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The Woolworth Building Turns 100

The historic Woolworth Building, nicknamed the “Cathedral of Commerce,” turns 100 today. As a member of artnet’s New York team, I am lucky enough to work on the 26th floor of the Neo-gothic tower, which overlooks all of downtown New York City.

Woolworth building by Tom Baril Tom Baril, Woolworth building, 1997

Architect Cass Gilbert designed the building in 1910. The Woolworth was the tallest building in the world from its completion in 1913 until 1930; it rises to a height of 792 feet and has 57 stories. However, because Frank Woolworth, the client who paid US$13.5 million in cash to build the Woolworth, favored round numbers, he often stated that the building had 60 floors. The sublime views from the offices are never-ending.

Woolworth (from Ground Zero) by Tom Baril Tom Baril, Woolworth (from Ground Zero), 2001

The Woolworth building is made up of colored terracotta, gargoyle turrets, articulated piers, and continuous cornices. The entrance is marked by a sign that reads “No Tourists Beyond this Point,” and there is a special thrill in passing through the velvet rope. In my opinion, the best part of the Woolworth is the entrance; it is more inviting than a gothic church, which it is meant to emulate. The Romanesque lobby has a crisscross of barrel vaulting, which invites your gaze aloft to the ornate mosaics, dripping with gold leaf and lit by stained glass.

The second concourse is illuminated with natural light, and you find yourself bookended by murals, entitled Commerce and Labor, and sculpted caricatures of the men who built the building. These caricatures feature Luis Horowitz, the builder, Cass Gilbert, and Frank Woolworth.

artnet has had the privilege of working in this historic site for almost one year, and so as the Woolworth celebrates its centennial, we too mark an important anniversary in the coming month.

Bree Hughes is an associate specialist of photography for artnet Auctions.

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