Today I took this picture of 26 West 17th Street, one of the many gorgeous Beaux-arts decorated loft buildings that line the Flatiron District side streets. Here my grandfather had a celluloid button factory in the late 1930s and early '40s. In those days, the area was all light industry, and pretty grungy. Nobody then cared about all these old buildings--most were built between 1900 and 1910--that preservationists today salivate over. At that time, there was no landmarks commission. Owners could tear down properties on a whim. Nobody could stop them. Tell this to the stylish young'uns rushing through the streets after work, heading to the scene at the Ace Hotel bar. They'll look at you like you're crazy. But it's true, in those days New York didn't care about the old, period. New York was all about the new. Especially for people like my grandfather, one of the millions of immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century.
He set up his business in the '30s in this then-crummy old space, which he rented for next to nothing. His business was on the top floor, where the ventilation was better, because button-manufacturing involved toxic chemicals.