The Flatiron ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
New York’s iconic Flatiron Building stands at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street. It’s a triangular-shaped building twenty-two stories tall, completed in 1902. Art critics and arbiters of good taste hated it from the moment it was completed, while the public loved it. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz said the Flatiron is to New York what the Parthenon is to Athens.
The Flatiron was one of the first skyscrapers in New York. Thanks to the use of the steel framework, skyscrapers could be built taller and taller because the lower walls were no longer supporting the weight of the structure. George Allon Fuller (1851-1900) was credited with the invention of the skyscraper. Tall buildings became the trademark of New York. Real estate prices were exorbitant and, the higher the building, the more money investors could get on their investments. It was, and is, all about money. Somebody figured out that a skyscraper doesn’t become profitable until the thirteenth floor.
George Allon Fuller had a daughter named Allon. She married a man named Harry Black and he eventually took over the Fuller Company started by his father-in-law and became a powerful force in the building trades in New York. (The Fuller Company became known as the “Skyscraper Trust.”)
Harry Black wasn’t an architect or an engineer but a businessman, a builder and a wheeler-dealer. He was responsible for many of the landmark buildings that still stand today, including the New York Public Library and the lavish Plaza Hotel. He figures prominently in the story of the Flatiron. He and his wife Allon were divorced after ten years of marriage. She remarried and died at age 37 of pneumonia. He also remarried and committed suicide in 1930 at age 68.
The Flatiron, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, is a fascinating nonfiction account of the Flatiron Building and the times in which it was built. It was a time of great excitement and growth in New York City, punctuated, of course, by periodic economic “downturns.” Many things were going on during this time. The steal industry flourished with the increased demand for steal used in skyscrapers. Moving pictures were in their infancy; the public was fascinated by this newest—and potentially profitable—form of entertainment. President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist; his vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt, then became president. The labor movement was becoming more and more powerful, causing headaches for employers and builders. In the basement of the Flatiron Building was a restaurant that seated 1500 people. It eventually became known for its jazz, another new form of American entertainment. Of course, the good times couldn’t last. They never do. The United States entered the “Great War” in 1917. Prohibition soon after closed down a lot of popular nightspots that served liquor. In 1929, the Great Depression wiped out the fortunes of a lot of the fabulously wealthy. Millionaires became paupers overnight. Nothing ever stays the same. Everything is always in a state of flux. Here today, gone tomorrow. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp