Written by Marybeth Kavanagh, Print Room Reference Librarian
April 24, 1913, 7:30pm: President Woodrow Wilson presses a telegraphic button in Washington, DC, illuminating eighty thousand bulbs in the newly constructed Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway in New York City, and ushering in the era of the modern skyscraper.
Constructed in neo-Gothic style by architect Cass Gilbert, who was commissioned by F.W. Woolworth to design the new corporate headquarters of his five-and-dime empire, the Woolworth Building was then the tallest building in the world at 792 feet. The cost of construction was approximately $13,500,000.00, which Woolworth paid in cash. A celebratory dinner for over 800 people on the 27th floor of the “Cathedral of Commerce” continued the opening ceremonies that April evening.
Speeches and toasts were made, and Mr. Woolworth presented Mr. Gilbert with a silver punch bowl designed by Tiffany and Company. This bowl was recently acquired by the New-York Historical Society, and is now on display in our Smith Gallery. The inscription reads: “Presented to Cass Gilbert by Frank W. Woolworth as a Mark of Appreciation at the Formal Opening of The Woolworth Building on the 24th of April 1913.”
In celebration of the Woolworth Building’s 100th anniversary, we’ve decided to share some of the many fascinating artifacts of the Woolworth Building’s history and design that can be found within the library’s Cass Gilbert Collection (PR 21). This collection consists of over 500 linear feet of architectural drawings, ledgers, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, photographs, architect’s specifications, project files, and correspondence spanning the years 1887 to 1934. It documents the first meetings between Gilbert and Woolworth in 1910, through the building’s construction and completion and beyond to include promotional brochures, reviews and articles about the Woolworth Building. This is intended to be the first in a series of blog posts that highlights a selection of our Woolworth-related collections.
The Woolworth Building Pool
One of the more surprising elements of the Woolworth Building is the pool in the sub-basement. Hoping to attract high-end tenants, Woolworth planned to offer a package of modern amenities. These special features included a shopping arcade, high speed elevators, a private club, an observatory, a rathskeller, a barber shop, a nurses office, and a health club with a swimming pool.
For the basement swimming pool, Gilbert hired the decorating firm Mack, Jenney and Tyler to paint wall and ceiling panels suggesting a “Pompeiian” bath.
Sadly, this design was never carried out. By the time the final specs for the pool had been approved, all orders for the “Pompeiian” detail had been changed. When the pool opened in 1913, it looked like this:
Into the 1980s, the pool was part of a Jack LaLane Fitness club. It was drained in the late 1990s, and as of now is no longer in use.