Woolworth Building

From Academic Kids

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Woolworth Building

The 60-story Woolworth Building is one of the oldest – and one of the most famous – skyscrapers in New York City. After more than ninety years it is still one of the fifty tallest buildings in the USA.

Constructed in neo-Gothic style by architect Cass Gilbert, who was commissioned by Frank Woolworth in 1910 to design the new corporate headquarters on Broadway, between Park Place and Barclay Street in Lower Manhattan, opposite City Hall, it opened on April 24, 1913. Originally planned to be 625 ft high, it then rose to 792 ft (241 m); construction cost $13.5 million, which Woolworth paid in cash.

For its splendor and resemblances with European Gothic cathedrals, it was labeled the Cathedral of Commerce by Rev. S. Parkes Cadman during its opening ceremony, and was the tallest building in the world from its opening until the opening of the Chrysler Building in 1930. Until 1945, an observation deck on the 58th floor attracted visitors.

The building's tower, flush with the main frontage on Broadway, is raised on a block base that has a narrow interior court for light. The exterior decoration was cast in limestone-colored architectural terra cotta panels. Strongly articulated piers carried without interrupting cornices right to the pyramidal cap give the building its upward thrust. The Gothic detailing concentrated at the highly visible top is massively scaled, so that it reads well from the street level. The ornate lobby has a vaulted ceiling, mosaics, and sculptured caricatures that include Gilbert and Woolworth.

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Woolworth Building detail

The engineer Gunvald Aus designed the steel frame, supported on massive caissons that penetrate to bedrock. The high-speed elevators were innovative, and the building's high office-to-elevator ratio made it profitable. Tenants included the Irving Trust bank and Columbia Records, which had its main New York recording studio in the Woolworth Building.

Woolworth Building, looking south along Broadway
Woolworth Building, looking south along Broadway

The building was owned by the company for 85 years, until 1998, when Venator Group (formerly the F.W. Woolworth Company) sold it to the Witkoff Group for $155 million.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks a few blocks away, the building was without electricity or phone service for a few weeks, but it suffered no significant damage. Increased post-attack security meant that most of the ornate lobby, previously a tourist attraction, was placed off-limits except to those with business in the building.

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