The Woolworth Building Turns 100

Cass Gilbert’s Gothic masterpiece, once the tallest building in the world, celebrates its centennial year.

By Suzanne Stephens and Laura Mirviss
April 24, 2013
Image courtesy Architectural Record

The Woolworth Building opened to much fanfare on April 24, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson famously pressed a button to illuminate the tower for thousands of onlookers. Hailed as New York’s "Cathedral of Commerce," at a 792-foot height, Cass Gilbert’s Gothic-style tower held the title of tallest building in the world until the Bank of Manhattan Trust, designed by H. Craig Severance, and the Chrysler Building, by William Van Alen, were completed in 1930. For the Woolworth’s 100th birthday, Architectural Record is republishing a gem from its archives: a 1913 article by legendary architecture critic Montgomery Schuyler.

Woolworth Building
Photo via Wikipedia
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Schuyler, who wrote for Record frequently after its launch in 1891, continually addressed structural and design questions of New York City skyscrapers. When he decided to write about the Woolworth Building, he included skyscrapers that were noticeably tall enough to be seen in the round from different vantage points—far away, mid-distance, and close up.

In his 1913 article, “The Towers of Manhattan,” Schuyler, as part of his functional ethos, confronted the problem of designing a skyscraper that expressed its steel structure. That structural expression, Schuyler argued, was enhanced by Cass Gilbert’s cloaking the Woolworth Building in terracotta. Schuyler endorsed the use of a Gothic vocabulary not only because it recalled the structural advances of early medieval churches, but also helped to resolve issues of scale—the relationship of architectural elements to the human body as well as the architectural part to the whole.

View RECORD's original coverage of the Woolworth Building from 1913 [PDF].

The Skyscraper Museum in New York City has an exhibition dedicated to the Woolworth Building through July 14, 2013.


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