from Brown Book of Boston
The Windiest Corner in the World
by Ellis Parker Butler
If you are walking up Broadway in New York on a breezy day and see a respectable old lady a few feet ahead of you suddenly throw down an armful of packages, slap at her uplifting skirts with one hand and grasp for her hat with the other, you may know you are near the "Flat Iron" building. If the respectable old lady whirls around rapidly six or more times, apparently casts her hat exuberantly into the air, and then eagerly grasps an equally respectable old gentleman about the waist, you may know you are very near the "Flat Iron" building. But if, while you are smiling at the respectable old lady, your trousers begin slapping your legs like a wet sail, and your coattails fly up and wrap around your head and your hat dashes off and you reluctantly, but surely, stagger into the gutter and are blown across the street, you may be quite sure you are at the "Flat Iron" building.
The Fuller Building secured the name of "Flat Iron" from the peculiar shape of the plot on which it stands, which has been likened to a stingy piece of pie. It is really a right-angled triangle, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Twenty-Second Street. The sharp point rests on Twenty-Third Street and is the only thing that can rest there on a breezy day. There is a story that a man dropped a pumpkin at Twenty-Third Street one day and that it split on the nose of the building and one half of the pumpkin went sailing down Broadway to the Battery, while the other half rolled down Fifth Avenue, but I do not believe this. I do not believe any sane man would try to carry a pumpkin past the "Flat Iron" building in a breeze.
The base of the triangle on which the building stands is about one hundred feet, and each of the sides is about two hundred feet, but if you are sailing with the wind you can pass either side in about four jumps. If you are sailing against the wind, the best way to pass the building is to go around some other way.
Just why this corner should show such remarkable eccentricity of windiness has never been fully decided. Some think that the building, which is three hundred and four feet high, scrapes the wind off the sky and spills it in the street in long curly breezes. Others point to the fact that the building, towering above all nearby structures, is the only obstruction to the breeze that sweeps unimpeded from North River to East River. This, in connection with the open space afforded by Madison Square, forms an eddy, or windwhirl.
You may have noticed, on a Winter's day how the drifting snow curls down over the top of a fence and forms little eddies in the street. The "Flat Iron" building presents to East and West winds, a flat surface like an enormous fence, three hundred by two hundred feet in size, and the winds sweep over the top and down into the street where they meet other winds coming up or down Broadway and still others coming up or down Fifth Avenue, and all these winds join hands and romp and gambol in the street, and do things that no nice gentlemanly wind would do.
On the opposite side of Broadway is a row of smaller buildings and the plate glass window of one of these shops seems to have been particularly singled out by the untamed wind; it has been crushed in a number of times, and the owner of the shop has brought suit to recover damages. Why the wind should have a spite against that particular shop no one can tell, but to have one's plate glass continually falling in or out is quite a blow. But it is rather difficult to see how owners of the "Flat Iron" building can stop the wind, for wind is noted for blowing "where it listeth," and it listeth to blow in the windows of that shop. Some one has suggested that balconies built at each story of the building would serve to break the force of the wind as it sweeps down into the street.
The land on which the "Flat Iron" building stands was valued at over $800,000, and including the building, the little plot cost the owners $4,000,000. There are twenty stories and 456 offices above the fourth floor. Six large elevators carry the passengers, two running express -- that is, not stopping below the tenth floor -- and four stopping at everyway station and water tank on the way up. The cigar store occupying the nose of the building on the street floor is said to cost the tenants $25,000 yearly rental.
The breeze phenomenon is, however, the most interesting to an outsider. Any one passing on a brisk day does not need to read the fashion magazines to learn that black hosiery is still in vogue, and lest too great an interest in fashions should be created the police have orders to allow no one to stand on the corner longer than two minutes.
The oddest feature of the breeze is that there are zones of calm out of which the unsuspecting victim steps into the midst of the whirl. Of course the breeze cannot be seen, but it is there, and it is wonderful to note the surprise of those who for the first time encounter the Flat Iron Wind.
I saw a trim little widow walking along Broadway the other day in the lee of the "Flat Iron," her long crepe veil swaying gently at her back. Suddenly the veil arose and after a few gyrations stiffened out straight south by southwest. The widow leaned back against the wind. The veil wanted to cross the street but the widow wanted to stay where she was. The veil was willing to compromise and let the widow remain provided her bonnet would go, but the bonnet held fast to its moorings. So the widow crossed Broadway. She started slowly, then walked more rapidly, and then broke into a run. I thought she was going on through one of the remaining plate glass windows on the opposite side, but she did not.
As she reached the curb her veil wrapped itself twice around the neck of a cab horse. Any other cab horse would have run away, but cab horses that stand near the "Flat Iron" get used to that sort of thing. Many of them get quite flat on one side from having people blown against them. When they get too flat on one side the cabbies turn them around.