Woolworth's 7,500 tons of ornamental terra cotta

They don’t build ‘em like the used to — amazing photographs documenting the ornate terra cotta detailing on the Woolworth Building. The skyscraper, funded by five-and-dime store king Frank W. Woolworth, was designed by architect Cass Gilbert and would become the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913. Dubbed the "Cathedral of Commerce" after its neo-gothic ornament and iconic silhouette, the facade was clad in glazed terra-cotta, molded into gothic crockets, pinnacles, and gargoyles. The skyscraper housed a public observation deck at the top of its tower, offering tourists a chance to see the surrounding city from 792-feet up.

The photos were taken during construction of the skyscraper by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, who were commissioned by FW Woolworth to fabricate 7,500 tons/16.5 million pounds of architectural terra cotta, one of the largest contracts ever commissioned for a single structure.

The jewels of the Woolworth Building’s crown were the four towers, or tourelles, at each corner of the tower. Each tourelle was adorned with vibrant terra cotta ornamentation including 32 gargoyles. During a 1975 restoration, all 32 gargoyles disappeared and are still missing to this date except for one we discovered in an office in the tower.

Purchase a fine-art print of the Woolworth Building from our collection below