The Many Strange Faces of This Old Skyscraper

A unique look inside Manhattan's 101-year-old Woolworth Building.

Image
Wikimedia Commons/Carol Highsmith

President Woodrow Wilson turned on the lights at Manhattan's Woolworth Building, a 792-foot skyscraper that debuted as the world's tallest, 101 years ago.

It remains one of the country's highest (tied for 51st, currently). But really, it's the ornamentation that makes it so compelling all these years later.

Minimalist glass buildings were still decades away when Cass Gilbert designed his neo-Gothic tower for the giant retail company. Like any prestigious company at the time, Woolworth wanted something unforgettable. In 1913, that meant not only something tall but something filled with decorative elements.

Gilbert certainly delivered.

The tower is lush with details inside and out, including mosaics and a stained-glass ceiling light, but some of the more unforgettable elements are the many faces carved into its lobby walls. Some of those faces include depictions of Gilbert holding a model of the tower, and F. W. Woolworth, himself counting change. In 2009, photographer Carol Highsmith captured the many funny-looking visages inside the Woolworth building with her camera before donating the prints to the Library of Congress:

All images courtesy the Library of Congress

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