Interview #3

7 Aug

Interview #3

I conducted my third interview in the Flatiron District one weekend when I was strolling through the area. Lately, I have been hearing more and more horror stories of what New York City was like in the 60s and 70s, I regards to crime in particular. I was curious to talk to someone who might have an inside opinion to the evolution of crime I the city, in particular in the Flatiron District. My results of my efforts to talk to a policeman and get some information were not as fruitful as I had hoped, but here’s what I learned.

I approached an officer who was monitoring the area around the North side of the Flatiron building and the south end of Madison Square Park. He wouldn’t let me use his real name in this report, so let’s just call him Officer Smith. I asked Officer Smith how long he had been a cop and he said for about 10 years. I asked him how long he had been working in the area, and he said about 2 years. I tried to ask him about the evolution of crime in the area, and he said he didn’t know much about it, but that everything got a lot better when Mayor Bloomberg came along. This was about as much I got out of him!


Interview #2

7 Aug

Interview #2

I conducted my second interview when I went to the Flatiron District one day to go shopping. I ventured into Ann Taylor Loft on 5th Ave, between 20th and 21st streets, right in the heart of the area. It wasn’t too busy in the store, so I decided to approach a girl who worked there and ask her a few questions about working in the area.

The girl I talked to was named Nicole and she doesn’t live in the Flatiron District, she lives in Greenwich Village, but she has worked Ann Taylor Loft for the past two years. I asked her about her observations about the stores and in the area and she had some interesting opinions. She told me that the stores in the area are mostly chains and that it is hard to find good service at many of them. She said at H&M for example, they don’t seem to hire anyone over the age of thirty. She said one good thing about Ann Taylor Loft is that they provide good customer service.

When I think about this in comparison to the fact that the area used to be home to the Ladies Mile, its very interesting to consider how American shopping has changed. Many of the stores on the Ladies Mile were boutiques that no doubt prided themselves on customer service. Today, it’s hard tofind such a thing on 5th avenue in popular stores like H&M.

I also asked Nicole if she ever came to the area to go out with her friends. She said she has come a few times, but that many of the bars and restaurants are very expensive. She mentioned that she had been to a club called Duvet and a bar called Taj II.

After talking to Nicole, I felt I had a better understanding about stores in the area. It was definitely interesting to talk to a young person who spends a great deal of time I the Flatiron District.

Key Findings

7 Aug

 “Key Findings”

From my research about the Flatiron District, my interactions with the people in the area, and my own observations, I have made several conclusions about the neighborhood. The district has evolved over time, and is in a completely different place now than it was when it began to gain attention during the Gilded Age. It is my belief that the type of people who populate it everyday, has changed the most in the past 150 years. I learned this through researching the area, but after my interactions with a family who lives in the area, a police officer, and a person who works in the area, it became clear that this is the most dramatic change the neighborhood has seen.

During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the neighborhood was home to “The Ladies Mile” and was full of wealthy women who had the time and money to spend on expensive clothes and other shopping. This phase, however, would not last forever. During the Great Depression and continuing on into the 1950s, the area was largely deserted and crime was prevalent. The area started regaining life in the 1960s when artists started to move into the area because of the low rent prices, but crime still greatly affected the quality of life in the district. From there, the Flatiron District evolved into where it is today, a trendy area full of restaurants and happening bars and clubs. When you walk the streets surrounding the Flatiron building today, you will notice that the area is populated primarily by families and young couples, though there are also many tourists who visit the area to see the Flatiron building and explore Madison Square Park.

All of these different phases of the Flatiron Districts history have involved it being inhabited by different kinds of people. From wealthy women, to artists, to a restaurant district full of hip young people, the Flatiron District has a truly diverse history.

Through this project, I also learned a lot about the study of people and what my responsibilities are as an ethnographer to the people and to the area. Even though an area is obviously inanimate, you cannot forget the thoughts and feelings of people who live there. They have a history as well as the buildings and landscape of the place, and personally, I’ve found this is much more telling about the history of an area. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the ethnographer to treat the people who live in the area that they’re studying with respect.

There is a balance that comes with this sensitivity though. As an ethnographer, you also have a responsibility to not let your emotions for the people in the area you are studying get in the way of documenting the facts. It is a study, and you have to call things as you see them. If you fail to do so, you are not doing your part as an ethnographer.

