This certainly was no five-and-dime store!

The Woolworth Building, one of New York City’s most recognizable buildings, turns 100 years old today!

At the time of its completion, the neo-Gothic tower, built by five-and-dime baron Frank Woolworth, doubled the height of the tallest skyscraper, and at 792 feet, became the tallest skyscraper in the world. Mr. Woolworth decided to commission this construction—to Cass Gilbert, the project’s architect—for his company’s headquarters and to show off his wealth; and what better way to show off wealth than to spend $13.5 million, in cash! (That’s roughly $308 million today.) According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Woolworth felt there was advertising potential by owning the world’s tallest building.

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 1.05.59 PMThe Woolworth Building’s height was just one of its many iconic symbols. The terra cotta-cladded building is also adorned with gargoyles—monkeys, dragons, lions—which actually served a practical purpose of directing rain water from the copper roof.

After President Woodrow Wilson helped open its doors on April 24, 1913, the Woolworth Building drew some big name tenants. Two of its original occupants were Irving Trust Bank and Columbia Records, who opened a studio there.

The future of the Woolworth Building is very bright. The top 30 floors will be converted into about 40 luxury apartments, including an 8,000-square-foot, five-level penthouse in the cupola, which boasts a wraparound outdoor deck, that is accessed by a private elevator. According to The New York Times, apartment living will begin 350 above street level, and part of the $150 million conversion includes restoring the 55-foot-long basement swimming pool. Anyone interested in purchasing a condo in the Woolworth Building will have to pay lots of fives and dimes. It’s estimated each unit will sell for $3,000 per square foot. The Woolworth Building is expecting its first tenants when construction is completed sometime in 2015.

The building was named a national historic landmark in 1966 and a New York City landmark in 1983.

The Woolworth Building is one of 13 other buildings in New York turning 100 in 2013. Others include Grand Central Terminal, Shubert Theatre, Times Square Building, 23 Wall Street (former headquarters of J.P. Morgan) and Grand Army Plaza (the Manhattan, not Brooklyn version).

Here’s to you, Woolworth Building! You look great!

–Jason Stahl

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