The Woolworth Building in Manhattan is an early American skyscraper commissioned by F. W. Woolworth — an entrepreneur famous for his popular five-and-ten-cent stores — as the headquarters for his company.
Financed in cash and designed by prominent architect Cass Gilbert, the building won widespread acclaim for its record-breaking height, pioneering steel-frame structure, and stunning interior and exterior appearance.
Here’s a look into the history behind the incredible structure.
Cass Gilbert's architectural vision
The Woolworth Building was designed in the neo-Gothic style. The 60-story structure consists of a 30-story tower situated atop a 30-story base, its infamous facade mostly decorated with terracotta (though the lower portions are limestone). The lobby contains ornate sculptures, mosaics, and unique architectural touches, including veined marble from Skyros in Greece.
Upon completion in 1913, it became the tallest building in the world at 792 feet. More than a century later, it remains one of the 100 tallest buildings in the United States, as well as one of the 30 tallest buildings in New York City.
Notable moments through the years
The Woolworth Building underwent several changes throughout its history.
1910: Construction began
1913: Officially opened
1966: Made a National Historic Landmark
1977-1981: Underwent extensive renovation
1983: Made a New York City designated landmark
1998: Sold to the Witkoff Group
2012: The top 30 floors converted into private residences
Fun facts about the Woolworth Building
- Woolworth hired renowned New York photographer Irving Underhill to document the entire construction of the building.
- The elevator doors in the lobby were designed by Tiffany Studios.
- The grand staircase features the likenesses of key people involved in the construction of the skyscraper: Gilbert holding a model of the building; Woolworth with coins; and builder Louis Horowitz on the phone.
- The basement contains closed entrances to two New York City Subway stations.
- A private pool, originally intended for F. W. Woolworth, still exists in the basement.
- Salamanders are depicted throughout the building. Once believed to be fireproof, the animals symbolize the architect’s claim of “thoroughly fireproof construction.”
The elusive multimillion-dollar penthouse
One of the biggest points of interest in the Woolworth Building is its lavish penthouse, a residence that has been shrouded in mystery for years. Even when the penthouse finally hit the market in 2017, interior photos were never released to the public.
Here’s what we do know: the floorplan for the seven-level, 9,710-square-foot residence was revealed in 2014, and it contained mind-boggling amenities — a private elevator, an observatory, and a grand library, to name a few — all nestled in the crown of the building.
It was privately listed, but if the Woolworth penthouse did sell for anything near its $110 million asking price, it would have been a record-breaking real estate transaction.