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This post lists 13 cool facts you might not know about the Woolworth Building, one of New York City's most beautiful buildings.




The Woolworth Building is one of New York City's architecturally unique buildings. Its history is also quite interesting.

While the cathedral-like exterior is fairly recognizable, the interior has some cool features that many people don't know about.

Since the Woolworth Building is closed to the general public, we recommend that you take a tour so you see one of the most famous and extravagant lobbies in the world.

1) The lobby is one of the most extravagant in the world

The marble lobby features glass mosaics, a huge vaulted ceiling, a stained-glass ceiling light, and bronze fittings.

There are eight sculptures that represent the individuals who made the realization of the building possible, including Woolworth himself!



The lobby is closed to the public but you can take a tour. These tours are excellent and highly-regarded.

Find out about Woolworth Building Tours.

2) It was once the world’s tallest building 

The building is 792 feet (241.5 meters) tall. When it was built in 1913, it was the tallest building in the world!

It lost that status when the Bank of the Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street was completed in 1930.

See a list of New York City's famous skyscrapers here

3) Woolworth was a self-made millionaire

Frank W. Woolworth, who commissioned the building, was a self-made millionaire. He made his fortune by opening a chain of stores known as "Five-and-Dimes" (or nickel and dimes) that offered very low-priced merchandise. 



His stores were also the first to have self-service display cases that allowed customers to look and examine the items without having to ask a clerk to show them.


4) Woolworth paid for the construction in cash

Including the purchase of the land and the construction of the building, the total cost of the project was $13.5 million. 

Woolworth paid for it all in CASH! Today, $13.5 million is the equivalent of about $338 million!


5) “Cathedral of Commerce”

Because the building is a neo-gothic style it resembles a cathedral.  As the home to many prominent businesses, including Woolworth’s own, the building was nicknamed “The Cathedral of Commerce”.



6) It had the fastest elevators in the world when it opened

There are 24 elevators in the lobby and two of them were the fastest elevators in the world in 1913. These high-speed elevators traveled 700 feet (210 m) per minute.

The elevators were supplied by the Otis Elevator Company. The company's founder, Elijah Armstrong Otis was a highly innovate inventor.

His elevator company designed the world's first hydraulic passenger, which, in 1857, was installed in the Haughwout Building in SoHo. Otis elevators are also in the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.


7) On Opening Day, President Woodrow Wilson turned on the lights

On April 24, 1913, the building was officially opened with a lavish private dinner party held by Woolworth with over 800 guests! 

The building was inaugurated by President Woodrow Wilson who was in the White House in Washington DC. 

At 6:30 pm, he pressed a button and switched on the building’s lights!

More than 5,000 windows were illuminated. Floodlights, which were fairly new at the time, were used to illuminate the exterior.


8) A company who helped develop the atomic bomb had an office here

During World War Two, the Kellex Corporation was based in the Woolworth Building.

Kellex Corp. was part of the “Manhattan Project,” the government's secret effort to create an atomic bomb.


9) The architect was one of America's most famous


The architect of the building, Cass Gilbert, designed the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

He also designed the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, which today houses the Museum of the American Indian. (see picture on right).


10) The penthouse apartment cost $110,000,000

In 2012, Alchemy Properties purchased the top 30 floors of the building for $68 million and concerted the space into 33 condominiums. 

The penthouse apartment has a price tag of $110 million dollars.


11) There's a swimming pool in the basement 

When the building was constructed, a swimming pool measuring 15 feet by 55 feet (4.6 by 16.8 m) was installed in the basement.

The pool ceased being used in 1999 when it was completely drained. 

Then in 2012, the top 30 floors were converted to luxury condominiums and the pool was restored and opened for use by apartment owners.


12) The Woolworth Building has been in movies and tv shows

The Woolworth Building has appeared in several films and TV shows. 

The lobby was used as the lobby of the headquarters of Meade Publications in the TV show Ugly Betty



In the Disney film Enchanted (2007), the Kings and Queens Ball is held in the Woolworth Building (though actually a studio set). The top of the building is where the movie's climactic battle takes place.

It is also used as the office building where Nick Carraway works in The Great Gatsby (2013)In the opening scenes of Cloverfield (2008), the building is seen collapsing. 


13) The Woolworth Building is a national landmark

Due to its history and architectural uniqueness, the Woolworth Building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

New York City gave landmark status to the building in 1983.


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Just a few minutes walk from the Woolworth Building is the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across the bridge is a 'must-do' for visitors to New York.

Use our guide to walking the Brooklyn Bridge filled with helpful information. Check out our GPS-enabled audio tour that you can use any time of the day or night. 



If you want to combine a visit to the Woolworth Building with other sights, we offer the below pay-what-you-wish tours:

Other Nearby Activities

For an in-depth look at nearby activities see our post on things to do in Lower Manhattan.


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About The Author


Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.
Updated: October 3rd, 2021
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