The Return of the King

  • Inhabit
  • 10/31/20

In 32 extraordinary new residences — including our home of the day, Pavilion B — Manhattan's magnificent Woolworth Building has taken center stage for what may be the greatest second act in the history of New York City architecture. By Matthew Phenix.

Tower of Power

Frank Winfield "F.W." Woolworth was a man of uncommon vision. The business magnate's five-and-dime concept outlasted the stores that carried his name, defining retail merchandising to this day. But it was his very big ideas about urban architecture that may have had the most indelible effect on the business world — and on New York City. 

The edifice that Woolworth built at 233 Broadway in Lower Manhattan rose as a testament to the scope of his influence, the strength of his company, and the vitality of New York City. "How high can you make the tower?" he once asked architect Cass Gilbert. And Gilbert, who would go on to design, among other monumental structures, the United States Supreme Court Building, rose to the challenge. From its completion in 1913 until the opening of nearby 40 Wall Street in April 1930, Woolworth's 792-foot tower was the tallest building in New York City — and the world.

During the entirety of its first century, the Woolworth Building was a business center — 2,000 offices, including F.W.'s impossibly ornate sanctuary on the 40th Floor. The building dazzled those who worked there with a storybook lobby adorned with stained glass, millions of mosaic tiles, and veined marble from the Greek island of Skyros. The tower thrust upward with a neo-Gothic pyramidal roof structure that, in 1916, earned the building an apt nickname: The Cathedral of Commerce. The Woolworth Building became a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and, in 1983, earned New York City landmark status.

As decades passed, commercial needs evolved, and the great building — particularly its relatively slender upper tower — became less attractive to big businesses looking for sprawling open office spaces. But rather than spell the Woolworth's doom, as eventually befell landmarks like the Financial District's Western Union Telegraph Building and the original Times Tower in Midtown, these changing tastes set the stage for one of the greatest second acts in the history of New York City architecture.

​​​​​​​In 2012, one vanguard developer hatched an audacious plan to convert the Woolworth Building's top 30 floors — including its ornate crown — into 32 of the city's most amazing residences.
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HEADQUATERS becomes HOME

Transforming the Woolworth Building from vintage office tower to cutting-edge residential tower — while meticulously preserving its integrity as an architectural treasure — was no small feat. But like F.W. himself, Ken Horn, founder and president of Alchemy Properties, is a man of uncommon vision. Facing the project of a lifetime, Horn enlisted the aid of legendary architect Thierry Despont. A specialist in challenging restorations, Despont counts among his previous projects L.A.'s Getty Center, The Ritz Paris, and none other than the Statue of Liberty.

The Woolworth, Horn and Despont discovered, would need much more than an aesthetic makeover for its new role. Extensive internal modifications — including the painstaking installation of new elevator shafts — were required, and everything had to happen with the blessing of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. And there was a wrinkle: The façade of the building, and the shape of its distinctive pyramid topper, precluded the use of a construction elevator or a roof crane. Everything that came in or went out during the project had to go through the standard internal elevators. Oh, and to add to the challenge, the project couldn't interfere with the day-to-day operation of the busy offices in the Woolworth's bottom 28 floors.

​​​​​​​In the end, it's an endeavor that would have brought F.W. to his feet. Every inch of the residential tower feels worthy of the Woolworth, right down to the private lobby, in which Horn and Despont installed the original ornate ceiling from F.W.'s 40th Floor office. 

LIVING in a LANDMARK

It's safe to say there is no apartment in all of New York City that is quite like the Woolworth Building's splendid Pavilion B. The residence sits at the 29th Floor, 400 feet over Broadway and Park Place, where the building's broad base meets its tower. Unlike the majority of the Woolworth's other residences, which hew closely to the building's classic prewar sensibilities, Pavilion B radiates a distinctly modern vibe.

The home's particulars include three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms, encompassing 4,623 square feet. The residence also boasts more than 1,200 square feet of private outdoor space, in the form of a 51-foot-long terrace and a separate roof deck at the top of a spiral staircase. In addition to sweeping Manhattan skyline vistas, these spaces afford something truly unexpected: an up-close view of the Woolworth Building itself. "To be in a home in the Woolworth Building where part of your view is of the Woolworth Building," muses Ken Horn. "That's extraordinary."

Pavilion B's bright master suite stretches 35 feet from end to end, along the way opening onto the terrace. The suite boasts a dressing room and a walk-in closet, leading to a stupendous spa bathroom with a heated Calacatta marble floor with glossy black Nero Marquina accents. A custom double vanity, a Porcelanosa freestanding bathtub, and a marble steam shower define the space, each adorned with gleaming platinum-finish fixtures from Dornbracht.

At the heart of the home, a 47-foot-long open entertaining space — punctuated by a spiral staircase that leads to a lofted library — reaches up 22 feet to a peaked ceiling. Adjacent to the great room, the kitchen is a wonderland for serious gourmets, with custom Dada cabinetry crafted by the Molteni Group, Calacatta Cadia marble countertops and backsplash, and restaurant-quality Miele appliances, including a full-size refrigerator and freezer, a wine fridge, two dishwashers, a professional range oven, and double wall ovens.

Rounding out the residence, two additional bedrooms, each with its own sumptuous bathroom, offer framable views of Manhattan and the river.

All residents of the Woolworth enjoy building amenities befitting this rarefied address, including access to a private residential lobby at 2 Park Place, a first-class fitness studio, a temperature controlled wine cellar and tasting room, and, of course, F.W. Woolworth's subterranean swimming pool, magnificently restored and adorned with brilliant Bisazza Mosaico tile.

​​​​​​​Priced at $15,950,000, the Woolworth's singular Pavilion B is represented by Corcoran agent Deanna Kory. 

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