About Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park may be one of the Manhattan’s more modest green spaces in terms of size, but there’s no denying it’s beauty and important as a centerpiece of the highly sought after Flatiron neighborhood. The New York City-owned 6.2 acre hot spot is home to a number of attractions including rotating art installations, seasonal gardens, the original location of Danny Meyer’s burger joint turned national munchie phenomenon Shake Shack, and a playground frequented by the city’s upper crust families. While Madison Square Park itself is a treasure to behold, it is only made more picturesque by the architectural treasures that frame its edges on each side.
Perhaps the most recognizable of those historic gems is the Flatiron building, located at 175 5th Avenue. Easily distinguishable by its triangular shape, this skyscraper was originally erected by Daniel Burnham in 1902 and remains one of the Big Apple’s most famous buildings. While it’s 22-story height is hardly remarkable by today’s standards, it was considered one of the tallest in its hay day. Even so, it’s unique design and detailed façade have solidified it as a skyline mainstay and an impressive homage to an era when Art Deco design was a sign of wealth and power.
Not far away lies the St. James Building, a historic hotel turned office and retail space that continues to be a top destination for architecture fans or those who with affinities for good coffee table books. Located at 1133 Broadway, the former St. James Hotel, which played host to a number of diplomats, politicians and other elite socialites during the early 1900s, is now home to the famous Rizzoli Bookstore. The 42-story building features a stately brick façade and expansive floor level windows with a large portion of its charm preserved despite undergoing extensive restoration efforts recently.
A quick peek up from Madison Square Park will reveal the time of day, but you won’t have to ponder the sun’s position. The handsome 700-foot marble clock tower at 1 Madison Avenue is still functional even after more than 100 years in use. This iconic clock tower is now home to a highly sought after luxury hotel known as The New York Edition. The nearby Metropolitan Life North Building, which is currently occupied by investment banking giant Credit Suisse, reaches slightly above other skyscrapers in the area at 30-stories tall. However, this is only a fraction of what its original design had intended. When the North Building was concepted in the 1920s by esteemed architects Harvey Wiley Corbett and Dan Everett Waid, its blueprints were drawn to accommodate a 100-story tower. Unfortunately, the demise of the stock market during that decade provided enough cause for reconsideration. Despite its sturdily constructed base, the building at 11-25 Madison was destined to remain at its 451-foot height. This art deco style skyscraper features a grey geometrical façade with different office wings bursting from the base at various heights. It has become a testament to the belief that even high power office buildings can be breathtakingly beautiful.
The eye-catching Gilded Pyramid that juts from a base on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets is another one of the neighborhood’s most prized architectural gems. The New York Life Building, which was originally built in 1928 and designed by Cass Gilbert, remains the headquarters for the insurance company of the same name. Inspired by the Salisbury Cathedral, the Life Building’s rectangular tower and glowing steeple come together in what is considered to be Gilbert’s last great Manhattan skyscraper. To this day The New York Life Building offers its beauty and early English architectural influence to the Madison Square Park area’s diverse array of styles, as well as insurance services to some of the world’s most wealthy individuals.
They Toy Center buildings at 200 Fifth Avenue and 1107 Broadway may be all business nowadays, acting as home base for businesses like Grey Advertising and extravagant retail locations for the likes of Tiffany & Co. and Mario Battali’s European market concept Eataly, but it used to be home to something else entirely. In 1908, Robert Maynicke designed the structure that took over the space at 200 Fifth Avenue. It eventually become the historic Fifth Avenue Building whose namesake is displayed outside in the face of the famous Hecla Iron Works clock, which was designated as a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1981. But why are these two sprawling buildings collectively referred to as the “Toy Complex”? During World War I, the Fifth Avenue Building became an industrial center for the country’s toy industry, following a number of new restrictions that prevented imports of European items. In 1967, the second building on Broadway was acquired, and by World War II many of the toy industry’s major players were calling the twin complex their new home. This legacy continues today, as the International Toy Fair returns every February to take place in the Toy Center Buildings and the West Side’s Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Needless to say, Madison Square Park is at the epicenter of the Flatiron District’s industrial history. The way that current business and transactions are handled has undoubtedly evolved, and while some of the original tenants may have moved on to spots with more shiny, contemporary exteriors, but for the most part, Madison Square Park offers a relatively untouched look into the city’s past. One 360 degree view from Madison Square Park reveals many of the details regarding how the Flatiron District has become one of the country’s most valuable, beautiful and desirable neighborhoods in which to reside.