The designation “Flatiron District” dates from around 1985, and came about because of its increasingly residential character, and the influx of many restaurants into the area – real estate agents needed an appealing name to call the area in their ads. Before that, the area was primarily commercial, with numerous small clothing and toy manufacturers, and was sometimes called the Toy District. The Toy Center buildings at 23rd Street and Broadway date from this period, and the annual American International Toy Fair took place there beginning in 1903, except for 1945. When much of this business moved outside the U.S., the area began to be referred to as the Photo District because of the large number of photographers’ studios and associated businesses located there, the photographers having come because of the relatively cheap rents.
As of the 2000s, many publishers have their offices in the district, as well as advertising agencies, and the number of computer- and Web-related start-up companies in the area caused it to be considered part of “Silicon Alley” or “Multimedia Gulch”, along with TriBeCa and SoHo
The Flatiron District is located in the part of Manhattan where the bedrock Manhattan schist is located deeper underground than it is above 29th Streetand below Canal Street, and as a result, and under the influence of zoning laws, the tallest buildings in the area used to top out at around 20 stories; older buildings of 3-6 floors are still numerous, especially on the side streets.
Notable buildings in the district include the Flatiron Building, one of the oldest of the original New York skyscrapers, and just to east at 1 Madison Avenue is the Met Life Tower, built in 1909 and the tallest building in the world until 1913, when the Woolworth Building was completed. It is now occupied by Credit Suisse since MetLife moved their headquarters to the Pan Am Building. The 700-foot (210 m) marble clock tower of this building dominates Madison Square and the park there.
Nearby, on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, on the site of the old Madison Square Garden, is the New York Life Building, built in 1928 and designed by Cass Gilbert, with a square tower topped by a striking gilded pyramid. Also of note is the statuary adorning the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court on Madison Avenue at 25th Street.
Completed in 2010, One Madison Park, a 50-story luxury condominium tower, sits at 22 East 23rd Street, at the foot of Madison Avenue, across from Madison Square Park. It is nearly as tall as the Met Life Tower (617.5 feet (188.2 m), compared to 700 feet (210 m) for the Tower), and taller than the Flatiron Building. The asking price for the triplex penthouse was US$45 million.
Another landmark is the 1909 sidewalk clock outside 200 Fifth Avenue
Attractions in the area include the Museum of Sex and the Gershwin Hotel, both located on 27th Street. The Gershwin is a tribute to the late pop artist Andy Warhol, and features some of his art and memorabilia throughout the hotel.
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