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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 14, 2010
Alice Alexiou writes, not only a history of specifically the Flatiron building in New York, but New York's growth in the early 20th century and of the families responsible for building many of the iconic New York landmarks. Her prologue tells of her personal connection to the building. Her grandfather had a part investing in it, purchasing it after WWII for about half of what it cost to build it.
Her writing manner is interesting to read, it captures the growth and spirit of the city, its' slumps, its' businesses and the structure of the buildings themselves.

The building boom of Chicago's influence on New York and the history of the architects, engineers and moguls who invested and built these new skyscrapers is well done. Many stories are included that give the spirit of the times, such as the situation of renting chairs in parks to avoid unacceptable companions and the resulting protests that followed. The lives of the builders and their families are examined, especially that of Harry Black. The good and bad of the unions are included, as are the amazing mechanics of these huge structures of the early 1900's. Construction details are given - riveters tossing hot rivets like baseballs. Fire safety and building codes were a prime concern of New Yorkers and they are covered as are the effects of wind, especially on and created by a freestanding triangular structure such as the Flatiron.
The epilogue gives a much appreciated summing up of most of the people mentioned in the book, even including the wind which is not as strong as in years before because of taller buildings being built nearby.

This is a book that would be of interest to anyone who loves the city of New York, American history or architecture.
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VINE VOICEon December 29, 2011
Even to this day, people look at the Flatiron Building and marvel that it could be and was built. It is a triangular building on a small parcel of land that at one time was a major intersection in the City of New York. It is iconic for a number of was the first true modern skyscraper, it awed people that it didn't blow over due to the very weird shape and size and it was, at one time, in a very prestigious New York neighborhood.

This book covers the story of not just the building, but also of how the building came to be and the men that were at work running the commercial real estate business in New York and other major cities across the country.

At the time of the design and building of the Flatiron, much was at work in New York. George Fuller, the man behind the building had built what was the largest commercial construction management company in the city at that time and was involved in numerous projects to put buildings up. He erected the Flatiron to be the flagship building of his company and to become the headquarters of his company. Construction management was a tad different then. The construction management company did everything from procure a piece of land to hire an architect and then build the finished building. They were hired by companies to erect flagship properties and were given wide latitude.

Along the way, Fuller amassed a fortune and a large holding of land. He and several others created the first real estate trust which ended up imploding a number of years later.

All of the players are interesting and this looks at a side of New York elite that are rarely thought of. It also details some of the construction techniques and how building codes were changed to allow these massive buildings to come into reality.

There was one significant flaw in the book that I had a hard time overlooking, although it is not a huge issue. It is obvious that the author does not understand steel construction or the engineering that went into these buildings. I suspect she obtained her reference materials that were not totally accurate and just wrote what had been written previously. An example is when describing the Great Chicago fire, which rattled many builders and building officials. She mentions that the cast iron fronts of the buildings melted and then collapsed. They didn't melt....they elongated from the heat and became deformed leading to collapse which is a totally different scenario. In addition, she kept referring, throughout the book, to the fire proof nature of the building. Anyone involved in fire protection will tell you there in no fire proof building....just fire resistant ones.

Overall, a very interesting book and one that is well worth the read if you enjoy history, engineering of are fascinated by how things came to be. Just overlook the author's problems in dealing with engineering issues.
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on August 22, 2015
Although I was looking forward to reading this book as it was recommended by the Bowery Boys podcast, I was disappointed that the text did not live up to its title: The Flatiron: the New York Landmark and the Incomparable City that Arose with It. In truth, this book should have been titled Harry Black - The Man Who Built the Flatiron Building and His Story because this was really what the book turned out to be. And there's nothing wrong with that. Harry Black had an interesting story and is a man largely forgotten today despite all of his achievements. However, I was expecting more focus on the building, its history, residents, events, etc., hinted at in the introduction. There was a great deal of information about the design and construction of the building as well as it's earliest years which was satisfying. But once the building was completed, it was rarely only tangentially linked to the story that followed Harry Black beyond the building of the Flatiron. Even he lost interest in the building, always more focused on bigger, better, newer, and higher. Sadly, NOT the definitive work about the famous Flatiron building.
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on August 21, 2010
This is a very enjoyable book. I walk past the Flatiron building almost every day, now with new appreciation for its place in architectural history and in New York City architecture. I learned about skyscraper construction and the materials and inventions that made it possible. All of this comes to life in the description of the building going up amidst the chatter of skepticism and wonder. The human side of the story, including details of the building's tenants, is fascinating and makes the book a bit of a page-turner. Illustrations are small and in black-and-white; the Kindle edition should be fine.
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on November 5, 2014
Very entertaining and easy to read book about this landmark building. As a fan of New York, and a Real Estate developer myself, this book is one I couldn't let go. Very recommended for the Architceture or history buff.
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VINE VOICEon July 3, 2011
I remember the first time I ever saw a picture of the Flatiron Building. I had just moved to New York City, saw a picture of it at a print shop in SoHo and was absolutely mesmerized by it. I did two things: went off looking for it and sent a postcard of the building to a friend. My friend shortly thereafter asked me whether that building was real. Yes, I could reply at that time, I had seen it myself.

