Photo Essays

Inside the Magnificent Lobby of a Classic Skyscraper

Exterior signage at 233 Broadway (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Cass Gilbert–designed Woolworth building was the world’s tallest when it was completed in 1913, and while it relinquished that title long ago, its gothic exterior is still a commanding presence on Broadway. And for those interested in the architecture and history of downtown Manhattan, the Woolworth’s lobby remains an excellent place to start.

Dubbed the “Cathedral of Commerce” for its intricate detailing and monumental scale, the Woolworth’s cross plan layout, massive barrel-vaulted ceilings, and carved stone caricatures set a scene that is a far cry from the stark modernism that would come to dominate corporate architecture later in the 20th century.

While the architecture may look like it was transported from medieval Europe, the engineering and services in the Woolworth building were cutting-edge for their time. Much of the building’s original infrastructure is still in use to this day, including the elevators and water heaters. Walking down the arched staircase that originally connected directly to the city’s then state-of-the-art subway system, visitors can imagine the bustle of activity that once inhabited this space.

View of the barrel-vault ceiling from the entrance
View of the entrance from the reception desk
View of the central dome
An original custom mailbox with Woolworth ‘W’s, still used today
The barrel-vault ceiling from the west end of the lobby
View from the top of the marble stairs at the west end of the lobby
Hand-carved stone detailing
Detail of the bank vault door in the basement
The bank vault, repurposed today as tool storage for the ongoing restoration of the building
View of the dome from the mezzanine
One of the many unique hand-carved stone faces throughout the building
View of the barrel vault ceilings from the mezzanine
Hand-carved stone detailing
The facade from City Hall Park
The Woolworth Building with City Hall Park Fountain in the foreground

Guided tours of the Woolworth building lobby (233 Broadway, Financial District, Manhattan) are available most days.

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