The Woolworth Building – Manhattan’s Neo-Gothic Masterpiece
Not many men can boast with building their own skyscrapers, but Frank Winfield Woolworth was not just any man. As the founder of the of F. W. Woolworth Company, Frank was a visionary and a pioneer in the field of commerce, but aside from establishing one of the most successful retailers in the country, he is also remembered for funding the construction of the Woolworth building, which is one of New York’s tallest and most exceptional skyscrapers.
When he decided to build his own skyscraper, Woolworth definitely wanted it to become the tallest in the world. He partnered up with an architect named Cass Gilbert, who designed the fabulous structure in such a way as to satisfy Woolworth’s desire for greatness. The entire costs of the project summed up to $13.5 million, but since Woolworth decided to finance the project with his own cash, he had immense freedom regarding the construction and design process. Gilbert eventually settled on a Beaux-Arts design that involved a series of spectacular Gothic details. These adornments were not chosen randomly, since they were meant to reflect Woolworth’s idea that he was a descendant of old medieval merchants.
The building was so massive that its base occupied over a full block on Broadway, which meant that it was going to be built over a steel frame in order to ensure sturdiness and flexibility. When it was completed in 1913 at record speed, the Woolworth Building was indeed the tallest in the world, flaunting no less than 792 feet in height as well as 60 stories. Aside from its highly impressive exterior layout, the building was just as breathtaking on the inside, boasting luxe finishes as well as a cathedral-like lobby featuring sculptures, mosaics as well as a gold-decked ceiling. This fabulous display of lavishness was complemented by impressive caricatures depicting Woolworth himself counting his money, while Gilbert was portrayed with a model of the building in his arms.
The opening ceremony took place on April 24, 1913 and it is remembered as an extraordinary spectacle of light and beauty. At the touch of a button in the White House, President Woodrow Wilson turned on the lights in the building’s interior as well as the exterior floodlights that lit up the whole façade of the massive structure. The building was nicknamed the “Cathedral of Commerce” by Reverend C. Parkes Cadman at the time, which was a fitting name, of course. Woolworth reserved just 1 floor and a half of the building for his own headquarters because he was planning to rent out the rest in order to score a profit. The Woolworth Building was a tall example of innovation in its glory days, since it included a series of groundbreaking features such as high-speed electric elevators and exterior lighting facilities. Moreover, the structure also housed a social club, a restaurant, a barbershop, a shopping arcade and a health club.
The Woolworth Building remained in the ownership of the Woolworth Company for 85 years until 1998, when it was sold by the Venator Group to the Witkoff Group for $155 million.