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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Woolworth Tower

Today's postcard comes from 1919, just six years after the completion of the Woolworth Building. As the front of this unusual card notes it was "the tallest and most beautiful office building in the world."

As we write in Inside the Apple
Frank W. Woolworth, the inventor of the dime store in 1878 and the most revolutionary retailer in America since A.T. Stewart, had become rich off a simple notion: low prices and high volume. Not only was everything at Woolworth’s priced at either five or ten cents, all the merchandise was on display. In an era when store clerks normally had to fetch items from the back, the ability to browse store shelves gave buyers greater power over their selections. And, as Woolworth soon realized, it made them purchase more. In 1910, he added the lunch counter to a store in Manhattan—another tool to keep shoppers in the store longer and by 1911, when the Woolworth Corporation was founded, Frank Woolworth was worth millions. 
That same year, the company hired Cass Gilbert to build its new corporate headquarters on Broadway. Gilbert, who had just six years earlier finished his Beaux Arts masterpiece, the U.S. Custom House, gracefully transitioned into high-rise construction. He was one of the first New York architects to embrace the idea that tall buildings should actually look tall, and used a variety of techniques to draw the viewer’s eye from the decorated street-level entrances to the soaring tower. The window bays are separated by vertical piers that rise, almost uninterrupted, from the base to the spire. The building is faced in terra cotta that lightens toward the top of the building, emphasizing its height....
Gilbert’s use of neo-Gothic tracery (sometimes referred to as “wedding cake” Gothic) gives the building a medieval feel and, indeed, led Brooklyn minister S. Parkes Cadman to dub it “the Cathedral of Commerce” at its opening gala. Cadman was not only making a commentary on its architectural style but on the fact that in the battle between God and Mammon, Mammon appeared to be winning....
In the end, Woolworth paid about $13.5 million to build the tower out of his own deep pockets.... He was one of the first to realize the sheer publicity value of building a noteworthy skyscraper, from using its image in advertising to having postcards sent around the world showing off his creation. As with all skyscrapers claiming the title of tallest in the world, the Woolworth tower had an observation deck that drew in over a quarter million people a year until it was displaced by the Chrysler Building in 1930....(Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government closed the observatory atop the Woolworth Building for fear that the vantage it gave of New York harbor was too strategically important. Later in the war, the copper cladding on the Woolworth’s roof was removed and melted down for the war effort; today, the building is painted green instead.)

Today, the tower of the Woolworth Building is in the final stages of being converted into condos; the observation deck is part of the $110-million penthouse, but it's unclear if it will be accessible.



for our 3rd Annual Alexander Hamilton Memorial Day Weekend Walk

Read all about it and reserve at

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