Financial District

What it’s “worth”: With high-end condos coming to the Woolworth Building, a tour of its past

The glittering vaulted ceiling in the Woolworth Building's lobby
The glittering vaulted ceiling in the Woolworth Building’s lobby

The Financial District’s ornate Woolworth Building — once the world’s tallest — will soon have another impressive attribute to add to its 101-year history.

The legendary property is adding a luxury residential component inside its landmarked terracotta walls. The top 30 floors of the 60-story building will give way to 34 one- to four-bedroom condominium homes — including a five-story penthouse in the cupola — priced at roughly $3,000 per square foot. Sales are expected to launch this spring.

But if you don’t have that kind of money to spend, not to worry: Just about anyone can peek inside the elaborate lobby of the neo-Gothic structure, which, until recently, was restricted to its commercial tenants. Luxury Listings NYC attended one of the building’s public lobby tours, organized by Helen Post Curry, the great-granddaughter of architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building.

On a cold day in March, roughly 20 people gathered for a 90-minute tour guided by architectural historian Barbara Christen. The tour digs deep into the building’s history, as well as into the mind of Frank Winfield Woolworth, the rags-to-riches man who gave the building its name. Woolworth founded the F.W. Woolworth Company, which at its peak operated over 300 “Five-and-Dime” stores across the country.

We began at the lobby’s rear, standing underneath a gold-tinted glass ceiling, whose impressive ornamentation quickly captured our attention. Woolworth commissioned Gilbert to design the structure in 1910, with a strict adherence to quality in artistry. Despite the name, the building never served as a company headquarters; it functioned as more of a billboard — and a glistening one, at that. “Woolworth was using this building to signal to the American people and consumers, ‘Look at the great powerhouse of a company that I have built!’” Christen excitedly explained.

Due to its resemblance to Gothic cathedrals, the building earned the moniker the “Cathedral of Commerce.” We scaled the back staircase to get a view of the lobby, and the result was stunning: columns, pointed terra-cotta banding and soaring barrel vaults with glittery mosaics — bearing Klimt-like shades of green, blue, gold, periwinkle, red and yellow pieces — shining from above.

There is another play with religion on the mezzanine level, where lunette-shaped murals depict angel-like figures with such words as “Labor” and “Commerce” painted over them — reflecting both Woolworth’s love of business and his desire to make the building the center of such activity.

Clearly he was onto something. When Woolworth died in 1919, the property was worth $65 million. Of course, that’s maybe what the penthouse alone will fetch today. — Zachary Kussin

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Average March rents

Studio         $3,069
1 bed           $3,779
2 beds         $5,456
3 beds         $7,369
> 3 beds      $17,666[/column]

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Average March sale price

Studio         $603,041
1 bed           $877,714
2 beds         $1,670,325
3 beds         N/A
>3 beds      N/A[/column]

Source: StreetEasy

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