Frank Woolworth wanted to build an amazing structure that would be symbolic of the company he’d built. It was to be a skyscraper, made possible by new advances in iron and structural engineering. He commissioned a man named Cass Gilbert, who had also designed the Saint Louis Art Museum and Public Library, and Cass produced a neo-Gothic style production in 1910.
The structure was to be 20 stories, Woolworth’s new corporate headquarters, and it would sit on Broadway between Park Place and Barclay. That put the structure opposite City Hall, which would sit in the shadow of a 420 foot tall building.
Eventually, the building would be even taller, growing to a staggering (at the time) 792 feet in the air. When the structure opened, an additional 40 stories had been added to the design, and the building featured over 5,000 windows with incredible views of the city.
The cost of the entire project was close to $14 million, financed by a partnership Woolworth had engineered between a company of his devising and the National Exchange Bank. The building opened in April of 1913 with fanfare. President Woodrow Wilson is said to have used a switch in Wasshington DC to turn the power on for the first time.
By 1914, Woolworth had bought out the bank’s shares and owned the building outright. It was the world’s tallest structure until 1930, when 40 Wall Street surpassed it by almost 200 feet. The Reverend S. Parkes Cadman called it “The Cathedral of Commerce” because of its resemblance to gothic cathedrals.
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