While looking for something else, I came across these photos from an old walk across New York City. I recalled that the sun had just set, and the best of the daylight was done. I wanted to cross 5th Avenue and get myself a little sundowner and a snack, but I waited. The Flatiron Building was an instant hit with some of the early greats of photography. Joseph Steiglitz and Edward Steichen. Who was I to break the tradition a hundred years later? I paused and took a few photos. First the crowds. Then a couple gave me the perfect ambush photo as the man fussed with his tripod and camera.
Tourists like them and me are drawn to this icon of a building. You already know a few stories when you see it: it was the first steel frame skyscraper in NYC, a floor went up each week, it had more than a thousand windows, it is a right angled triangle in plan, it was built without women’s toilets, it had hydraulic lifts, it was designed to withstand winds but created unpredictable gusts at street level, that critics hated it at first (“a stingy piece of pie”, “Burnham’s Folly”, and so on), but artists and foreigners loved it. Foreigners can see some things more clearly. It is now listed as one of New York’s Designated Landmarks.
The detailing of the facade caught my eye. This is a typical Chicago School building, predating the Bauhaus style towers elsewhere. The steel frame which gave it strength was spanned with clay tiles.The tiles are designed to give it what the architect, Daniel Burnham, called a Beaux Arts look. The visual differentiation between the bottom, middle, and top was supposed to give it the look of a Greek column. I’m not sure it succeeds. Today it seems to look forward to the future more than it looks back at the past.
My youngest niece asked me, "Which is the longest road in New York?" Having crossed paths with it from Bowling Green to Columbus Circle, I knew the answer. It starts from the little park where, the story goes, the island of Manhattan was purchased from native Americans by the Dutch. I don’t know whether the story is true, but the Avenue starts from Bowling Green, which you can see behind the bull mobbed by tourists here.
A little further north, the iconic Flatiron Building stands at a corner on this road. Built in 1902, it was then one of the tallest buildings in the city, and the only 22 story building north of 14th Street. Interestingly, this steel-framed, limestone and terra-cotta clad building was an incursion of the Chicago style into New York. As I stood and admired the building, I was joined by a succession of people who had come there specially to photograph one of the icons of New York City.
Perhaps one of the most well-known landmarks on the longest road in New York is Times Square. I’ve known locals who give it a wide berth, but every visitor needs to walk through this place. Why not? Where else would you have photo-ops with Spiderman, or both Batman and the Joker, or Captain America? This square has all the oddities that you would love New York for.
About the furthest uptown that I crossed this road was on 57th street. You can see the iconic Hearst Tower reflected in the mirrorshades of the building just across the crossing. Randolph Hearst spent 2 million 1928 dollars to build the bottom 6 stories. The weirdly shaped tower atop it was completed in 2006, and was the first green building in New York. I walked up to it specifically to see the water sculpture in the lobby which humidifies the building.
Broadway, the longest street in New York, continues well beyond this. By not following it to Lincoln Center I missed out on the dancing Hippo sculpture that friends recommended. It continues past that into parts of New York I know little about.