THE FLOWER AND SEWING MACHINE DISTRICTS

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Your webmaster has worked in the proximity of 6th Avenue off and on for years, in hole-in-the-wall Russian type shops, defunct art schools, college textbook sweatshops, gardening magazine publishers, you name it. I’ve seen 6th, between 23rd and 29th Streets, convert from phonograph needle wholesalers, mom and pop delis and junk sales to a phalanx of high and higher-rise apartment buildings (a holdout still persists here at 27th, left).

Despite the Trumpization of midtown Sixth, there are still two fiefdoms, two completely different industries that carry on, scrounging the ground around the new behemoths like the moles and shrews at the feet of the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous. Of course the difference is that the dino-defying insectivores lived on, while Tyrannosaurus died off. In the case of the flower and sewing machine districts, the better bet this time is on Godzilla.

 

Where Are all the Flowers Going?

 

Walk down West 28th Street between 6th and 7th, and on Sixth between 27th and 28th. The sidewalks on both sides of the street are full of billowing fragrance and you’re greeted with flowers in every color of the spectrum; trees, bonsai, bamboo and grass. (Even though I worked for a gardening magazine last year, spelling flower names is a near impossibility for anyone, and I don’t recognize flowers and fauna on sight, so Forgotten Fans are welcome to help me with captioning these pictures…

The Flower District had its beginnings as far back as the 1870s, when flower dealers congregated near the East 34th Street Ferry. In those days the Long Island Rail Road had its western terminus in Long Island City and many goods, including those from the flower farms of Long Island, were shipped across the East River. In the 1890s, though, the flower wholesalers moved here, in an area concentrated on 6th Avenue between West 26th and West 29th, to serve the theater and entertainment area, which was here at the time, as well as nearby Ladies’ Mile (between 14th and 23rd) 5th Avenue hotels…and the brothels of the Tenderloin District, of which 6th and 28th was the epicenter.

You may well imagine your webmaster’s wonderment in the spring of a year almost comically remote when I staggered uptown from a publishing job at 5th Avenue and 20th Street and suddenly found this block. During that time, there were more tons of flowers changing hands in these two spare blocks than anywhere else but Amsterdam, Holland.

I’m not one to keep plants around the house, but I did spring for a bouquet of flowers for a girlfriend at Bill’s during the last decade. (Didn’t work, ultimately). As I recall I asked for all white.

Rumors have persisted for years that the flower dealers would be moving, to the Meatpacking District, to Long Island City, to Hunt’s Point, following the Fish Market. Yet they continue to hold forth on 28th and 6th. A March 2006 report had eviction notices going out to the 28th Street merchants, but the holiday season that year seemed as normal as ever. But the flower dealers say that the rezoning of the area to residential, as well as the terrorist attack of 2001 before that, has seriously and perhaps fatally dealt a blow.

Much of West 28th’s architecture is anachronous, here a Machine-Age front with wrought metal lettering, two-story sheds, and an impressive brownstone front that may have been a theater or Masonic hall.

On a Saturday, 28th is jammed with browsing customers and double-parked cars. But some merchants frown on wholesalers selling flowers to individual customers, which of course undercuts the retailers. There is at present little fraternal organization among the dealers.

 

Some of the older shops in the district are on 6th Avenue, including George Rallis and U.S. Evergreen. Here a pine scent pervades the atmosphere for a couple of blocks during the pre-holiday season.

 

Stitches in Time

 

Scattered both east and west of Sixth from 23rd north to about 27th is the informal sewing machine district – a relic of the time that hundreds of sweatshops in the area serviced the Garment District centered between 7th and 8th Avenues from 35th north to 42st Streets.

Master Cutting Table, on West 27th just east of Sixth, produced and serviced machinery for making leather products. They had only been here since 1962, and apparently hadn’t changed anything in the place since then!

 

Walter Grutchfield visted earlier, and found painted signs on the 2nd floor. 

 

OK, Forgotten fans. You tell me what, exactly, these are…

kick presses
Rossley button and framing machines
Stimpson & Defiance foot presses
Schaeffer cementers
gold stampers
clinker blocks
D.B. No. 39
C&C

OK, OK. I work in typesetting, and I know that 12 points make a pica, I know what kerning is, and I know what leading is. The world is full of jobs that have their own jargon.

 

Jeez, look what they’ve done to Jerry Mahoney, or is it Charlie McCarthy? And if you don’t know what I mean, yeah, it proves I’m too damn old.

 

Molds of some type?

 

Though Master Cutting was still very much in business when I worked in the area in early 2006, I passed by in November and the whole building is for lease. Perhaps they are moving elsewhere.

 

A Sewing Machine District sampler…

Truemart Discount Fabrics, 7th and 25th, may have been one of The Seven Sisters, a row of seven houses at the west end of this block that housed bordellos run by seven supposed sisters. They maintained strict standards for clients; sometimes they were required to wear evening clothes or bring flowers for the employees.

The Necchi Sewing Machine sign has been overprinted by an ad for Jack Daniels.

 

I don’t know why Avenue A Cards is at 117 West 26th. Ah….Madison Square Garden is neither a square garden, nor is it in Madison Square.

There seems to be a small showroom dummy district on West 25th…

 

Something for the wedding…

 

 

… and the honeymoon!

 

It’s a little south of where we’ve been but fits the theme: the Spinning Wheel Building, #7 West 21st west of 5th Avenue

 

Spacesaver, 132 West 23rd, is probably the largest surviving retail sewing supplies shop in the area.

 

To finish my tour I couldn’t resist snapping the gorgeous Albert Building and its no nonsense clock. Look for a Forgotten feature on building clocks, once I acquire a critical mass.

I have taken sick Macs to Tekserve more than once.

Pictures from November 2006; page completed January 31, 2007.





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