Woolworth Building – Architecture from Gotham City

There are many iconic buildings in New York City that even out of town tourists can identify with a quick glance and without a second thought.  From the Empire State Building, to the Chrysler Building, and now the Freedom Tower, these massive displays of architectural prowess help define the unmistakable the New York City skyline.  Yet for almost 20 years before any of these buildings even existed, the Woolworth building was a skyscraper icon and the measuring stick for which all buildings after were measured.  Not only was it the largest building in the world for over 20 years, but the style and decoration used to create this masterpiece is unlike anything you will find anywhere in the city before or after.

Built as the corporate headquarters of the F.W. Woolworth Company (which is now currently Footlocker), this building was completed in 1913.  This building was the tallest in the world from 1913 to 1930 and current it reaches 792 feet high and has 57 floors.  While this may not seem like much when compared to the modern buildings that dot the New York landscape, imagine what a sight it must have been back in the early 1900’s.  To put it into even more perspective, the Model T was first produced in 1908, a mere 2 years before the start of the construction of the Woolworth’s Building.

The outside of the building is a artistic wonder, melding terracotta sculpture on the outside combined with glass to give the building a gothic cathedral appearance which helped give the building the nickname of the “Cathedral of Commerce”.  The building is in stark contrast to the rest of the buildings downtown of which most have a vastly more modern look dominated by windows, the Woolworth Building has beautifully shaped gargoyles and gothic detailing.  The very top of the building is capped by a gilded tower which gives the appearance of a structure that is much larger and at the time of its opening would have appeared quite massive against the much smaller downtown buildings.  The inside is no less spectacular with the inner lobby decked out all in classic marble, gothic designs on the walls, stain glass on the ceilings, and even what looks like medieval art adorning several walls.  The building has many different secrets such as a pool that still currently resides in the lower portions of the building, a bank vault that was built by its original owners, and access points to many of the subway lines that while blocked off, still have the basement doors where they once were available.

During the tour of the building, you will get access to the the two floors of the lobby, the back of the lobby, and the basement floor (which includes a tour of the bank vault) as well as a detailed history of the building and its many secrets.  Definitely a tour that is unlike anything you are likely to find in NYC or anywhere else in the world!  It provides not only a wonderful history lesson but allows access to places that are off limits to anyone not associated with the building.

New Yorker Tip:  Use the link below if you are interested in getting a glimpse of the Woolworth building as the tower is currently off limits to tourists.