2 Woolworth Building

New York, New York
Cass Gilbert, 1913

The neo-Gothic Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert sits at 233 Broadway in lower Manhattan, just one block from the site of the former World Trade Center.

The building’s steel frame allowed it to soar to 57 stories – the tallest building on record when it was completed. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Its terra cotta exterior and neo-Gothic detailing, including many gargoyles, led to the building’s nickname: the “Cathedral of Commerce.”

The Woolworth Building and surrounding structures, circa 1913 Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Woolworth Building 

The Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan was the world’s tallest building when it was completed in 1913 and, at 57 stories, held that distinction until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building.

Commissioned by F. W. Woolworth as the new corporate headquarters for his growing five-and-dime retail business, the dramatic neo-Gothic tower soon became an iconic shape in the Manhattan skyline.

Architect Cass Gilbert made use of the building’s steel frame structure not only to support a soaring skyscraper, but to increase overall window space in the building. He also employed a u-shaped footprint – with an interior courtyard – to respond to his client’s request that he maximize the use of natural light.

Clad in terra cotta, crowned in copper, and known for its Gothic detailing, including many humorous gargoyles, the building was nicknamed the “Cathedral of Commerce,” though architect Gilbert said he intended no religious symbolism.