New York's recent spate of glass skyscrapers vie with each other, rising to extraordinary heights. Nowhere is this truer than in Lower Manhattan, where Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower, shapely in folded glass, and One World Trade Center, prismatic and reflective, have set the newest records for altitude. But the Woolworth Building's enchanted Gothic spire, by day and by night, continues to command the attention of the viewer. Once the world's tallest building, the Woolworth is now eclipsed in height. Still, it remains an exceptional skyscraper, a stabilizing force amid the city's dynamic of restless change.
The Woolworth Building did not start out as the sensationally vertical structure that we recognize today. In March 1910, F.W. Woolworth, noted for his empire of five-and-10-cent stores in the U.S., Canada and England, proposed an 18-story bank-and-office building for a simple rectangular site at Broadway and Park Place, on the southwest corner of City Hall Park. His choice of such a site was critical. The skyscraper would stand in isolation on the skyline, far from the competitive cluster of skyscrapers in the Financial District. It would also face the wide expanse of City Hall Park, which allowed distant viewing angles and a visual connection with City Hall. Woolworth would exploit both as the project increased in size and height to become a landmark in the city.
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