A ride up to the 40th floor aboard a noisy construction elevator was one of the recent highlights of my real estate career. This was no ordinary building, but the famed Woolworth skyscraper and the floor where the former five and dime millionaire, Frank W. Woolworth’s personal office was located. Once decorated in Renaissance period furniture and tapestries, the entire floor is now completely gutted. The 7,000 square feet of open space gives a rare perspective of the amazing panoramic views of Manhattan from 28 arched windows, all colorfully surrounded by exterior terra-cotta detail.
The top 30 floors of this neo-Gothic tower are currently being transformed into 33 luxury condominium residences designed by French Architect, Thierry W. Despont. Topping out the building is a five-story cupola complete with outdoor observatory, dubbed “The Castle in the Sky”, that will come with a $110 million price tag. The developer Alchemy Properties bought floors 29 and up in 2012 for $68 million from the Witkoff Group and began a very extensive restoration project. Witkoff had purchased the entire building in 1998 from the Venator Group (formerly the Woolworth Corporation) for $155 million and still owns the lower floors. Residents of the condominium, called Woolworth Tower Residences, will not have access to the renowned grand cathedral-like main lobby on Broadway, but will instead have a private lobby off Park Place where the ornate coffered ceiling that originally decorated F.W. Woolworth’s office on the 40th floor will be restored and relocated to.
In 1910, Woolworth began working on this masterpiece and financed the project in cash without the assistance of any developers, giving him an unusual degree of freedom in its design and construction. He hired famed architect, Cass Gilbert, who based his designs on a Beaux-Arts style with ornate Gothic detail. The base of the building, bordering City Hall Park, occupies the entire block of Broadway between Park Place and Barclay Street. The base of the building is “U” shaped and the tower portion, with it’s several setbacks, is topped by a pyramid shaped roof. What the Woolworth building is best known for is the spectacular lobby, adorned with Early Christian inspired barrel vault mosaics, marble walls and plastered figures that include both Frank Woolworth as well as architect, Cass Gilbert. A large stained glass skylight sits atop the lobby level grand staircase. The public is prohibited access to the lobby unless accompanied by a tour operator. https://woolworthtours.com/
A lavish opening ceremony took place on April 24, 1913 and President Woodrow Wilson ceremoniously flipped a switch from the White House that turned on all the interior and exterior lights. At 60 stories high and standing 793 feet tall, The Woolworth building was at the time the tallest building in the world. It remained the tallest building in New York City for another 17 years until 40 Wall Street, at 927 feet, was completed in 1930. Later that same year the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) took that distinction and held the title for 11 months until the Empire State Building grabbed it in 1931 at 1,250 feet. The Woolworth building is currently the 24th tallest building in New York City, but several buildings currently under construction will knock it down a few notches in the not too distant future. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Here are some interesting articles about the history and the current condo project:
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