I was scouting near Chelsea the other day, and happened to walk through one of my all-time favorite green spaces in the city: West 28th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues.
To properly start the journey into the jungles of West 28th Street, begin on 6th Avenue just south of the McDonalds. There, you’ll find the sidewalk lined on both sides with six-foot tall walls of green flora for sale. Hang a left onto West 28th Street…
…and this amazing green passageway through our busy metropolis continues…
My favorite stretches are when you’re completely surrounded by plantlife on either side, blocking out the passing traffic and city noise, a wonderfully surreal experience.
This is New York’s Flower District, a dwindling but still vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers.
According to a NY Times article, the Flower District originally began around a ferry dock on East 34th Street, where pushcart vendors would gather to buy and sell flowers being shipped across the river from Long Island.
In the 1890′s, many of the vendors relocated to the West 28th Street area to be closer to a richer clientele. By 1977, more flowers were being bought and sold in New York than anywhere in the world other than Amsterdam.
When I first arrived in New York City in 2000, you could still walk about half the block without seeing the street. Sadly, the Flower District has been disappearing a little more each year as developers buy up properties.
Still, there are some good runs left yet. For more of a tropical feel, try the north side at the corner of West 28th Street and 7th…
…and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tall leefy trees…
…and even a palm tree!
Your tour of the flower district shouldn’t end on the sidewalks. Duck into any of the shops…
…and you’ll find yourself surrounded by wall to ceiling foliage, the stores wonderfully humid and teeming with fragrances:
Go to the rear of any of these stores and you’ll find mini-jungles, with towering greens packed so tightly together you practically need a machete to reach the back wall:
There are plenty of great surprises, like an orange tree growing in one store…
Another vendor has mounted normally earth-bound plants on the wall, where they seem to be growing just fine:
Though the names have changed, most of the addresses listed in this 1915 edition of The American Florist magazine are still selling plants to this day:
In fact, many of the stores have barely changed since the 1890′s, and if you look closely, you’ll find some great historical remnants. One of my favorites is International Garden at 807 6th Ave…
Inside, the store might at first look like any other on the block…
But look a little more closely and you’ll see beautiful white and black tiled walls, instantly transporting the customer to the early 1900′s:
More tilework above a door:
A green-and-white pattern lined with gold foil lines the top…
…and more intricate blue patterns near the entrance:
Check out the window above the B&J Florist’s Supply awning at 103 West 28th Street…
…and you’ll see old-timey lettering identifying it as the former New York’s Florists’ Supply Co:
103 W 28th Street was in the florist business since at least 1908, when this note appeared in an issue of The National Nurseryman:
Later, these two ads appear in a 1915 issue of American Florist.
Listings for the New York Florists’ Supply Co. finally show up around the 1930′s.
One of the most interesting stores on the block (and really in New York) is Lasting Art, at 101 West 28th Street:
Lasting Art is filled, from floor to ceiling, with fake plants:
But this isn’t just the random assemblage of “looks like an apple!” stuff you find at party stores and home decor mall outlets.
Lasting Art takes flora fakery very serious, and has an incredibly specific selection of merchandise. For example, in the fruit section, you can purchase everything from Kiwis and red Apples to Pears in either the Bartlett or Beurre Hardy varieties…
Further into the store, you have your choice of fake Dusty Miller Bush, fake Potato Leaf Bush, or fake Euphorbia Bush. It’s just about guaranteed that I’ll never in my entire life need a fake Euphorbia Bush, but it’s so cool to know it’s just a subway ride away if I ever do.
Associated Flowers has been in business at 133 West 28th Street for over 50 years now, and still maintains a wholesale-only operation:
I love the stainless steel sign (and those are some pretty beautiful window bars to boot):
Fisher & Page, now defunct, is located in a building dating back to 1897:
I’d love to see the full sign hidden behind this awning:
One of the most impressive buildings on the street is 120 West 28th, built circa 1900, and I’d love to know what its history was. Kevin at Forgotten-NY speculates that it may have originally been either a theater or Masonic Hall. It was definitely being used as a theater by the 1980′s:
Neat sunrise door bar patterns:
In a building up now for rent, a few forgotten plants in a third floor office:
Finally, be sure to look for original facades buried behind hideous modern extensions:
When people talk about a greener New York, I always think of the lush sidewalks of West 28th Street. Few of Manhattan’s numbered streets have the ability to so transport a pedestrian to what feels like a different world, and it’s always a welcome detour in my scouting travels.
PS – Though I’ve never been, I’ve heard the best time to visit the Flower District is around 5 AM, when the morning deliveries are made.