The iconic Woolworth Building, the 100-year-old landmark building in New York City, is open to the public for tours.
Located at 233 Broadway, when it was completed in 1913, the Woolworth Building was hailed by architectural critics as an engineering marvel. It 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 high- speed 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 Mr. Gilbert with a model of the building, engineer Gunvald Aus taking a girder’s measurements, and Mr. 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.
There are 30, 60 and 90 minute tours available. The 30 minute tour provides a great opportunity to see the inside of the Woolworth Building’s world-famous lobby which was granted Landmark status in 1983 but has been closed to the public for the past 12 years. In addition to seeing the lobby and your tour guide will provide a brief discussion of some of the more important elements of the building including the unique terracotta exterior, the grand marble stair case, the glass mosaic ceiling, the corbels with likenesses of Frank Woolworth and Cass Gilbert, architect, among others. There will also be time on the tour for you to take photographs and ask questions. This tour is perfect for people who want to see the interior of the lobby and get an overview of its history. To make a reservation for this tour, click here.
Participants on the 60 minute tour will gain an understanding of the importance of the world famous Woolworth Building which was the tallest building in the world for 17 years. This tour will include discussions about the buildings highly ornamented exterior, the ornate lobby which was granted Landmark status in 1983, and a rare chance to see areas that have been closed to the public for the past 12 years. In addition you will be able to see the unique lobby and your tour guide will present information about the construction of the building, its historic role in the creation of the skyscraper and the New York City skyline, and some fascinating background about Frank Woolworth and Cass Gilbert, architect. There will also be time on the tour so you can take photographs and ask questions. This tour is perfect for people who want to gain an understanding of magnificence of this building and its history. To make a reservation for this tour, click here.
There are two 90-Minute Lobby tours from which to choose. The tours are not exactly the same as they are led by different tour guides who focus on slightly different elements of the building lobby (while covering similar information and background). One tour is led by noted historian, author and tour guide Anthony W. Robins, and will provide a detailed look at the building’s unmatched polychromatic terra-cotta exterior, and an in-depth discussion of the Landmarked lobby and its wealth of ornamentation, a visit to hidden corners and staircases that are not seen by most visitors, and a special visit to the mezzanine level for a unique perspective on the spectacular space and an up-close view of its extraordinary mosaic ceiling and historic murals.
This tour will also include a look at Cass Gilbert’s first New York skyscraper, the nearby Broadway-Chambers Building, and a discussion of how Gilbert’s work led to the creation of the tallest skyscraper in the world and his impact on skyscraper design and the development of future skylines. The first 30 minutes of this tour will take place outside the building and include a brief walk along Broadway to Chambers Street. The remainder of the tour will take place inside the building. Please note that this tour includes stairs, walking and significant time standing. To make a reservation for this tour, click here.
The other tour of Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building offers a view of the emerging urban identity of New York as it was being forged in the early 20th century as seen through the beauty of one of the city’s grandest civic spaces. This tour, led by architectural historian and Gilbert expert, Barbara Christen, will offer unusual views of the lobby, including those from the mezzanine, a spectacular location from which to survey the monumental barrel vaults, their scintillating mosaics, and other richly-crafted aspects of the lobby, including designs by Tiffany Studios.
It will also include examination of original sculptural “grotesques” of key figures (see images below) who were memorialized in the most public areas of the lobby. Emphasis will be placed on the history and context of Frank W. Woolworth’s empire, the then-existing construction industry, design development of the building, and the marketing of the resulting architectural landmark. Come also to hear about the Woolworth Building’s original transit connections and luxury amenities, making it a most desirable business address at its completion in 1913. To make a reservation for this tour, click here.
Images Courtesy of Woolworth Tours