Though Madison Square’s skyline might not be as tall and imposing as those of Midtown and Downtown New York, the buildings here are equal parts historic and architecturally timeless. From 212 Fifth Avenue, you can spy countless architectural gems.
At 175 5th Avenue stands one of NYC’s most idiosyncratic buildings. It’s easy enough to see how the Flatiron Building got its moniker; the triangular skyscraper was built by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham in 1902, and has remained a unique fixture of Manhattan’s skyline ever since. At 22 floors high, in its day the Flatiron was one of NYC’s tallest structures, and while it has since been dwarfed by others elsewhere in the city, it remains an architectural giant that looms above Madison Square in more ways than one.
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
While the Flatiron Building was inspired by a classical Greek column, its neighboring skyscraper, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (or MetLife Tower for short), took after the St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice with its marble clock tower jutting 700 feet into the sky. Arriving on the scene in 1911 and designed by the firm of Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, this masterpiece goes to show just how striking an office building can be. More than 100 years after its construction, the MetLife Tower is still occupied by a company (Credit Suisse), while the four-faced clock tower houses a luxury hotel.
New York Life Building
Cass Gilbert was not an architect of subtlety, and in 1926 he gave the Madison Square skyline a new, bold statement―the gilded Gothic pyramid of the New York Life Building. There was no scrimping on the gold, either: 25,000 gold-leaf tiles were used to create this architectural treasure. At 615 feet tall, the New York Life Building is easily seen from all around, including, of course, from 212 Fifth Avenue. The New York Life Insurance Company obviously likes its famous home; almost 90 years after its headquarters was built, the company is still based here.
Appellate Division Courthouse of New York State
Study the frontage of this grandiloquent piece of Madison Square architecture, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to the grounds of a stately home in England. Indeed, this is the effect for which James Brown Lord was aiming when he designed this limestone Beaux-Arts courthouse, which is replete with allegorical sculptures (among them Wisdom, Force, and Justice) crafted by six members of the National Sculpture Society. Despite such extravagances, the most amazing thing about the courthouse may be that its construction somehow managed to come in under budget!
It’s not all about the buildings in Madison Square. Where Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 25th Street meet, a grand obelisk marks the burial spot of William Jenkins Worth, a general who served with distinction in various wars – including the War of 1812 – and after whom Fort Worth, Texas, was named. For one six-year period, however, the obelisk was outshone by another Madison Square statue of sorts: remarkably, the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty was staged here from 1876 to 1882 while the rest of the famous statue was pieced together.
To the immediate north of 212 Fifth Avenue, the Croisic Building is a neo-Gothic skyscraper, gargoyles and all, with an edifice that will take your breath away. A two-story copper mansard roof adds further drama. Despite its history as a commercial building, the late, great Ethel Barrymore of the famous Barrymore acting dynasty may have lived in an apartment toward the top of the Croisic.
St. James Building
Formerly a grand hotel (or as it advertised itself, “one of the most elegant and perfect hotels on this continent”) that hosted the likes of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur and heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, the St. James Building remains a stunning skyscraper. These days, St. James residents are somewhat more permanent, as the building is now home to Rizzoli Bookstore and La Pecora Bianca, a high-end Italian restaurant from Mark Barak, the man behind French restaurant Claudette. La Pecora Bianca makes St. James not just a feast for the eyes, but for the stomach, too.