the elevator, electrical plumbing pumps, central heating and the telephone, enabled the construction of modern skyscrapers. George A. Fuller, whose company built the Flatiron Building, devised a means of creating steel cages for tall buildings that had "load bearing capacities" to support the buildings' weight. Cast iron buildings were introduced to New York City in 1848 by James Bogardus who produced cast iron in a prefabricated format.

Photographer Alfred Stieglitz fell in love with the Flatiron and his photographs of the building's silhouette contributed to the structure's worldwide fame. Other photographers and painters captured the Flatiron's image. American impressionist artist, Childe Hassam, painted the building as did John Sloan. Sloan lived in this neighborhood and featured the Flatiron in a number of his paintings.

Earlier and smaller skyscrapers have been forgotten. New York City's first three skyscrapers, according to the Architecture of New York: Histories and Views of Important Structures, Sites and Symbols by Donald Martin Reynolds, were:

  1. the seven-story Equitable Equitable Life Insurance Building built in 1871 at 120 Broadway, designed by George B. Post and the first building to go over five stories. (It was destroyed by fire in 1912 and rebuilt in 1915.)

  2. the Western Union Building (1873 - 1875) at 195 Broadway, and

  3. the New York Tribune Building (1873 - 1875) east of City Hall Park, designed by Richard Morris Hunt.

All three buildings were either demolished or destroyed by fire.

Designed by architect Daniel Burnham and built from 1901 – 1903, the Flatiron Building is 22 stories high. It was actually the Fuller Construction Company building but New Yorkers quickly gave it the nickname of “the Flatiron Building” due to its unusual “flat iron” triangular shape. The name stuck. Imagine New Yorkers’ reaction to its style and shape in 1903. Some found it unattractive and ridiculous and called it "Burnham's Folly." Others praised it as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The building's corner became known as "Hurricane Corner" due to gusting winds that uplifted women's dresses, blew hats off, and whisked newspapers and umbrellas out of pedestrians' hands. There were so many male gawkers that the police had to patrol the area.

The Flatiron may be the most uniquely designed building in the City. It is rivaled only by the more modern Art Deco Chrysler Building. The Flatiron is located on 23rd Street at Broadway and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. It is diagonally across from Madison Square Park where the original Madison Square Garden was located. At a basement restaurant and club here, ragtime music was introduced to composer, Irving Berlin. Berlin loved the music and the black jazz band playing it so much that he promoted the band and also wrote ragtimes tunes including his popular Alexander's Ragtime Band.

An area of New York City along the east side of City Hall Park became known as "Newspaper Row" when several city newspapers built tall buildings there. The New York Tribune building, constructed in 1875, stood 260 feet high and at that time was taller than any other structure in Manhattan except for the Trinity Church spire. In this neighborhood were also the New York Times’ original building (at 113 Nassau Street and later at 138 Nassau Street & 41 Park Row) and the New York World building (built in 1890 on Park Row). Newspaper offices were located here to facilitate their coverage of the news from nearby City Hall and the city courts.

The Woolworth Building was dubbed the Cathedral of Commerce by NYC newspapers when first built. The neo-Gothic Woolworth Building was conceived by F.W. Woolworth and his architect, CASS GILBERT, and cost $13,500,000 to build. It was to be the "world's tallest building" and remained so from 1913 until the 1930 completion of the Chrysler Building. The tallest building in Manhattan, before the Woolworth Building’s construction, was the 50-story Metropolitan Life Insurance Building (Madison Avenue & 24th Street).

Fortunately, the island of Manhattan is formed of a large amount of mica schist rock, which is particularly suited for the construction of skyscrapers. As skyscrapers became popular and more were constructed, New Yorkers worried that the city would be without enough light and air. Zoning laws were introduced in 1916 after the construction of the Equitable Building (1915). A "setback law" required the buildings to be set back at specific intervals (according to the width of the streets at the skyscraper's locations) to allow light and air to be admitted to the street. The result of this law was the construction of "wedding cake" buildings with tiers that get thinner and narrower as the building rises and "ziggurat" skyscraper-style structures with stepped towers.

Currently, New York City's ten tallest skyscrapers (the list changes rapidly) are:

  1. One World Trade Center (1,776 feet)

  2. Central Park Tower (1.550 feet)

  3. 111 W. 57th Street building, (1,428 feet)

  4. One Vanderbilt (1,401 feet)

  5. 432 Park Avenue (1,376 feet)

  6. 30 Hudson Yards (1,296 feet)

  7. Empire State Building (1,250 feet)

  8. Bank of America Tower (1,200 feet)

  9. 3 World Trade Center (1,079 feet)

  10. 9 Dekalb Building, Brooklyn

Other historic skyscrapers include: Park Row Building (15 Park Row) 1899, Woolworth Building 1913, Equitable Building (120 Broadway) 1915, American Radiator Building 1923 - 1924, Bank of Manhattan (48 Wall Street and now the Trump Building) 1927 - 1929, Manhattan Company Building (40 Wall Street) 1929, City Bank-Farmers Trust Building (Exchange Place at Beaver, Hanover and William Streets) 1930 - 1931, Chanin Building (122 W. 42nd Street) 1927 - 1929, American International Building 1932, Lever House (390 Park Avenue) 1950 - 1952, Seagram Building (375 Park Avenue at 53rd Street) 1954 - 1958, and CBS Building (52nd Street at Sixth Avenue) 1961 - 1965.

According to NYC's Skyscraper Museum, "in 1998, the title of 'world's tallest building' left the U.S. and has never returned." Today the world's tallest skyscraper is Burj Khalifa in Dubai and it stands at 2,717 feet tall.