One of the most stunning architectural gems of New York City is the Woolworth Building. It is on the “must see” checklists of architectural enthusiasts around the city and around the world. OHNY, in partnership with Control Group, were able to gain access for a small group this past Wednesday evening.
The tour began on the grand staircase just off of the lobby. Building historian Roy Suskin explained the unique qualities of both the building and its creator, Frank Woolworth.
The ornate designs of the building were inspired by European Gothic cathedrals and redefine the meaning of extravagance. The lobby ceiling mosaic is adorned with gold leaf.
Careful inspection of the interior, reveals hundreds of interesting small details that are both playful and breath-taking.
The stain-glass like ceiling above the grand stair case casts a golden glow onto the lobby. And a look closer reveals more intricate details.
Not only was great care put into the details of the building, the structural qualities are equally impressive. The building sits on huge steel stilts with a steel structure that is then reinforced by up to 5 feet of brick wall. Basically, the building has been over built to withstand almost anything. Most modern skyscrapers are built so that they sway slightly with the wind; the Woolworth Building is a solid rock in comparison.
At the top of the grand staircase are these imposing doors and beautiful clock. No expense was spared in the building of this landmark – Frank Woolworth fully intended it to be the greatest, tallest, most efficient and safest building in the world. It was built with no materials that could burn so it is practically fire proof. At the off chance of a fire, water hoses were installed and connected to three different water mains, in case one (or two) should break. The elevators had, at the time of construction, six different safety features (three have now been deemed unnecessary and have been eliminated). The building was also built with boilers in the basement to produce all the hot water for the building.
After leaving the lobby, the tour was led up to the 43rd floor. Attention was mostly paid to the look and grandeur of the building, which meant that many practical use aspects were overlooked. Tour participants were allowed to take a full tour around the outdoor observation deck, but had to climb through a window in order to do so (since no doors were built).
The night of the tour was rainy and hazy, creating an added enchanting touch to the tour.
This is the view of the building facade looking up from the observation deck.
Once back inside, the enchanted ambiance only continued. As the tour group was headed into one of Frank Woolworth’s offices, the lights suddenly went off. The office could only been viewed through the constant camera flashes of the tour participants.
Here is a view of the office’s ceiling (lit by other camera flashes).
And this is the view from the Frank Woolworth’s office, with detailing along the window frame.
Another interesting fact about the building, which appears to be a bit of a secret, is that though it is widely accepted that the building is 60 stories tall, this is not actually true. Roy Suskin explained that when publicity for the building was happening, Frank Woolworth claimed that it was 60 stories tall. However, after later count, it was revealed that this was false, even if one were to begin counting on the basement floors, the building falls short of 60 floors. In order not to contradict himself, the numbering of the floors was rigged so that it indeed appeared to have 60 floors. For example, if you look closely you can see that there is no button for the 42nd floor.
The tour then headed down into the basement. The tour group was lead through a huge, think vault door into the vault lined with thousands of safety deposit boxes.
Amazingly, the vault now just sits open yet all of the safety deposit boxes are still in the slots – making you wonder whether you might find some hidden treasure if given the time to rummage around.
Lastly, the tour group was taken into the impressive maintenance and boiler rooms and then finally into the pool area, which is not in use today.
The Woolworth Building is not open to the general public and tourists are highly discouraged from walking into the lobby – most New Yorker’s are familiar with that ominous sign outside stating “No tourists beyond this point”. OHNY was delighted to gain limited access to the building thanks to the help of Control Group and Roy Suskin and hopes that it will have more opportunities to open up the building in the future.
The Woolworth Building