Research Summary, Week 3


This week’s research involved a more in-depth look at the Woolworth Building located in New York City, as well as the Woolworth Building in Lancaster that was co-designed by C. Emlen Urban.

The Woolworth Building in New York was designed in 1910 and constructed by Cass Gilbert, a famous American architect.  Construction on the building was completed in 1913.  Frank Woolworth, founder of the F.W. Woolworth Company, commissioned the building. The Woolworth building was meant to house the F.W. Woolworth company’s headquarters.  The retail company specialized in ‘five and dime’ stores, or stores that offered items for sale that ranged from 5 to 10 cents. The building itself claimed the title of the tallest building in the world at the time, approximately 792 feet tall.  In fact, the building grew in from a twenty-story project to “a low blocky building joined with a tower” that ranged in height between 420 and 550 feet, and then doubled in size to become the world’s tallest building.” (Fenske).   The tall design called for high economic costs, such as additional materials and purchase of adjacent land.  The partner-like relationship between Woolworth and Gilbert brought them together, as they steadfastly micromanaged the building to the smallest detail.  The two viewed the “terra cotta through a nineteenth-century Ruskinian Gothic lens” (Fenske) in order to give the building a European Gothic Cathedralesque look.

Woolworth Building, New York, NY  (Elevation drafted by Cass Gilbert, 1910)



The ‘other’ Woolworth Building was in fact constructed earlier than the one in New York.  It’s construction took place in Lancaster between 1899 and 1900; it was designed by the New York firm of Ditmar and Sheckels, with C. Emlen Urban serving as the local supervising architect.  “Constructed of steel, iron, stone and brick, the five-story building included a spacious roof garden with two gold-domed towers that rose 45 feet and lent an incomparable beauty and finish to the building.” (Boyce)  The building is regarded as the first successful Woolworth five and dime retail store to be constructed.  However, soon after the construction of the Griest Building, the Woolworth building began to lose favor and, in 1949, was demolished.

It can be inferred that, while serving as the supervising architect, Urban was heavily influenced by the architectural design that Frank Woolworth was looking for in his stores.  Thus, Urban’s exposure to the ‘foreign’ Neo-Gothic Revival influence created an imprint in his mind of how he could leave its mark in Lancaster through his own architectural design.


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