In 1913 the Woolworth Building, hailed by architectural critics as an engineering marvel, soared 792 feet high into the lower Manhattan skyline, making it the tallest building in the world at that time. The awe-inspiring, technologically advanced steel frame structure was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert. In addition to the skyscraper’s mechanical underbelly, which featured highspeed elevator service, self-sustaining electrical power generation, heating, cooling, water supply and fire protection, its grand lobby was recognized as a stunning and picturesque work of art.
Today, the lobby’s spectacular stained glass, Byzantine mosaics, sculptures and murals are being appreciated by architectural enthusiasts and professionals, historians, artists and visitors from around the world due in part to to the passion and perseverance of Cass Gilbert’s great-grandchildren Helen Post-Curry and Chuck Post. Upon the 100-Year Celebration of the Woolworth Building, named a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and a New York City Landmark in 1983, the interest in the building’s intricate and preserved lobby was overwhelming. And so, the Woolworth Lobby Tours were introduced in the summer of 2013 and are operated by the descendants of Cass Gilbert.
The lobby had been closed to the public for a number of years due to security issues and general traffic within a building that houses professional offices and soon to be residential tenants. But there was no denying the public’s interest in this “Cathedral of Commerce”, as its Gothic exterior beckoned passersby into its Romanesque cathedral style lobby with its magnificent marble staircase. Frank W. Woolworth, the chief executive of the F. W. Woolworth Company and owner of the popular five-and-ten-cent stores across the globe, commissioned Cass Gilbert to build the Woolworth headquarters. And while the skyscraper became a beacon for commerce and prosperity, the architect and the building’s principals upheld a sense of humor and pride which visitors can see amid the lobby’s many carved stone caricatures (Corbel sculptures include Gilbert with a model of the building, engineer Gunvald Aus taking a girder's measurements, and Woolworth counting nickels), theatrical faces, symbolic animals, documented dates and trusted allies. These fun facts and details, and so much more, are exposed during the Woolworth Building Lobby Tours.