Flat­iron build­ings of­fer de­gree of recog­ni­tion in far-flung ci­ties

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA -

I’ve never been to Shang­hai, but I know it has a build­ing that looks like one of my fa­vorites in New York.

The Wukang Man­sion in Shang­hai’s French Con­ces­sion district, built in 1924, has that wedge de­sign that looks like, well, a flat­iron.

That hap­pens to be the name of its older and taller cousin in New York —the Flat­iron Build­ing, com­pleted in 1902 — and of the fash­ion­able neigh­bor­hood it strad­dles in Man­hat­tan.

The Wukang checks in at eight sto­ries high, while the Flat­iron, at 22 sto­ries, once was one of the tallest build­ings in New York. While the Flat­iron Wil­liam Hen­nelly Build­ing was named for its ap­pli­ance shape, it also has plenty of iron it­self — its frame is steel.

I asked Shang­hai na­tive Chen Wei­hua, China Daily deputy edi­tor, his thoughts on the Wukang.

“This is a well-known build­ing in Shang­hai. Yes, it re­minds peo­ple of the NYC sis­ter build­ing Flat­iron. … It is in the old French Con­ces­sion area and along the Huai­hai Road, a ma­jor street in Shang­hai, like Broad­way in NYC, so passers-by can see it very clearly. There are many Western-style build­ings in that area.

“When back in Shang­hai last April, I took a walk in the area with my mom and en­joyed the re­laxed mood,” Chen said. “In fact, the build­ing is two or three blocks from our for­mer China Daily Shang­hai of­fice, which was in the Heng­shan Ho­tel.

“I love old build­ings,” he con­tin­ued. “Shang­hai is a city known as a show­case of ar­chi­tec­ture styles from around the world. Be­fore 1949 and es­pe­cially in the 1930s, it was the paradise of ad­ven­tur­ers from around the world.”

De­signed by Las­zlo Hudec, a fa­mous Hun­gar­ian-Slo­vak ar­chi­tect, the Wukang Man­sion has been home to some high­pro­file per­son­al­i­ties.

Wang Ren­min, a 1930s film ac­tress known as the “Wild­cat of Shang­hai”, once called the Wukang home, as did ac­claimed Chi­nese ac­tor and di­rec­tor Sun Daolin. Ac­tress Shang­guan Yun­zhu re­port­edly jumped to her death off the build­ing’s sev­enth floor.

A cen­tury or so ago, New York­ers were un­sure what to think of the Flat­iron Build­ing. The New York Tri­bune called it “a stingy piece of pie ... the great­est inan­i­mate trou­ble­maker in New York”, while the Mu­nic­i­pal Art So­ci­ety said that it was “un­fit to be in the cen­ter of the city”. The New York Times called it a “mon­stros­ity”.

H.G. Wells wrote in his 1906 book The Fu­ture in Amer­ica: A Search After Re­al­i­ties: “I found my­self agape, ad­mir­ing a sky-scraper the prow of the Flat-iron Build­ing, to be par­tic­u­lar, plough­ing up through the traf­fic of Broad­way and Fifth Avenue in the af­ter­noon light.”

When the United States en­tered World War I, the gov­ern­ment started a “Wake Up Amer­ica!” cam­paign, and the United Cigar store in the Flat­iron’s “cow­catcher” (point) do­nated its space to the Navy for use as a re­cruit­ing cen­ter. Lib­erty Bonds were sold out­side.

In Jan­uary 2009, Sor­gente Group, an Ital­ian real es­tate in­vest­ment firm, bought a ma­jor­ity stake in the Flat­iron, with plans to turn it into a lux­ury ho­tel, al­though the con­ver­sion may have to wait a decade un­til the cur­rent ten­ants’ lease ex­pires.

The value of the build­ing, al­ready zoned by the city to be­come a ho­tel, is es­ti­mated at $190 mil­lion.

An­gled of­fices in the build­ing are much de­sired by busi­ness ten­ants, as they can of­fer dra­matic views of the city’s most fa­mous build­ing, the Em­pire State.

The Flat­iron Build­ing was added to the US Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1979, and des­ig­nated a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark in 1989.

And while New York’s Flat­iron ed­i­fice en­joys king­pin sta­tus among pie slice-shaped build­ings, there are more than 20 other sim­i­larly shaped struc­tures in ci­ties across the US, with vary­ing de­grees of majesty.

Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

PABLO COSTA TIRADO PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Left: The Flat­iron Build­ing has an­chored its Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hood since 1902. Right: Cy­clists ride past the Wukang Man­sion in Shang­hai, for­merly called the Nor­mandie Apart­ments, dur­ing a ren­o­va­tion and main­te­nance project in 2009.

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