That I remember this so well after 20 years says much about the impact that the building has. It is truly a landmark. And in this book, FLATIRON, author Alice Sparberg Alexiou provides an extraordinarily entertaining history not only of the building itself, but the larger-than-life personalities behind it as well as the city of New York during a significant growth spurt. The result is a very worthwhile book.

The Flatiron Building is, to a large extent, the story of two men. George Fuller was that type of visionary who needed to change the times because he was so far ahead of them. As New York City had strict regulations about building materials that had the effect of limiting a building's height, he took his business to Chicago and gave birth to that uniquely American creation - the skyscraper. Designed for commerce so that investors got the most use for their land space and also because tenants could conduct more business within a geographically small area, the skyscraper had its origins in the free market. Not surprisingly, it had its critics on such ground, as well.

Fuller's son-in-law, Harry Black, may not have known anything about real estate or construction when he married into the family, but he learned very fast and very well, taking the business into heights equal to those of the skyscrapers being built. When it came time to open a New York office for the Chicago company, Black picked a scrap of land so oddly shaped and poorly situated that others may have questioned his judgment. But that space came to be the sight of the now-famous landmark. Originally to be called the Fuller Building, that name never took hold with the public and eventually, giving it to the popular usage, it was officially renamed the Flatiron Building.

Alexiou gives not only good biographies of these men but also others in their lives, so that we, the readers, fell like we are reading the gossip columns from a century ago. Yes, the rich are different than you and me, as we see here quite deliciously.

And New York City of yesteryear also plays a starring role in this book. From the jazz musicians to the common man, the city and its people come alive. Particularly amusing, in this reviewer's opinion, is the case of Spate's Comfort Chair. Some moronic Englishman thought that the elitist and classist ways of his country would work just dandy over here. He thought wrong, which he learned the hard way.

FLATIRON ends sadly, however, at the beginning of the Great Depression, when many of the truly great men found themselves wiped out, psychologically as well as financially. Personalities so larger than life do not adapt well to such extreme downturns in circumstances. It is, nonetheless, a proper ending to such a good book. The Flatiron Building lives on, much larger than any individual responsible for its creation, and continues to draw crowds today as much as when it opened its doors. This is a great read about that great building.
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on August 22, 2010
In this book, the Flatiron Building itself plays only one of many interesting and under-appreciated characters. As a recent migrant to Chicago, the book provided some fascinating history of the post-Chicago Fire rebuild, and how Chicago architecture ended up being the starting point for the future New York skyscraper boom. What I loved most of all though was the story that follows all those involved with the Flatiron, all the way through their lives from beginning to end. The author creates a wonderful connection with the characters and I found myself getting very teary-eyed at the end.

A thoroughly enjoyable book with some great history lessons. Would recommend for anyone interested in Chicago or New York history, and especially if you have a love for the Flatiron Building.
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It is a little difficult to categorize this book because it accomplishes so much. It is part urban history, a portrait of a great city, a chronicle/personal history of its owners and builders, and an early history of 20th skyscrapers with this specific building as its focal point.
The Flatiron was designed and constructed on an odd parcel of land in a then desirable Manhattan location at the dawn of the 20th century. The author breaks down the building's design and construction in detail and tells the story of the real estate moguls, architects, builders, politicians, and artisans who saw the building come to fruition. The book also examines the buildings twisted history that saw it through world wars, a great economic depression, an odd ownership pact, the changing fortunes of a neighborhood, historic preservation, and eventual restoration and modernization.
The Flatiron works on a lot of levels because it manages to do what most good stories about inanimate objects should; it makes the Flatiron come alive through its rich history and the interesting people that inhabited its halls. Alice Sparberg Alexiou has gone as far as one might in turning up everyhing that is currently available pertaining to her subject and has created a book that is interesting and rich with revelations.
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on December 1, 2012
It is a perfect book to someone that loves this building, all the information you may want to know about it, it is in there. I would like to have some more pictures though.
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on August 30, 2015
Great book about not only the history of The Flatiron building but Chicago architecture & the men behind the building of great iconic buildings.
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