This old and famous skyscraper used to hold an amazing record.
In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the Woolworth Building, one of the most famous historical buildings in New York.
1. It held an amazing record upon completion
The Woolworth Building is one of the first skyscrapers in the world, and upon completion, it became the tallest skyscraper in the world as well. The building consists of 55 floors and stands 792 feet (241 meters) tall.
It held this record until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building, which in return was surpassed just 11 months later by the Empire State Building.
Please note that this doesn’t mean that the Woolworth Building was the tallest structure in the world, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was still taller at the time.
2. It’s located in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood
The building is located at 233 Broadway in Manhattan, New York City. It’s bounded by Broadway and City Hall Park on the east. To the north, it’s bounded by Park Place and to the south by Barclay Street.
It’s located in the historic “Tribeca” neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, which is the syllabic abbreviation of “Triangle Below Canal Street.”
3. It was built by Frank Woolworth
Frank Winfield Woolworth was an American entrepreneur who became rich with a chain of “Five-and-Dimes,” the so-called 5- and 10-cent stores or “dime stores.”
The original idea for the building was to create headquarters for his company, the “F. W. Woolworth Company.” Planning for this started as early as 1910.
He managed to persuade the “Irving National Exchange Bank” to move their headquarters to the newly constructed building as well, and this bank ended up funding part of the construction cost.
4. Woolworth got his inspiration for the design from other buildings
The Woolworth Building was constructed in the neo-Gothic style and the architect of the project was Cass Gilbert, an early proponent of skyscrapers.
The style wasn’t chosen by accident because Woolworth had a clear idea from other buildings. Gilbert was in charge of the design of “90 West Street,” a building with a similar design that was completed in 1907.
Woolworth also admired the design of the Palace of Westminster in London which was designed in the Gothic style as well.
5. The height was increased multiple times
One of the most remarkable facts about the Woolworth Building is that the original intention wasn’t to build the tallest skyscraper in the world at all. In fact, the original plans only suggested building a maximum of 16 stories.
This changed when the idea entered his mind to surpass the height of the “New York World Building” which was located on the other side of City Hall Park and stood 20 stories and 350 feet (110 meters) tall. Because of this, the original plan was changed to a building with 30 stories.
6. A trip to Europe changed Woolworth’s mind again
When returning from a trip to Europe, Woolworth assigned Gilbert to create an even taller building. Apparently, he had heard people talk about the “Singer Building” with great enthusiasm and wanted to build an even taller skyscraper.
The Singer Building was the tallest skyscraper in the world from 1908 until 1909 but was eventually demolished in 1968, the tallest building to ever be demolished at that time as it stood 612 feet (186.6 meters) tall.
7. The officially announced building was much shorter
On January 1, 1911, the design of the Woolworth Building was announced to the public. it was to become a skyscraper standing 625 feet (191 meters) tall at USD 5 million.
Woolworth, however, had purchased land just a few weeks later right next to the construction site to expand it.
This allowed for an even taller building and surpass the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower which stood 700 feet tall (213.4 meters), and just recently had become the tallest building in the world.
8. Woolworth and his architect didn’t get along too well
Frank Woolworth and his architect Cass Gilbert didn’t get along too well, that’s an understatement. Frank was a bit greedy and tried to keep the architect’s fees down as much as possible while Cass didn’t like the numerous changes in design which quadrupled his work.
Regardless of their indifference, Gilbert did end up giving Woolworth credit for his enthusiasm for the project and his involvement in the design.
9. The foundation construction had a huge price tag
Work on the site started as early as September 1910 when laborers started clearing the area. Several buildings up to 6 stories high were demolished so the laying of the foundation could start.
“The Foundation Company” was in charge of the initial project and received an astounding USD 1 million, a huge sum at the time.
It was noted that this was the largest contract for the foundation construction of a building ever signed in history anywhere in the world.
10. The skyscraper wasn’t built by the “inventor” of skyscrapers
Skyscraper construction was still in its infancy in the early 20th century. That would make it logical that the tallest skyscraper in the world at the time would have been constructed by the “inventor of skyscrapers,” George A. Fuller’s Fuller Company.
Woolworth picked a local company though, Louis J. Horowitz’s Thompson-Starrett Company, to do the job. The company was paid a guaranteed construction price of USD 4,308,500 and an additional fee of USD 300,000 for their management work.
This is the equivalent of nearly USD 130 million today!
11. Laborers didn’t get rich from their job
Even though the construction company was paid a hefty sum to build the skyscraper, the laborers were paid peanuts for their efforts.
Regular laborers were paid a daily wage of $1.5 and skilled laborers were paid $4.5 a day. This is about 1/3 the salary laborers would receive today if calculated with inflation in mind.
