The Jungles of West 28th Street – Exploring New York’s Flower District

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.

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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…

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…and this amazing green passageway through our busy metropolis continues…

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…and continues…

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…and continues.

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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.

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This is New York’s Flower District, a dwindling but still vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tall leefy trees…

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…and even a palm tree!

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Your tour of the flower district shouldn’t end on the sidewalks. Duck into any of the shops…

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…and you’ll find yourself surrounded by wall to ceiling foliage, the stores wonderfully humid and teeming with fragrances:

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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:

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There are plenty of great surprises, like an orange tree growing in one store…

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Another vendor has mounted normally earth-bound plants on the wall, where they seem to be growing just fine:

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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:

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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…

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Inside, the store might at first look like any other on the block…

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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:

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More tilework above a door:

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A green-and-white pattern lined with gold foil lines the top…

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…and more intricate blue patterns near the entrance:

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Check out the window above the B&J Florist’s Supply awning at 103 West 28th Street…

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…and you’ll see old-timey lettering identifying it as the former New York’s Florists’ Supply Co:

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103 W 28th Street was in the florist business since at least 1908, when this note appeared in an issue of The National Nurseryman:

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Later, these two ads appear in a 1915 issue of American Florist.

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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:

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Lasting Art is filled, from floor to ceiling, with fake plants:

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But this isn’t just the random assemblage of “looks like an apple!” stuff you find at party stores and home decor mall outlets.

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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…

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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.

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Associated Flowers has been in business at 133 West 28th Street for over 50 years now, and still maintains a wholesale-only operation:

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I love the stainless steel sign (and those are some pretty beautiful window bars to boot):

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Fisher & Page, now defunct, is located in a building dating back to 1897:

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I’d love to see the full sign hidden behind this awning:

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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:

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Neat sunrise door bar patterns:

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In a building up now for rent, a few forgotten plants in a third floor office:

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Finally, be sure to look for original facades buried behind hideous modern extensions:

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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.

-SCOUT

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.

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29 comments

  1. That’s pretty amazing…I remember walking by a sidewalk with a lot of plants once or twice, but it obviously extends a lot farther than I realized!

  2. Wow that’s cool! On the plants mounted on walls. They are Stag Horn Ferns and they usually grow on trees so that’s why they’re mounted on the wall as that’s how they’re suppose to be. A quick google search will show you some truly impressive specimens.

  3. That was a great way to start a Monday morning – great post! I love the little patches of perfectly manicured grass that border some of the stretches of plants. Probably pretty rare to see that (outside of a park anyway) in some of the more crowded parts of the city!

  4. I used to walk down this street every day when I worked at the NYC Social Sports Club for a summer – with my McDonalds iced coffee in hand. Fragrant & beautiful!

  5. Great post Scout! Sun is out today, maybe I need a new plant to stick in this window!

  6. I am one of the rare breed that can say, “I grew up in Manhattan”. And luckily I grew up in chelsea around all of this. Between the antiques market and the flea markets on the weekends, the floral district and the art gallery’s – it was an amazing place to spend my early life! Thanks for a walk down memory lane!

  7. There was talk a few years ago of moving all of these businesses to Hunts Point in the Bronx. If I remember correctly the Bloomberg Administration backed off from the plan. The consensus was that these businesses would have scattered out of the city.

  8. I’ve been through there in the early AM– it’s a great welcome back to NY after a long Megabus ride!

  9. Great post, Scout! I was over on W 28th to catch the 1 train the other day (after feasting in the food truck lot under the High Line at 30th St), and was pleased to be reminded of the Flower District’s existence.

    I’m sad to see it dwindled down to a single side street, though. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the Flower District was all along 6th Avenue in the upper 20s. There are still some lingering there:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/shellysblogger/2902923690/
    But as that Flickr user mentions, all of the west side, especially, of the Avenue from 23rd to 30th used to be solid foliage.

  10. ha fun. this is where i purchased silk roses for my last project in the “making of” thread i just posted.

  11. Totally cool stuff Scout. You’re back to 100%!

  12. Scout, Verrry interesting as a certain late ’60′s TV show used to put it. I was born in Chicago and spent my youth in Queens and now reside in Florida, If you get tripped out by one palm tree you should try living in a place that grows bamboo. Freaking cool dude. I have a Tangerine tree in my front yard and an orange in the back. The orange makes the sweetest fruit. Come down sometime.

  13. The old ‘hood! I worked on this street for 2yrs or so at an intense startup. Taking a walk through the greenery and ducking in to look at the orchids maintained my sanity.

  14. As a floral designer based in California, this was the coolest experience on my last trip to NYC. We stayed on W 28th and got to wake up early every morning to experience the hustle and bustle of this block and the surrounding neighborhood. I love that you included all the old signage! If you ever get a chance you should attempt to get a rooftop view of the area. There are some amazing gardens hidden up on top of these historic buildings including the classic water towers that should not be missed. (Hint: Hotel Indigo’s Glass Bar on the 23rd floor has a great view, as do some other “secret” rooftop vantage points)

  15. I walk from Penn Station to Park Ave So. every day and try to hit the W. 28th St. Flower District once a week. Friday is the best day with a walk thru the flora a great way to start the last day of the work week.

