Posts Tagged ‘Burnham’s Folly’

Lower Fifth Avenue before the Flatiron Building

June 27, 2011

Prior to the iconic 1902 building’s opening, the land it was constructed on went by some interesting names.

In the 1850s, the triangle-shaped plot at 23rd Street, Broadway, and Fifth Avenue was known as the “cowcatcher,” possibly because cows from nearby farms often wandered into it to avoid traffic, according to The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou.

Cows on 23rd Street? That name had to be a holdover from an even older New York.

“Cowcatcher” could also have come from the fact that the land resembled the three-sided metal device that back then was attached to the front of locomotives to prevent derailment in case livestock crossed the tracks.

In the 1880s a real rich estate developer, Amos Eno, put up a seven-story apartment house on this slice of the ultra-fashionable Madison Square neighborhood.

The cowcatcher moniker fell out of favor and the triangle was called Eno’s Flatiron—or just the Flatiron, because it looked like, well, a flat iron.

The 1902 Flatiron Building was actually officially named the Fuller Building when it opened.

But most city residents still called it the Flatiron—or more derisively “Burnham’s Folly,” after the architect whose design was not nearly as beloved 109 years ago as it is today.

[Top photo: New-York Historical Society; right: New York Public Library digital collection]