Flatiron’s red-light district past explored in historic walking tour

This building on Sixth Avenue and 24th Street was once home to Koster & Bial, a music hall where scantily clad dancers would spend time with guests in private rooms. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While these days, the neighborhoods of Flatiron and NoMad are known for their newly built, trendy hotels and an increase in families moving into the neighborhood, what few who even live there know is that at one time it was home to numerous houses of ill repute, gambling dens and saloons.

This was during an era that spanned from about 1870 to 1910, with the area then commonly known as the Tenderloin. It was also called Satan’s Circus, or at least it was by the Tenderloin’s most vocal critic, Reverend Charles Parkhurst of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, while slamming it in a Sunday sermon.

Over a century later, that swath of the city can still be explored — or at least the area that once housed those infernal brothels as well as hotels and dance halls where much of the action took place — through a weekly walking tour.

The tour, coordinated through the Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue, is led by Robert Brenner, a veteran New York tour giver. He is also an almost 30-year resident of Chelsea, in a section of the neighborhood that was once within the confines of the Tenderloin, the boundaries of which have shifted over the decades.

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Letters to the editor, Aug. 24

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Keep park goers safe, prune the trees

The following is an open letter to William T. Castro, Manhattan Borough Commissioner of Parks, from Michael Alcamo, executive director of friends of Stuyvesant Square Park: Alcamo sent the letter a day after an oversized tree fell in Central Park, injuring a woman and her three children.

Dear Commissioner Castro:

We are writing to ask for a review of the tree safety and lighting conditions in Stuyvesant Square Park. Due to the wet weather this spring, and the recent hot, sunny days, trees in the western park are flourishing. We normally view this laudable; however, several trees are now obscuring lamp posts in the western park fountain plaza.

Neighbors have recently remarked how dark the park can be after sunset. With the shorter days approaching, we wish to bring this to your attention and ask for your assistance proactively.

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Weekly historic walks bring Flatiron District’s past to life

Miriam Berman on a recent tour (Photo courtesy of 23rd Street/Flatiron Partnership/BID)

By Sabina Mollot

During the summertime, residents of Flatiron have come to expect an array of things to do in the neighborhood that are all free, from tech lectures on the pedestrian plaza to morning kids’ concerts in the park to outdoor fitness classes. But there’s one event that takes place every Sunday all year long and that would be the free guided historic tour of the district.

The walk, sponsored by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership/BID has three guides who work on rotation. One of them is Miriam Berman, who gives tours about twice a month and in 2001, wrote a book about the community, Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks. Other guides are Mike Kaback and Fred Cookinham.

Recently, Berman spoke with Town & Village about the BID’s long-running event, some surprising facts about the Flatiron neighborhood and her own interest in the area, which she refers to as Madison Square.

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