12. Actual construction started on August 15, 1911
The foundation was completed in August 1911, so actual construction could commence on August 15 of that month.
The construction started with the steel frame of the building and the first steel above-ground was assembled in October 1911.
13. The pace of construction was extremely fast
Even though the laborers were paid little for the massive work they put in, they moved forward at a record speed as the skyscraper was rising at 1.5 stories a week.
One of the most fascinating facts about the Woolworth Building is that the steelworkers managed to assemble 1,153 tons (that’s 1.153 million kilos!) of steel in six consecutive eight-hour days.
14. The Woolworth Building was officially opened in April of 1913
On April 24, 1913, a massive reception was held on the building’s 27th floor. About 900 notable guests, including the most important people in the United States at the time, were invited to the official inauguration of the Woolworth Building.
At 7:30 EST, President Woodrow Wilson pushed a button in Washington D.C. which officially turned on the building’s lights.
Yes, this was a big event!
15. The construction budget was exceeded by $8.5 million USD
The original construction budget of USD 5 million wasn’t nearly enough to fund the entire project. In fact, the budget was exceeded by a whopping USD 8.5 million!
This was due to the purchase of the additional land and the fact that the skyscraper was much taller than its original design.
The entire cost of the project was USD 13.5 million, the equivalent of about USD 350 million today!
16. Renting out the office space was a huge success
On May 1, 1913, the first office spaces were rented for $4 per square foot. An advertising campaign was launched, and tenants were lining up to have an office in the tallest building in the world!
Just a year later, over 70% of all space was rented out which generated over USD 1.3 million a year in revenue. By 1920 it’s estimated that over 1,000 companies had rented office space in the building.
Yes, the Woolworth Building was a massive success!
17. Frank Woolworth only got to enjoy his building for 7 years
Frank Woolworth died in the year 1920, which was just 7 years after the massive opening of his very own skyscraper.
He left behind a building that was worth USD 10 million and was grossing USD 1.55 million in revenue every year. The building was eventually sold to “Woolco Realty Co.,” a subsidiary of the F. W. Woolworth Company, in April 1924 for USD 11 million.
18. The pinnacle wasn’t painted green until 1927
One of the most prominent design elements of the building is its green pinnacle. This ornamented pinnacle wasn’t painted green until the year 1927!
The observation tower at the very top, which is now closed, was gilded in gold as well for USD 25,000!
19. The Woolworth Building almost got city-landmark status in 1970
By the 1970s, the Woolworth Building had achieved a special status in New York City. For this reason, The “New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission” wanted to give the skyscraper an official city-landmark status.
The Woolworth Company owning the tower objected to this because this wouldn’t allow them to make modifications to the tower anymore, so the proposal got rejected.
20. A renovation cost $22 million USD in the 1980s
Just a couple of years later, in 1977, the Woolworth Company had to start a massive renovation project. The reason was that the terracotta façade was seriously deteriorating and had to be replaced.
The original budget for the project was USD 8 million, but by the time the project was completed in 1982, it cost a total of USD 22 million!
The exceeded budget was covered with a tax break received from the government of New York City, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted landmark protection to the building’s exterior and façade the following year.
21. Woolworth’s company owned the building until 1998
The F. W. Woolworth Company’s subsidiary had owned the Woolworth Building for multiple decades and eventually ended up selling it in the year 1998.
The “Venator Group,” as the company was now being referred to Steve Witkoff’s Witkoff Group and Lehman Brothers for USD 155 million on April 28, 1998.
22. Converting the top 33 floors into condos wasn’t a good idea
New York developer Alchemy Properties bought the top 30 floors of the building for $68 million from the Witkoff Group on July 31, 2012. The goal was to turn these into luxurious apartments that would sell for millions of dollars each.
After the Landmarks Preservation Commission had approved the project, the conversion started and was completed in March 2019.
Unfortunately, numerous residential skyscrapers, including the Central Park Tower and One Vanderbilt, among many others, are offering similar properties on the market at a lower price and a better location.
Upon completion, only 3 of the 31 available apartments had been sold as a result.
23. It’s unknown how many windows the Woolworth Building has
One of the strangest facts about the Woolworth Building is that it’s not exactly sure how many windows the building really has. Various sources state different numbers ranging from 2,843 to 4,000 and even up to 5,000 windows!
24. The lobby was one of the most spectacular ones ever created
The building used to have over 2,000 offices upon completion, and all the office workers there used to enter the building through an amazing-looking lobby.
The lobby is known as the “arcade” and was constructed in the shape of a cross. It contains 2-story-high passageways with barrel-vaulted ceilings and is completely covered in veined marble from the island of Skyros in Greece.
It has been described as one of the most amazing lobbies ever constructed at the time the building was completed in the early 20th century.