Critics hated it. The public feared it would topple over. Passersby were knocked down by the winds. But even before it was completed, the Flatiron Building had become an unforgettable part of New York City.
The Flatiron Building was built by the Chicago-based Fuller Company--a group founded by George Fuller, "the father of the skyscraper"--to be their New York headquarters. The company's president, Harry Black, was never able to make the public call the Flatiron the Fuller Building, however. Black's was the country's largest real estate firm, constructing Macy's department store, and soon after the Plaza Hotel, the Savoy Hotel, and many other iconic buildings in New York as well as in other cities across the country. With an ostentatious lifestyle that drew constant media scrutiny, Black made a fortune only to meet a tragic, untimely end.
In The Flatiron, Alice Sparberg Alexiou chronicles not just the story of the building but the heady times in New York at the dawn of the twentieth century. It was a time when Madison Square Park shifted from a promenade for rich women to one for gay prostitutes; when photography became an art; motion pictures came into existence; the booming economy suffered increasing depressions; jazz came to the forefront of popular music--and all within steps of one of the city's best-known and best-loved buildings.
ALICE SPARBERG ALEXIOU is the author of Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary. She has been an editor of Lilith magazine and written for The New York Times and Newsday, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has a Ph.D. in classics from Fordham University. She lives in New York.
Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd: "Devil's Mile is a terrific read. Alice Sparberg Alexiou knows her history, and she brings it all brimming to life here in the story of the Bowery, the most notorious street in America."
A fascinating cultural history of New York City's Bowery, from the author of The Flatiron.
The Bowery was a synonym for despair throughout most of the 20th century. The very name evoked visuals of drunken bums passed out on the sidewalk, and New Yorkers nicknamed it “Satan’s Highway,” “The Mile of Hell,” and “The Street of Forgotten Men.” For years the little businesses along the Bowery—stationers, dry goods sellers, jewelers, hatters—periodically asked the city to change the street’s name. To have a Bowery address, they claimed, was hurting them; people did not want to venture there.
But when New York exploded into real estate frenzy in the 1990s, developers discovered the Bowery. They rushed in and began tearing down. Today, Whole Foods, hipster night spots, and expensive lofts have replaced the old flophouses and dive bars, and the bad old Bowery no longer exists.
In Devil’s Mile, Alice Sparberg Alexiou tells the story of The Bowery, starting with its origins, when forests covered the surrounding area, and through the pre-Civil War years, when country estates of wealthy New Yorkers lined this thoroughfare. She then describes The Bowery’s deterioration in stunning detail, starting in the post-bellum years. She ends her historical exploration of this famed street in the present, bearing witness as the old Bowery buildings, and the memories associated with them, are disappearing.