MF: “Macmillan is leaving the Flatiron!” There hasn’t been this much hand-wringing in the publishing industry since Gutenberg put a multitude of monks with painterly skills out of work. I’ve worked in the Flatiron—architect Daniel Burnham’s vertical palazzo—for 23 years and feel fortunate to have done so. In the early years, it was romantic. I used to think I was living in Steichen’s iconic photo. But Elizabeth, can we talk? I’m tired of my Flatironic existence. The building’s shape generates a weird energy. The bathrooms are a disaster, and the lighting makes us all look like we need a facial. True, the Flatiron is a historical landmark, but so is Grant’s Tomb. Would you like to work there? Just call me “Flexit”...
EB: Where’s your sense of history, Michael? Edith Wharton lived half a block away. Walk into a gin joint anywhere in the world, mention that Macmillan’s offices are in the Flatiron Building, and eyes light up. And not to forget—we bring to the Flatiron as much as the Flatiron brings to us: we keep this remarkable landmark from becoming an ossified monument, with our zippy staff and the constant stream of headlining visitors. Remember Lady Gaga arriving in the service elevator?
MF: Elizabeth, as you know, gin joints are some of my favorite places. When eyes light up there, however, it’s usually because someone says, “The next round is on me.”
As for my sense of history, it’s firmly intact, as is my understanding of “style.” I understand the cachet that comes from working in the famous Flatiron building, but honoring history and having workable office space are two different things. I welcome the move to 120 Broadway, an equally historically interesting building. Besides, life here really hasn’t been the same since the guy who made fezzes for the Shriners moved out and took the hats.
EB: But you are forgetting, Michael, that, while life indeed did move away from the Flatiron Building at one point (see: NYC in the late ’70s: Danny Meyer still lives in Kansas City, Madison Square has a park in name only), life has roared back here, and I think it’s because of the anchor Macmillan provided! During the first dot-com era, the neighborhood was lousy with internet companies, and in the last decade we’ve pulled a healthy score or more of literary agencies and packagers into our triangular orbit. And I know you’re wild about the restaurants that have thrived because we’re all here. Without Macmillan in the Flatiron for all these years, would Broadway from the Union Square Greenmarket to 23rd Street be the food-lovers’ corridor it is today? Would we have Eataly?!
MF: Yes, I do remember that when I first started working in the Flatiron, the area was, basically The Panic in Needle Park. Now, the only real panic is whether or not you can get a table at the new Union Square Cafe. And that is great. Do I love the out-of-control gastro-scene? Of course. Do I still feel like the Flatiron suits our needs? No. For me, the Flatiron is that gorgeous suit you cherished for many years. You got it on sale at Bergdorf’s and you loved it to death, but those padded shoulders, cinched waist, and epaulets just don’t work anymore. I’ll love it forever, but I’m ready to call it “vintage” and give it to Housing Works.
EB: Okay, Michael, you’ve convinced me. Soon we’ll replace “If the ladies’ room door sticks, just give it a hip check” with “The conference room is handsome, isn’t it?” And I suppose there is some history to be had on lower Broadway, too. Bartleby the Scrivener toiled near our new digs, you know. How about a picnic at Alexander Hamilton’s grave in Trinity churchyard on our first day there? We’ll pick up panini from Eataly Downtown.
Elizabeth Beier and Michael Flamini are executive editors at St. Martin’s Press.