In some ways ethnography is objective, and in some ways it is subjective. The history, such as the hard facts about population, is objective. When you consider the type of people who live in the area and categorize them, you are being subjective. Even though it is subjective, it is essential to an ethnographic study and being able to make generalizations about an area. This is how knowledge is created. The authors and writers whose books and articles I have read about the area made their own conclusions about the area and the people. For example, they observed in the 1960s that artists were moving into the area. Then, they wrote about it and it became fact. Since ethnographers have the power to create this knowledge and influence future scholars, it is their responsibility to keep the facts straight.

Overall, my study of the Flatiron District has led me to look critically at an area and see how it has evolved over time. I have truly fallen in love with the architecture and atmosphere of the Flatiron District and believe I have presented my findings about it accurately.

Interview #1

5 Aug

July 23– Interview #1

On the afternoon of July 23rd, I ventured to the Flatiron District to begin my first official set of notes and observations on the area. Even though I had walked around the area before, I noticed certain things when I observed more closely than when I had visited before.

I took some time and walked around Madison Square Park. This was a great way to observe the locals. There appeared to be some tourists there, but the beauty of the park is that it has a neighborhood feel that is hard to find elsewhere in the city.

A view of Madison Square Park

I decided to approach a young family who was in the park with their kids. The mother was sitting on a bench with their baby in a stroller, while the father was walking around and exploring with their three-year-old son. The mother, Jen, told me that she and her husband actually lived in Gramercy, but that they sometimes venture over to the Flatiron District with their kids on the weekends.

The section of Madison Square Park where I conducted my first interview

When I asked her about her opinion on the area and how its changed over the past few years, she said she had only lived in the area for about 8 years, but that it has become very popular with young people at night and that there are lots of good restaurants in the area. She told me she has some friends who live here and often complain about the noise at night. I asked her how she thought the Flatiron compared to Gramercy, and she said that she finds Gramercy to be slightly calmer, but that they also have the privilege of living higher up in a building away from street level.

Finally, I asked Jen if she had a favorite restaurant in the area. She said she really enjoyed going to Boqueria on 19th street. She said it was a little expensive, but that the food is awesome and the atmosphere is really fun. She said it has a Spanish vibe!

The Restaurant "Boqueria" on 19th St.

After I finished my interview with Jen, I walked around the park some more and continued to notice the many young families milling around. I also noticed that by the Shake Shack, there seemed to be lots of groups of friends hanging out and having a good time. Also, on the street I noticed couple after couple holding hands and shopping. All and all, Madison Square Park and the Flatiron District in general have a neighborhood feel that I find very inviting.

An "uptown" view of the Flatiron District

My Personal Tour Guide for the Flatiron District

4 Aug

Here’s the link to my tour guide for the Flatiron District!

My Favorite Visit of the Program!

24 Jul

Our class’ visit to William Ivey Long Costumes was by far my favorite visit our class has done thus far in all of our excursions for Elon in NY. I greatly enjoyed the people we met there, especially William and Donny. I also enjoyed looking at the beautiful sketches.

I was extremely impressed by the costumes that they make and the intricacy and creativity with which they are done. It was truly an art form, and as student of the arts, I really enjoyed having the privilege of being able to be up close and personal with the costumes. My favorite things we saw were the “Beautiful Girls Wearing Nothing but Pearls” costumes from The Producers, and the outfit Edna from Hairspray wears in “Welcome to the 60s!” I thought the beaded hat from “Pearls” was especially beautiful! I got a big kick out of it when our professor, Bill, put it on!

I also enjoyed learning about how to take care of delicate clothes from people who really know what they’re talking about. When you really think about how much wear those clothes get being worn in eight shows a week for many months at a time, it’s no wonder they require special care. The vodka-water-fabric softener mixture is something I want to try sometime!

I was also very interested to look into The Lost Colony after hearing them talk so much about it. I looked it up online and found some information on this site…  The show features the story of the 117 men and women whose fate still remains unknown.

The costumes that William designed were again, just beautiful. I definitely want to be able to see the performance at some point.

I think the most profound thing I realized from this visit was the impact of the costumes on a Broadway performance. Whenever I see a show from now on, I will be paying more attention than ever to the costumes the actors are wearing for sure!

Part III of Ethnographic Study: The Flatiron District

17 Jul

Don stood outside The Old Town Bar and looked out into the bustling streets of the neighborhood he called home. His restaurant had not changed since as long as he had been working there since he was a little boy, but the world outside seemed to me moving at lightning speed.


The Old Town Bar was a constant in Don’s life; it was the one thing that never changed. His grandfather had opened the restaurant in 1982, and Don remembered how vividly his grandfather, Peter, used to describe the area and how it had changed over time. After immigrating to America from Germany, The Old Town Bar was the first thing that Peter was proud to call his own in this country. He had worked hard to open the restaurant, and would do anything to make sure it prospered. He had also been in the area long enough to make some observations about the people and how it was changing over time. He would often recount the stories to his grandson, Don while working.

