From Farmland to High Rises A Look at Manhattan's Flatiron District

Taking its name from one of the most photographed buildings in New York City, the Flatiron district is named for the iconic Flatiron building, which sits on the wedge-shaped intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. In the last two decades or so, the neighborhood has turned itself inside out. Once a renowned center of commerce and fashion, the area is thriving again—but in a new way.

The Flatiron district’s nebulous boundaries include the historical landmark districts of Madison Square Park and Ladies’ Mile, roughly between 7th Avenue and Park Avenue from 14th to 30th Streets.

Flatiron History

In the early 19th century, what is now known as the Flatiron district was mostly open farmland, owned by farmers Isaac Varian, Casper Samler, and John Horn. Nearby, the Madison Cottage—a popular tavern and roadhouse at the time, earned the New York Herald’s description as “One of the most agreeable spots for an afternoon lounge in the suburbs of the city.”

The area might have stayed pasture and field for a few more years, had it not been for the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, which divided the city into its now famous rectangular grid of streets from 14th Street on up.

The plan included Broadway, which ran in a conspicuous diagonal across the grid, causing odd triangular lots where the thoroughfare cut across the street grid. These irregular bits were made into parks, and have come to be known as Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square and Madison Square. The famous Flatiron building itself sits on a projection of land between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and looks out over Madison Square Park. Originally set aside as the ‘Grand Parade,” which was to be used for markets and parks, the area at Fifth and Broadway was reduced in size over time, and named for the then President of the United States, James Madison.


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