Little Bits of History

Tallest, For a While

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 24, 2015
Woolworth Building in 1913

Woolworth Building in 1913

April 24, 1913: The Woolworth Building opens. At the time of its opening, it was the tallest building in the world overtaking the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower. It remained the tallest building until 1930 when 40 Wall Street took over that designation. The building located at 233 Broadway, Manhattan, New York City cost $13.5 million to build or $328.3 million in today’s dollars. Cass Gilbert was the architect responsible for designing the skyscraper. The site for the building was purchased by FW Woolworth and Edward J Hogan (Woolworth’s real estate agent) from the Trenor Luther Park Estate. They paid $1.65 million for the land in 1910. It took until January 18, 1911 for the men to acquire the final building site at a cost totaling $4.5 million.

The building was neo-Gothic style and initially designed to be 20 stories high and act as the new corporate headquarters for FW Woolworth Company. At its opening, the building was 60 stories tall and had over 5,000 windows. Irving National Exchange Bank and Woolworth set up the Broadway-Park Place Company to finance the building but by May 1914 Woolworth was able to buy all the shares, thus owning the building outright. On this date, the building officially opened as the tallest building in the world when President Woodrow Wilson turned on the lights from a switch located in Washington, D.C. Since the building resembled European Gothic cathedrals, it was called “The Cathedral of Commerce”.

Gunvald Aus and Kort Berle, engineers, designed the steel frame. There were high-speed elevators installed, an innovation at the time. With 34 elevators, the high office-to-elevator ratio made the skyscraper profitable. The ornate lobby was “one of the most spectacular of the early 20th century in New York City”. It is covered in Skyros marble and has vaulted ceilings. A stained glass ceiling light with bronze fittings remains to this day. Over the balconies of the mezzanine were murals of Labor and Commerce. There were several sculptures included of the men involved in the project. Woolworth’s private office, done in marble in the French Empire style, remains preserved.

The building was owned by Woolworth Company for 85 years until it was sold in 1998 to the Witkoff Group for $155 million. Foot Locker (the successor of the Woolworth Company) maintained a presence there even after the sale. The World Trade Center, just a few blocks away, was often photographed in such as way as to include this building between the two towers. After the bombing on September 11, 2001 the building was without electricity, water, and phone service for a few weeks. The windows and top turret were damaged by falling debris. Since the attack, security concerns have restricted access to most of the lobby, previously a tourist attraction. Witkoff sold the top 30 floors to an investment group led by Alchemy Properties in 2012 for $68 million. They plan to convert the space into luxury apartments with the top five floors a penthouse. The lower floors will remain office space.

I am the world’s worst salesman. Therefore I must make it easy for people to buy. – F. W. Woolworth

Dreams never hurt anybody if you keep working right behind the dreams to make as much of them become real as you can. – F. W. Woolworth

We would rather have one man or woman working with us than three merely working for us. – F. W. Woolworth

A skyscraper is a boast in glass and steel. – Mason Cooley

Also on this day: Greeks Bearing Gifts – In 1184 BC, the Greeks bring a gift to Troy.
Soyuz 1 – In 1967, the first space fatality occurred.
Hershey’s Park – In 1907, Hersheypark opened.
Looking Outward – In 1990, mission STS-31 boosted into space with the Hubble Space Telescope aboard.
Reference Work – In 1800, the US Library of Congress was established.

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