Review: The Woolworth Building Lobby Tour

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In 1913 the Woolworth Building, hailed by architectural critics as an engineering marvel, 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 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 Gilbert with a model of the building, engineer Gunvald Aus taking a girder’s measurements, and 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.

Review:

When you are on holiday in New York and want to slow it down a tad whilst also immersing yourself in the gorgeous historical architecture that is in the downtown core – pick up tickets for the Woolworth Building Lobby Tour.

The tour guide who greeted my group and I was energetic and was quick to usher us into the elements and look up at the Woolworth Building and all of its ornate detail.  We were given behind the scenes historical tidbits of the goings on between Woolworth and Gilbert while also honouring their legacy with a nod to their decisions that carved out the building that we took in during the tour.

Within such close proximity to the 9/11 site I was amazed that the building still stood almost untouched. Although under current refurbishment for a condo extension – we were advised by the tour guide that the units were worth millions of dollars and promised beautiful views within a listed building.

Make sure you look up at the ceiling in the lobby when you are on the tour.  It is laden with a rich and exquisite mosaic.  It will be something you will want to capture for your social media accounts and write home about.

The vault at the bottom of the Woolworth Building will make you giddy.  These are the vaults that you see in films – grandiose, intense and terrifying.  Well worth the price of admission to the tour.

The Tiffany elevator doors are also a piece de resistance.  Truly amazing and will give you a wonderful snapshot into a time where craftsmanship and finite detail was held in such regard.

The gargoyles and head statues outside of the building are perfect portraiture into what makes New York architecture unique.  Be sure to take some time after the tour to dwell on their beautiful faces and lifetime home on the Woolworth Building.

The building aches secrets and stories.  Stories of bygone time, styles, tastes, political discourse and changing times.  Secrets of whispers, affairs, hiring and firings and death.  The building is beautiful, a reverent stoic structure and keen to shine its best light on us and remind us that ‘they just don’t make buildings like me anymore.’

The Woolworth Building Lobby Tour is a must see whilst you are in New York or better yet if you are a local.  The Woolworth Building is a landmark building and can often be seen poking its peak at you whilst you are on your travels.  It is worth to make some time to pay it some homage for being one of the best architectural marvels in New York City.

Tour Pricing 

30-Minute / $20 – Exterior, lobby, history, questions and photographs

60-Minute / $30 – More in depth history about the construction, its owner and the architect

90-Minute / $45 – Includes mezzanine level and a brief walk to the Broadway Chambers building Days

There are now daily tours at 2:00 p.m. and extra ones on Saturdays.  Check out the private tours that are available for groups of 10 or more!

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