Saturday, January 30, 2016

Photo Essay: The Woolworth Building, the Cathedral of Commerce

Of course, on the coldest day of the year, I decided to take a tour of yet another New York City landmark I'd missed out on during my time there: The Woolworth Building.



Now, there are a few former Woolworth's stores that can be explored around the country...



...including the one in Oxnard that actually houses a Woolworth museum...



...but this terra cotta-clad skyscraper was too nice to have a five-and-dime as a storefront on its ground level.



No, this "Cathedral of Commerce" was the corporate headquarters for the Woolworth's chain...



...and home to it founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth himself.



It's always been a private office building since it opened in 1913...



...but security had become incredibly tight after 9/11—and limited public tours have only been allowed since 2013, the year of its centennial.



Those who work upstairs get to see it all the time...



...but tourists and photography are strictly prohibited, unless you're on an official tour.



The lobby of this Gothic masterpiece is quite a sight, adorned with both "W"s...



...and salamanders, a symbol representing how fire-proof the building was supposed to be.



The doors of the elevators in the multiple banks were designed by Tiffany...



...and they've all been preserved...



...though some of the elevators have been taken out of commission, their doors covered to protect them.



Given the Woolworth Building's proximity to the Park Place station on the 2/3 subway line and the old abandoned City Hall station...



...it's not surprising that there used to be a subway entrance right there in its own basement.



It's been long blocked off, but on either side of the staircase leading down to it, there are ornately covered electrical panels that are still in use.



Apparently the basement also used to house a barber shop and a German Rathskeller. Both have been destroyed, though reportedly the swimming pool—which had been installed as part of the building's fire-proofing—is still there, and will be made available to future tenants in the forthcoming penthouse suite.



One of the main tenants of the Woolworth Building was the Irving National Exchange Bank...



...though its vault has been taken over by maintenance workers...



...its safety deposit boxes, by supplies.



But the remains of it are a fitting reminder that this building was all about money.



It cost $13.5 million to build (a hefty price tag at the time)...



...and despite its lobby's somewhat ecclesiastical appearance...



...the whole thing was a big advertisement for the Woolworth's franchise...



...and Woolworth himself...



...right down to the penny-pinching gargoyles.



At the time, Woolworth wanted people to visit his building.



He hired architect Cass Gilbert, who was inspired by great civic and public structures—like city halls and cathedrals and belfries—and who'd also built the U.S. Customs House, just blocks away in Lower Manhattan.



There was even an observation deck on the 57th floor that drew hundreds of tourists to take in the view, but it was closed during World War II because of security concerns.



Now, the Woolworth Building will be mostly reserved for the elite. Under its current ownership, its top floors are being converted into multi-million dollar luxury apartments, including one multi-story penthouse that's been dubbed the "Castle in the Sky."



At least the tours allow you to witness the stained glass skylight and mosaic tile ceiling (adorned with a variety of exotic birds).

Woolworth's—which was founded in 1878 in Utica, NY—finally went out of business and was defunct by 1997. Fortunately, the landmark building still bears its original name, and not that of its successor: Foot Locker.

Related Posts:
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Photo Essay: Bank of Manhattan Clock Tower, Queens, Abandoned
Photo Essay: Farmers and Merchants, the Old Bank with Big Plans
Photo Essay: Subway Terminal Building, Above Ground