The Flatiron Building


The Flatiron Building, Detroit Publishing Company (1903).

Beautiful Century posted this view of New York’s Flatiron Building at the weekend which had me looking for a larger copy. Happily this is one of the many high-resolution photos at the Shorpy Historical Archive where it’s possible to scrutinise a wealth of detail. Old photos like this are, as Michael Moorcock once said about old postcards, a form of time travel, especially when they’re as good as those in the Shorpy collection. The Flatiron was a popular subject for photographers—famously so in Edward Steichen’s 1904 nocturne—and Shorpy has many more examples such as the street-level view below. Both these photos show a common feature of pictures taken before the age of the motor car: people standing in the middle of the road. The Flatiron also has an oblique connection with Julian Biggs’ film via the mysterious origins of the phrase “23 skidoo“.


The Flatiron Building, Detroit Publishing Company (c. 1905).

Reinhart Wolf photographed many of New York’s skyscrapers in the late 1970s, the Flatiron included. I have a book of those photos and noticed in his Flatiron view that one of the circular decorations on the foremost angle of the building near the top is now missing (compare his view with the Shorpy photos). Every time I look at the Flatiron now I think of that missing chunk of masonry. Was it removed or did it fall? If the latter, when did this happen and what damage did it cause?

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Edward Steichen