  16. A great post!!

    I come up to NYC by bus about once a month to lead “photo safaris,” and the bus drops me off at 28th and 7th. I always arrive on the 8:30am bus so as to spend several hours in enjoying Manhattan prior to my 1pm tours, and the first thing I do is walk through the Flower District.

    I hadn’t thought to go inside some of the shops (doh!) so I’ll remedy that next time. I have tried taking some photos of those green metal doors with the sunburst design – no winners yet, but I’ll keep trying some different angles.

    Here are two posts on my blog from my Flower District walk-throughs:

    http://www.steverosenbach.com/blog/impromptu-photo-model/

    http://www.steverosenbach.com/blog/flower-district-bamboo/

    Meanwhile, thanks so much for your blog – I’m a big fan of yours!

    Best regards,
    SteveR

  17. I live on the block, its a great little area but too many new hotels are in our block, otherwise its a great place to live. Thanks for the profile!

  18. Hi!
    I love Scouting NY! A few weeks ago I was in New York for 1 day and decided to go see the flower district as inspired by your post, which happened to be published that day. While I was on my way from Tribeca, I MAGICALLY stumbled on your previous post about the locksmith shop with the beautiful and intricate key designs out front! I had wanted to go, but forgot where it was, and without remembering, I crossed over to 7th and found it :) I then made my way to the flower district which looked and smelled amazing!! It was a truly great experience. I can’t wait to move to New York and I read this blog all the time in order to try and soak up as much of NYC as possible until I can be there full-time!
    Keep up the great work!
    Jordan

  19. Just wanted to say that those wall-mounted plants (the stag horn ferns) are part of the decor at Kingswood restaurant in the West Village (http://www.kingswoodnyc.com/) – they must have gotten them here!

  20. Love your blog. Not many retail flower shops left in the district. For a unique experience I stumbled upon a place located in a second floor studio on 28th street. No display cases-no pushy salespeople-just an old time shop with beautiful New York Flowers-check them out next time you’re in the neighborhood.
    http://www.starflor.com/

  21. In the 1970s, there was an illegal restaurant, My Silky Valentine, on the 2nd or 3rd floor above one of the flower businesses. It took up the entire floor. Ah! The ambience! One would call ahead to make a reservation. The cuisine was sublime. Sadly, they were caught and closed down when someone squealed.

  22. We stayed last week on West 28th and enjoyed Chelsea and Manhattan, dodging flowers and plants as we walked down the sidewalk every day. We’re from Georgia and enjoyed the city a lot.

  23. I live on that block for almost 45 years and sadly my
    instincts tell me along with just looking out my window at
    the guys/gals with attache cases that represent hotel developers that this neighborhood will entirely be gone in ten yeas.
    Broadway from 29th street to 30 street is getting a 700 hundred room
    hotel as well as another area in this Flower Market sadly on 28th St
    between Broadway and 6th avenue the historic Tin Pan Alley buildings
    which also have florists which you did not write about will be slowy
    sold. What will be left in NYC when all these wonderful neighborhoods
    are being destroyed as we build a new generic looking city.?

  24. The fine red-brick building at 120 west 28th housed, just before 1910, the Douglass Club, one of the top African-American nightspots of its era. Owned by an ex-prizefighter, Edmond Johnson, it was a formative site in the development of ragtime and jazz. Willie the Lion Smith mentions it in his memoir. It was known for the quality of musicians and supposedly talent scouts from Koster & Bial’s used to spend a lot of time there. After a nasty racial incident in 1910, Johnson moved to Harlem and opened a new club.

  25. Actual address of Douglass Club was 128 west 28th – same building, takes up 5 storefronts.

  26. Bravissimo Scaut!! Mi si è allargato il cuore vedendo il tuo blog. Io sono italiana e sono sempre vissuta in Italia in uno dei più bei posti del mondo “il lago di Garda”.
    Ma ti dico ciò perchè all’età di vent’anni dovevo venire a N.Y. perchè ero convinta che sarei riuscita a fare una mostra dei miei quadri in qualche bel quartiere della grande mela e forse anche ad avere successo. Purtroppo ho perso l’occasione… peccato. sicuramente prima o poi sarei arrivata anchwe in 28th street. Peccato che N.Y. non sia più bella come lo era nella mia gioventù anche se è sempre la più bella delle grandi città del mondo. In italia la più bella arte del mondo, ma in U.S.A c’è NEW YORK. io AMO MOLTISSIMO QUESTA CITTà.
    CIAOCIAO

  27. Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I
    found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She
    placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside
    and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  28. What a great post!
    It would have been even better if you could help these businesses by posting their contact/address information.

  29. I love how the Metro City Room Blog frequently directs readers to your site, like today!

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