The Woolworth Building is the next stop as we visit all the former “tallest building in the world” in America and it held the title from 1913 until 1930. The building was built by the five & dime store owner, F.W. Woolworth, as a new headquarters for the Woolworth stores company. Originally, he wanted a 12-16 story building, but after constantly being asked about the Singer Building during his travels in Europe he realized all the free publicity his company would get by out doing the Singer Building as the tallest in the world. Given the immense success Mr Woolworth had with his stores and its resemblance to European Gothic cathedrals, the structure is called “The Cathedral of Commerce”.
Today you can take a 90-minute tour of the lobby, known as the arcade, for $20-45 depending if you get the 30, 60, or 90 minute tour. The two-story high arcade is laid out in a cross pattern with barrel vaulted ceilings that is covered in patterned glass mosaics. The lobby is covered in veined marble from the island of Skyros in Greece and have Gothic-style decorations in the lobby, including several grotesques depict major figures involved in the Woolworth Building’s construction including Woolworth himself holding nickels and dimes, which is how people joke that he paid for the building, and the builder holding the building. A mezzanine crosses the arcade’s north and south wings and has two ceiling murals, titled Labor and Commerce, are located above it. The lobby has been lauded as “one of the most spectacular of the early 20th century in New York City”.
The tour also includes a look into the basement of the Woolworth Building, which contains an unused bank vault, restaurant, barbershop, and closed entrances to the Subway stations. The coolest thing down here was the private pool, originally intended for F. W. Woolworth, measuring 15 by 55 feet. You also learn how the Woolworth Building contains innovative elevators that were “express” elevators and “local” elevators. They were capable of traveling 700 feet per minute and the doors in the lobby were designed by Tiffany Studios.
I really like the look of the Woolworth Building exterior, the feel of the gothic interior, and the story of getting the building built, but it is now time to visit a building that was the “tallest in the world” for a whopping month and a half due to a sneaky trick played by a competing architect. I will tell you all about it on Sunday.