For an idea of what the architect himself looked like, check out a gargoyle he placed in the lobby. He’s the one hugging a model of the building, not far from his client, dime-store entrepreneur F. W. Woolworth, who is depicted counting his money. The Woolworth Building’s lyrical Gothic style established a new benchmark for skyscraper architecture, replacing French Modern, which before then had been considered the only style appropriate for tall buildings. Much to the despair of New Yorkers looking for little necessities that they once found in Woolworth’s stores, the five-and-tens have all vanished from the city’s neighborhoods.

At the time Mr. Woolworth died, six years after this building was finished, his empire extended to more than a thousand stores around the world and his fortune had grown to some $65 million, an impressive number of nickels and dimes in 1919. He was always proud to let it be known that he paid cash for his Cathedral of Commerce. His rise to the role of merchant prince began in 1878 with a five-cent store in Utica, New York. When it failed, he moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and expanded his inventory to include items that cost ten cents, and he was on his way. He opened his first New York store on Sixth Avenue at 17th Street in 1896.


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Woolworth Building (New York)

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