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.
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