The designation "Flatiron District" for this area is of relatively recent vintage, dating from around 1985, and came about because of its increasingly residential character, and the influx of many restaurants into the area; plus real estate agents needed an appealing name to call the area in their ads. Before that, the area was primarily commercial, with numerous small clothing and toy manufacturers, and was sometimes called the Toy District. The Toy Center buildings at 23rd Street and Broadway date from this period, and the annual American International Toy Fair took place there beginning in 1903, except for 1945. When much of this business moved outside the U.S., the area began to be referred to as the Photo District because of the large number of photographers' studios and associated businesses located there, the photographers having come because of the relatively cheap rents.
As of the 2000s, many publishers have their offices in the district, as well as advertising agencies, and the number of computer- and Web-related start-up companies in the area caused it to be considered part of "Silicon Alley" or "Multimedia Gulch", along with TriBeCa and SoHo, although this usage declined considerably after the dot.com bubble burst.
The Flatiron building, at the center, was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
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