I recently read Kim Stanley Robinson’s outstanding—but way too long—climate change, post-apocalyptic, science fiction novel “New York 2140.” Although much of the plot takes place in Manhattan’s Met Life Building, the characters frequently comment on the neighboring Flatiron Building. It got me thinking about this iconic New York City landmark and the fact that although I’ve literally passed by all of my life, I’ve never been inside and I knew next to nothing about the OG skyscrapper.
So here are a few things that I discovered about this gem. When it was built in 1902, the Flatiron Building was originally called The Fuller Building. It was named for Chicago architect George A. Fuller who has often been dubbed “the father of the skyscraper,” although the building was actually designed by fellow Chicago architects Daniel Burnham and Frederick Dinkelberg. The official name didn’t last long, as locals quickly began calling it the Flatiron.
Amazingly the landmark was built at a rate of one floor a week once the foundation was erected. Most people don’t realize that the top three floors were added years after the 1902 opening. In fact, to get to the upper floors, it’s necessary to change to a special elevator. And, the original elevator system was water-powered and frequently leaked.
Not long after its official launch, the Flatiron became the city’s most popular tourist attraction. They even began running bus tours of New York City from the building. The open-air tours cost just $1. These days, you can visit the building’s ground floor galleries for changing exhibitions.
In case you were wondering, Manhattan’s “cowcatcher” got its nickname early on from the prow-like front of the building. It’s a reference to the metal frame that was attached to most 19th century locomotives to keep livestock off of the rail road tracks.