Sitting in the heart of New York, this hundred-and-twenty-year-old building stands empty today and is ready to be auctioned for the Nth time. The Flatiron building got its name due to its resemblance to the vintage flat iron produced during modernization. This most photographed icon of New York has stood still and strong since 1902 and has witnessed the Great Depression, the New York skyline unfold, World War I, and the transition into the new millennia. 

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The Flatiron Building, a bird eye-view_©

The design of the building takes inspiration from Paris’ Beaux-Arts, mimicking a few of the characteristics of the French Renaissance‘s classical elements slid into a modern-day structure. Being one of the first skyscrapers by the famous George A. Fuller, the “inventor” of modern-day scrapers, it also shunned the traditional load-bearing construction masonry, replacing it with a steel cage structure manufactured by Pennsylvania American Bridge Company, cladded by exterior elements. The building skeleton is infilled with 3500 tonnes of prefabricated stones, limestone, and ornately detailed terracotta produced by the Atlantic Terracotta Company. Unlike other skyscrapers such as the Chrysler, this building does not taper upwards; rather, it tries to emulate the Greek order, with the top and bottom divisions slightly wider and offset-ed. The edgy corner is merely 2 meters wide and takes a sharp turn of 25°. Designing efficient interior layouts for the tenants or the residents who came by became one tough job due to such a triangular master plan. The building services needed proper female washrooms and restrooms. 

This distinctive cake-sliced building paves its way toward two significant streets leading to 5th Avenue and Broadway and the other end, stopping right at the gate of Madison Square. The Flatiron building at this prime location has since attracted people worldwide, renaming the district ‘The Flatiron District.’ Despite being the most historic building in New York, it failed in its functionality miserably and had no luck with its ownership and upkeep. The Flatiron building plot, prior to its construction, has been in the hands of multiple developers and real estate holders till today. It has witnessed being both a shell flooded with humans and a deserted expanse. 

During the 1850s, the St. Germain Hotel occupied the plot and a few other hotels surrounding it. It was the year 1880 when Amos Emo, an American investor and a local capitalist, bought this piece of land along with the Fifth Avenue block to build several hotels and rentals in this rising city. After Amos’ death, son William Emo forged the rights to the land with $69,000. With his inefficiency in affording the estate, he sold it to Samuel and Matt Newhouse in 1900, who planned to build a 12-story residence. However, due to unforeseen reasons, Cumberland Realty Company became the new land owner in March 1901. The CEO of the Fuller Company, who owned this estate business, assigned the task of designing its Headquarters to an American architect, Daniel Burnham, famously known for the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. 

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The plot before the construction of the Flatiron building_©IT’S HISTORY
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The rise of steel-cage construction in Chicago, by George Fuller, the inventor of modern-day skyscrapers in the New York Times_©IT’S HISTORY

Being one of a kind, due to its construction masonry technique at that time, this 22-story building was only constructed after multiple declines and approvals from the Commissioner of Buildings of Manhattan. Emerging amidst low-built complexes, although it attracted many visitors, the locals, and the press did not seem to be mesmerized by it. Some called the building an ‘architectural monstrosity,’ ‘most aquiline,’ or’ the sharpest thing any architect perpetuated’ since they never had an opportunity to have a say in it. (Hsu, 2021) The intent of a breezy street along the adjacent sides of the pointy corner became one serious problem when the storm’s strong wind smashed trees and eventually threw away a boy on a cycle and died after hitting a moving car; hence, the building called for Zoning regulations. The unimpressed locals refused to call it ‘The Fuller Building,’ and in 1985, it was officially renamed ‘The Flatiron Building.’ (Hsu, 2021)

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Streets along the Flatiron building during the snowstorm_©Michele Palazzo

The Fuller Company encountered a significant setback in providing the building’s maintenance cost when the states was about to enter the Great Depression, which is when they sold it to Loius Rosenbaum in 1925. Nevertheless, the new stakeholder faced the same challenge and failed to pay the mortgage. Equitable Life Insurance Company sued them and ended up buying the Flatiron building in 1941 for $100,000. The building replaced its water-pressure-driven elevator with an electronic one and reconstructed the partitions. Finally, the shell was seen fully occupied with rental offices and commercial and retail shops. 

Only a short time after, in 1945, the building went to a group of investors, GFP, headed by Max Silverstein and was managed by Hemsley Spear. After its major renovation, yet again, in 1980, two big publishing companies were the only remaining occupants: ST. Martin Press and Springer. As we entered the new millennia, the prices skyrocketed, and this time, a good amount of shares were purchased by a Rome-based Sorgente Group in 2006 with the intention of turning it into a hotel, which was led by the Mainetti Family at the rate of $900 per sq. ft, who later also bought the Chrysler Building. MacMillan, with a lease till 2018, fortunately, shifted to Broadway, paving the way for the Sorgente and the other stakeholders. 

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Jacob Garlick bidding for the Flatiron building_©Andria Cheng
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Auction 2023 for the Flatiron Building_©Andria Cheng
Current infrastructure of the building_©Bloomberg

The juggling of ownership seemed to end here, but Nathan Royce, holding 25% of the shares among the five stakeholders, refused to agree to this resolution. By June 2021, due to a lack of modern-day infrastructure, the building reached its peak vacancy. This disagreement led to a years-long dispute, with multiple lawsuits filed by majority owners (Sorgente Group, ABS Partner, GFP Real Estate, Newmark Group) and Silverstein Group against each other. In March 2023, the Supreme Court ordered the owners to put the iconic ‘Flatiron Building’ on public auction. The popularity of this elitist’ dispute made the auction telecast live across the continent. Jacob Garlick, a suited man with no prior track record in the press, won the auction when he bid the highest amount of $190,000 but failed to pay the down payment. In May 2023, the building was handed down to the coalition of Syndicates and previous owners for $161,000 during the second auction. They agreed to provide the Flatiron building as a residence for the refugees from Mexico; however, that plan did not go through. The future of this historic building, which was built a hundred-and-twenty-two years ago, still remains ambiguous, with its fluctuating ownership, outdated infrastructure, and floundering interior layouts able to attract only visitors and not occupants. 


Beldon, C. (2023) The shocking story of new york’s Strangest Tower, The B1M. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2023)

Enking, M. (2023) New York City’s iconic Flatiron Building sells for $190 million at auction, Available at:,has%20been%20standing%20mostly%20empty.&text=The%20Flatiron%20Building%20has%20gone,sold%20for%20%24100%2C000%20in%201933 (Accessed: 16 November 2023). 

Hsu, L. (2021) One Hundred Years of zoning in New York City: Procedural justice issues in the New Century, Yale Law School. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2023). 

Why New York’s Flatiron Building is Empty (2023). IT’S HISTORY. 10 August. Available at: (Accessed: 17 November 2023). 

The Curious Case of the Flatiron Building (2023). The Real Deal. 29 March. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2023). 


Vedanshi Sarda is a recent graduate in the field of interior architecture from CEPT University. Along with being a designer, she is also a professional classical dancer. As an individual with deep spiritual inclination, her interests are directed towards exploring phenomenological facets of art, crafts and culture as space making tools. She eagerly looks forward to sharing some engaging narratives.