The Woolworth Building is one of New York’s greatest landmarks. Its beautiful and unique structure makes it integral to the Lower Manhattan skyline. Its location at 233 Broadway in Manhattan used to position it right between the Twin Towers when looking at it from the south.
Frank Woolworth commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to create a corporate headquarters for the F. W. Woolworth Company in 1910. Ironically, the company only wound up occupying one and a half of the building’s 57 floors.
Completed in 1913, the gothic building became known as the “Cathedral of Commerce” due to its church-like architecture and its financial tenants. Irving National Bank was the building’s primary tenant until 1931. Rev. S. Parkes Cadman is credited with coining the phrase not long after the building opened.
Woolworth had seen Gilbert’s work in other downtown structures and asked him to help create this most ornate building. The exterior, although originally made of terra cotta cladding is now primarily concrete due to repairs completed since the 1970s.
Standing at 792 feet tall, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world for 17 years. It was replaced as the tallest building by 40 Wall Street, which only held the title for 2 months before the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930. Today, it is one of the 20 tallest buildings in New York City and one of the 50 tallest in the United States.
Woolworth wanted his building to be a modern marvel and he succeeded. At the time, the elevators in the building were the fastest ever built. He also added the feature of the tapered shaft so that if the elevator ever fell it would be cushioned by air resistance instead of free falling down the chute.
Woolworth and Gilbert became innovators when adding self-sustaining heating, cooling, water supply, and fire protection to the building. One of the unique fire protection measures was the swimming pool drain that lead to the fire system so the water could be used to extinguish fires. There was also electrical power generation. It was the first building to ever have its own power plant. The final cost of construction was $13.5 million. That would be equivalent to $323.8 million today!
The building opened on April 24, 1913 with a unique flourish. President Woodrow Wilson turned on the lights for the building’s inauguration by pressing a button located in the White House. It is believed that this button signaled a bell to be rung in the engineers’ quarters in the basement of the building.
This superb building was given historical landmark status in 1966. This means the building cannot be demolished, as it is a vital part of our nation’s heritage. This distinction also brings challenges to any renovations made on the building. In 2012, plans were made to turn the upper floors of the historic building into residences. These homes will all have traditional aspects in keeping with the building’s original style. There will be 34 luxury condos between the 29th and 57th floors. One, two, and three bedroom options will be available beginning in July 2016. Prices vary from $3.875 million for a one bedroom to upwards of $110 million for the penthouse. Frank Woolworth’s original desk has been restored and will serve as the reception desk for the residences’ lobby on the 29th floor.
There is really nothing else quite like the Woolworth building in New York and if you’re looking to own a part of history, now you know where to look.