This year – 2013 – has been terrific for 100th anniversaries. Grand Central Terminal’s 100th birthday has been much in the news, but another major landmark has also attracted centennial attention – the Woolworth Building, once the wold’s tallest skyscraper and still one of the city’s grandest, with one of its most spectacular lobbies (links are to the Landmarks Commission’s official designation reports).
Last week saw a series of events marking the Woolworth centennial. The entire affair was orchestrated by an unusual working group of architectural historians, notably Barbara Christen and Gail Fenske (who wrote her dissertation on the building and expanded it into a book), and architect Cass Gilbert’s great grandchildren, especially Helen Post Curry and her brother Chuck Post. Woolworth Week included lectures, tours and receptions, as well as a Woolworth Building exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum. And on Wednesday, April 24th, one century to the day after the Woolworth Building’s opening banquet, a special birthday dinner was held – logically enough at Manhattan’s Century Club . The group of about 40 people mingled over hors d’oeuvres, and then sat down to a menu including “Roast Chicken Gilbert,” “Cass’s Favorite Mashed Potatoes,” and “Skyscraper String Beans,” topped off with “Woolworth White Chocolate Raspberry Cake.” Speakers included architecture critic Paul Goldberger, architect Hugh Hardy, and Landmarks Commission Chairman Bob Tierney. As the dinner wound up, one person after another stood up to offer a toast to Cass Gilbert or the Woolworth Building, or to recount a personal experience.The loudest cheers greeted the announcement that the current owners of the Woolworth Building would soon be making its famed lobby available once again for public viewing, at least in organized tours. If you’ve never been inside, be sure to watch for one of the new tours.