Posts Tagged ‘Flatiron District’

All that remains of the Flatiron Novelty District

January 12, 2017

noveltyshackmansignIs this cast-iron plaque outside a trendy clothing store on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street really all that’s left of Manhattan’s once-thriving Novelty District?

I think it must be. B. Shackman & Co. began selling cheap toys, costumes, and gag gifts in 1898—one of several novelty stores that popped up in the early 20th century between Union and Madison Squares.

Jeremiah has a treasure of photos of the store from 1980, before the space was taken over by Anthropologie in the 1990s.


An entire neighborhood devoted to party favors, decorations, jokes, games, and magic tricks? It made it into the 1980s, but it couldn’t possibly survive in a more luxurious city and a digital commerce world.

The Novelty District went the way of Flatiron’s former Photo District and Chelsea’s Fur District and Sewing Machine District. The Flower District on Sixth Avenue in the 20s might be next.


Gordon Novelty, with its 1930s storefront lettering and facade painted in explosive blue, was the last holdout of the Novelty District, located on Broadway and 22nd Street. [Second photo in 2007; third in 2010, from Greenwich Village Daily Photo.]

The place went down in 2007, Jeremiah reported.

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]

Defunct 1980s dance club: Danceteria

November 12, 2008

If you considered yourself a club kid in the 1980s, you probably remember Danceteria—one of those venues, like the Mudd Club, Area, and the Palladium, considered  vital part of New York’s downtown music and art scene.

This ad is from the East Village Eye, December 1985:


Danceteria existed at a couple of different locations before settling on 21st Street in the Flatiron District until its demise in 1986. It had a good run: a scene from Desperately Seeking Susan was filmed there, and it helped launch Madonna’s career.

The Flatiron’s second most striking building

September 26, 2008

Sure the Flatiron building across the street gets all the attention. But on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street stands a lovely, 7-story red brick structure with Western Union’s old logo obscured under the windows.

This was Western Union’s “uptown” branch. Built in 1883 by architect Henry Hardenburgh—designer of the Plaza, the Dakota, and other gorgeous New York buildings—the office had pneumatic tubes that whisked telegraphs to Western Union’s main headquarters in lower Manhattan. 

It’s now a New York Historical Designation that has recently been condo-ized. For more photos and information on this gabled, Queen Anne gem, check out the architectural site  Starts and Fits

“Fifth Avenue New York”

August 23, 2008

As seen on the facade of the 1920s-era building at 144 Fifth Avenue, near 20th Street. There’s another Fifth Avenue bas relief just like it on the other side of the fire escape.