The Flat Iron Building: Atlanta's Oldest Skyscraper


The Flat Iron Building, properly known as the English-American Building, was the second skyscraper built in Atlanta and the oldest one still standing. The building is in downtown Atlanta in the oldest part of the business district. Nearby attractions include the Georgia State Capitol, the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District, the Georgia Dome, CNN Center, the Georgia Aquarium and Centennial Olympic Park. The building is located on Atlanta's legendary Peachtree Street and can be reached from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, has a train station two blocks away, and several bus lines serve the area.

The eleven-story Flat Iron Building was built in 1897. It is the oldest surviving skyscraper in Atlanta and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It predates the famous building of the same name in New York by four years, although it took that building's name as a nickname around 1916. The name comes from the triangular shape of the building, thought to resemble an old-fashioned iron. The building was designed by Bradford Gilbert, a New York architect who was a pioneer of the steel-frame skyscraper. Gilbert was the supervising architect of Atlanta's 1895 Cotton States Exposition held in Piedmont Park. The structure is in the "Chicago Style'' of architecture, characterized by its steel frame and large, street-level windows.

The Flat Iron Building is one of the anchors of the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District, the oldest part of Atlanta's business district. The district includes, according to the National Park Service, "the largest concentrated collection of commercial and office buildings in Atlanta from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.'' The Flat Iron remains important for several reasons. First, of course, is the fact that it is the oldest skyscraper in the city. Additionally, Dr. Elizabeth Lyon, who was Chief of Historic Preservation for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says, "The building plays an important role in its urban setting by establishing a sense of dignity and scale and helping to create a visually interesting sequence of spaces and styles in the central business area of the city.'' The structure, fronted on one side by a park and another by Broad Street, which is filled with retail stores and restaurants, "has assured that the Flatiron Building remains at the center of a very active pedestrian confluence, reminiscent of 19th and early 20th century urban settings. ... [Now in] its second century, the Flatiron Building provides a vital, urban continuum,'' according to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. Finally, rather than being turned into boutique residential condos or simply abandoned, the Flat Iron is still a vibrant office building. Its offices are leased by attorneys, architects and other professional downtown businesses. The ground-level storefronts are still thriving restaurants, cafes and retail stores.

The interior of the Flat Iron has been remodeled several times, and very little remains of the original. On the exterior, however, the building has remained remarkably unchanged. One online reviewer said, "This is an pretty good downtown building, especially in a city with edifices of minimal architectural interest.'' Given Atlanta's (somewhat unfair) reputation for destroying its historic structures, the Flat Iron Building is a treasure indeed.

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