The Flatirons of the Village and the East Village
On September 20th, 1966, the Flatiron Building was designated a New York City landmark. One of New York’s most beloved and iconic landmarks, the Flatiron Building is known for (among other things) its unique shape, formed by the intersection of Broadway and 5th Avenue forming an acute angle amidst the otherwise right-angled, rectilinear street grid of Manhattan.
But of course the corner of 23rd street and 5th Avenue isn’t the only place in Manhattan where streets intersect at quirky angles. In fact, the Village’s (and to a lesser extent the East Village’s) off-the-grid streets are full of them.
So in honor of the Flatiron Building’s landmark anniversary, we thought we’d take a look at some of ‘little flatirons’ of the Village and East Village.
Perhaps the most famously and recognizably “Flatiron-like” building in our neighborhoods is the former Herring Lock and Safe Company Building at 669-681 Hudson Street at 9th Avenue and 14th Street in Meatpacking District.
Built in 1849 and often referred to as “the Little Flatiron Building,” it pre-dates its better known cousin, completed in 1902, by more than a half-century. GVSHP successfully secured landmark designation of the building in 2003 as part of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, and got it listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2007 as part of the same district.
Just a little further west and also within the Gansevoort Market Historic District is 53-61 Gansevoort Street, built in 1887 and formerly known as the Goelet Building.
Made famous by Berenice Abbott’s iconic image, thanks to the above-mentioned landmark designation the building looks more or less the same as it did nearly 80 years ago when this famous photo was taken.
Unlike some of the other “little Flatirons,” 53-61 Gansevoort’s triangular shape is only indirectly determined by the unusual angle of surrounding streets. While Little West 12th Street, which forms the northern boundary of the block that 53-61 Gansevoort Street lies on, does form an acute angle with Gansevoort Street, the building does not actually reach little West 12th Street. Instead of following the lines of the streets, the building follows the lines of the property line, which in this case run parallel to Little West 12th Street, leading to the acute angle of the building’s eastern edge.
A few blocks east, 234 West 13th Street’s prow-like western edge forms at the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and 13th Streets. Also known as 110-118 Greenwich Avenue, the building was constructed in 1882 to the designs of renowned architect George F. Pelham as studio apartments. Originally known as “The Jackson Studio Apartments,” it’s located within the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated in 1969, and thus its flatiron-like shape is assured survival for generations to come (read more about its history here).
Just down Greenwich Avenue at the corner of 11th Street lies another red brick “mini-flatiron,” 70-74 Greenwich Avenue/160 West 11th Street, a humble building more modest in scale and about thirty years senior to its neighbor to the north.
Originally constructed as three separate houses, it has often been conjectured and even assumed that this building was the inspiration for the iconic Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks at the Diner.”
However, GVSHP’s research on the subject would suggest this was probably not the case, and that as with most of Hopper’s paintings, while no single building was likely the direct subject of his portrait, diners elsewhere on Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue South were more likely the source of inspiration in this case.
Moving down 7th Avenue South, 10 Sheridan Square is perhaps the most elegant of our “mini-flatirons,” and in spite of its severely crimped corner, carries an elegance often associated with inter-war Manhattan apartment houses. Perhaps that’s because 10 Sheridan Square was designed in 1928-29 by Emery Roth, the dean of elegant pre-war apartment designs in New York.
Though Roth also designed the equally elegant Devonshire House on University Place, he is more strongly associated with his Uptown apartment house designs, such as the El Dorado, the San Remo, and the Beresford, all on Central Park West.
10 Sheridan Square’s narrow west corner actually bares some delightful stone detailing portraying fantastic sea creatures, which appears to have inspired the name of the gay bar, The Monster, which has been located in the building’s ground floor since 1970.
Just a block to the east lies another flatiron shaped high-rise, the former Varitype Building at the corner of West 4th and Cornelia Streets and Sixth Avenue.
Unlike the other residential buildings mentioned here, the Varitype was actually built as a commercial building in 1907, which until its residential conversion in 1982 largely housed printers, publishers, and other manufacturers.
One notable exception, however, was the “aschcan” school artist John Sloan, who maintained a studio in the building from 1912-1915. Sloan also featured the building prominently in his 1922 painting “City from Greenwich Village,” which shows the building with the then-extant Sixth Avenue El running past it, and with Sixth Avenue terminating just a block to the south at the corner of Carmine and West 3rd Street. This was before the avenue was extended south to Lower Manhattan in 1926 to allow for the construction of the IND subway line underneath and the increased flow of automobile traffic north from Lower Manhattan.
GVSHP proposed and secured landmark designation of this and several surrounding blocks in 2010, so the Varitype’s distinctive shape should live on for generations to come.
Moving east to NoHo, 21 Astor Place never quite comes to a sharp corner, but its narrow eastern facade is the result of the acute angle between 8th Street and Astor Place, which bound the building on its north and south sides.
Built in 1890-92 with the top two stories added in 1926, the building originally housed the Clinton Hall Association’s Mercantile Library. The current 21 Astor Place replaced the Astor Place Opera House formerly located on this site, a building perhaps as well known for the notorious and deadly riots between immigrant and nativist New Yorkers which took place inside and just outside the building in 1849 as any performances which took place there.
Our final little Flatiron can be found just to the north and east of Astor Place, at the corner of Stuyvesant Street and East 10th Street. The “Renwick Triangle” located at this intersection consists of seven Anglo-Italianate style houses constructed in 1862, believed to have been designed by prominent architect James Renwick.
These houses, which form one of the most unique and picturesque terraces of houses anywhere in New York, were built on land owned by the Stuyvesant and Fish families, who lived in the area and were intimately connected to St. Mark’s Church (1799) located directly across East 10th Street. Renwick Triangle forms the heart of the St. Mark’s Historic District, one of New York’s earliest designated historic districts, and for decades the only such designated district in the East Village until the 2012 designation of the East 10th Street and East Village/Lower East Side Historic Districts for which GVSHP fought.
Of course there are many other “little Flatirons” scattered throughout the Village and East Village. If we missed any of your favorites, let us know!
If you liked this post, you might also like The Art of the Artist’s Studio.
2 responses to “The Flatirons of the Village and the East Village”
Amazing, how I walk around my W Village neighborhood and further east and love all these buildings but never mentally thought of them as a brilliant and valuable collection before. The Renwick triangle has long been a special favorite of mine, especially in the flowering months. Thanks to everyone who made sure these “ancestral” structures still enrich our lives even as we simply walk in the spaces they create.