Visiting the Cathedral of Commerce, The Woolworth Building

Woolworth Building Tour

I was recently invited to take a Woolworth Building Lobby Tour.

The tour was appealing to me for a few reasons. First of all, I love learning new things about New York as well as visiting interesting sites. More importantly, the fact that the lobby is closed to the general public (unless you take one of these new tours) made me want to check it out even more!

Oh, and it’s also fun to play tourist in your hometown once in a while…

Kim and I took the 90 minute tour with WoolworthTours. This was an opportunity to take a rare look at the Woolworth Building’s lobby, lower level and mezzanine. During our visit we got to check out some of the impressive details and mosaic ceiling of this neo-Gothic style masterpieces designed by architect Cass Gilbert.

Woolworth Building Tour

The skyscraper is located in lower Manhattan and held the title of tallest building in the world for 17 years, from 1913 until 1930.

We were actually running late for our tour but made it just in time since we decided to use Uber rather than take the subway there.

woolworth building tour

Our tour met outside the lobby entrance and we learned some details about the building. We actually were taken to the park across the street to get a better view of the building since it’s quite hard to see the top when standing directly below it.

Our tour guide also mentioned and pointed out some other buildings which were designed by the Woolworth Building’s architect Cass Gilbert. Another interesting building which was pointed out was the original office of Frank Woolworth, located just a block away.

woolworth building tour

From the outside, the building is an impressive sight to see. Just look at the detailed work over the window shown above. Now imagine a building over 790 feet tall decorated in this style.

And just wait until you go inside!

woolworth building tour

Once inside I couldn’t stop looking at the mosaics on the ceilings. The details are simply amazing. I could imagine scaffolding throughout the lobby with the artists adding these small tiles to complete the project over 100 years back!
woolworth building tourThe elevator’s decoration reminded me of something that I’d expect to see at an old church in Europe.
woolworth building tour

The lobby is pretty huge. This photo taken at the far end shows light coming in through the main entrance. If you look closely, you might see some of the interesting details present around the area.

woolworth building tour

When we visited the basement, the most interesting thing we saw was the old bank vault. We walked in a bit further and saw loads of safe deposit boxes behind another set of bars.

Down here, we were heard stories about the basement. There used to be a German beer hall called a Rathskeller, entrances to train lines and even a barber shop.
woolworth building tourWe took an elevator up to the mezzanine to get better views of some beautful paintings as well as get a closer look at some mosaics.
woolworth building tour

Some of my favorite parts of the building were these creepy looking faces. Our guide was very knowledgebale about almost every detail present but couldn’t say what significance these ghoulish carvings had to the building or its designers. They were very interesting to see regardless. woolworth building tour

My favorite part of the Woolworth Building lobby tour was seeing how many of the important people responsible for getting the project completed were memorialized.

Many were carved similar to gargoyles in their likeness!

Here are a couple of examples:

woolworth building tourHere the man responsible for the building, Frank Woolworth is depicted, quite muscular (showing his power) and holding a coin in his hand (I believe it’s a nickel) to symbolise how he gained his fortune by opening Woolworth’s Five & Dime stores.

woolworth building tour

Here is architect Cass Gilbert holding a model of the Woolworth Building.
woolworth building tourThe Woolworth Building tour was an interesting look into one of the earliest skyscrapers in New York history. The grand style and details inside are still impressive, over 100 years after the building was completed!

Some other interesting things I learned during the tour:

  • Woolworth was against credit and prices were fixed in his stores. There was no negotiating at the Five and Dime although that was how business was typically conducted back then.
  • The Woolworth Building was completed in 1913 and cost $13.5 million. With inflation, the cost of the building today would’ve cost $315 million to build.
  • The top 30 floor of the building were sold to a developer who is making luxury apartments. A one bedroom will go for $4 million!
  • The top 7 floors are being renovated into a penthouse which is listed in the $110-$140 million range.

If you’re interested in checking out this amazing and impressive building, click here to find out how to do so on a Woolworth Building lobby tour.

Tour options & prices:

  • 30 minute tour- $20
  • 60 minute tour- $30
  • 90 minute tour- $45

2 thoughts on “Visiting the Cathedral of Commerce, The Woolworth Building

  1. Thank you! I was just gazing at it the other day from the One World Observatory. Will definitely schedule a tour on my next trip to NYC, I love old buildings like this!

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