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When the Old Town Bar opened, the area was best known for being a shopping destination for well to do women, called the Ladies Mile. It was commonplace to see women walking down the street shopping in the highest fashions of the day with their friends. They wore bustling dresses and enormous hats that took up the sidewalk.

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It was also the shopping destination of some of the most well known women in America such as Mrs. Grant, the president’s wife. Business flourished and department stores and boutiques were very successful. This also provided good business for the Old Town Bar and its business was thriving as well.

In 1902, another main attraction came to the area.  Don remembered how his grandfather would describe the frenzy that surrounded the construction of the Fuller Building. It was a masterpiece. It was of the beaux-arts style and represented modern architecture during its time. The beautiful concrete details were elegant and reflected the influence of Italian and French architecture, bringing an unmistakable air of sophistication to the area.

Photo taken by Katy DeHoff

Peter would tell Don all about how there was speculation that the building wouldn’t be able to stand. People though that its odd shape would cause it to fall. The building, however proved it was made to last, and it drew even more people to the area.

By the 1910’s, with the recent construction of the Fuller Building, or the Flatiron Building as it was coming to be known, the neighborhood was getting more traffic and attention than ever. Women were shopping even more if that was possible, photographers were snapping pictures of the Flatiron, and more people were venturing into the area than Don’s grandfather had ever seen. The building had made the area the center of the city it felt like. Luckily this was good for business and The Old Town Bar continued to do well.

During the time of prohibition, The Old Town Bar operated as a speakeasy under the name Tammany Hall. The 1920s were an exciting time for Peter and he felt a sense of adrenaline every time he served a drink illegally.

It was around this time that Peter married Don’s grandmother. Soon after, they had a son, who they named David. David grew up in the Old Town bar and came to love it as much as his father. When he was old enough, he officially joined as a partner with him in the business. Unfortunately, however, the 1930s were approaching, which led to the decline of the Flatiron District as a popular neighborhood. With every passing week, more and more business was moving uptown. Stores that used to be filled with women shopping everyday were being abandoned. The district was experiencing a steady decline in population, business and activity.

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As many restaurateurs and shopkeepers closed up, Peter and David were determined to keep the restaurant they loved alive. This meant dealing with slow business and making a lot of cutbacks. In their mind it was worth it though. By the early 1950s, David was starting to think about starting a family of his own. He married in the Spring of 1951 and he and his wife continued to help in the family business. In the Fall of 1953, they were blessed with a son, who they named Donald. The boy grew up just like his father, learning the family business and with a love for the stories about the Old Town Bar and the area. Even though the world outside was changing, the old mahogany bar, which had always been there, had a timelessness about it that gave him comfort. Even the big urinals gave him comfort in that they had never changed.

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When Don’s grandfather died in 1960, and his father a years later in 1968, Don felt more responsibility than ever to keep the Old Town Bar alive. He considered it their legacy. The customers, of whom the majority were regulars during the hard times they were in, gave him comfort and reminded him everyday the allegiance he had to his father and grandfather. He resolved to keep as much of the original furniture as he could a part of the restaurant. Everything was sacred.

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By the age of 20, Don had been living in the area long enough to start making his own observations about the Flatiron District. In the 1960s the area was beginning to be populated mostly by artists who were lured to the area by the low rent prices. The area was not safe, however. Crime was prevalent and it was not safe to walk around at night alone. This era also brought a lot of interesting people into The Old Town Bar. Don learned a lot about the troubles of life and of being an artist from his customers. He watched people struggle with drug addiction and even experienced the loss of the friends he made to drugs.

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As the years went by, the Flatiron District became more and more popular, which greatly excited Don. The neighborhood was getting a resurgence of life, mainly due to the new restaurants, bars, and clubs, which were popping up all over the district. The Old Town Bar, which had experienced a great deal of hardship, was back in full swing by 1985.

It was also exciting for Don to witness the area in which his family had always lived be declared a historic district officially in 1989.

At this point, Don was able to start a family of his own too; it felt good to begin to educate his own son about the family business and to share it with the people he loved. He hoped that one day, his son Jack, would be able to carry on the family business. The constant rotation of Wall Street Traders, college kids, and Irish immigrants who visited the bar kept the business interesting and made it something he would always enjoy doing.

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The Flatiron District had been through a lot, and Don would always feel a personal connection and tie to the area. He could never imagine living anywhere else in the world.