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"How Tall is the Woolworth Building"

How Far Can New York Climb?
Scientific American, vol. CV, Number 6. August 5, 1911. Collection of The Skyscraper Museum.

The height of the Woolworth's tower, in feet or stories, would seem to be a straightforward matter, but floor counts in skyscrapers, especially with ornamental tops, are almost always complicated.

Although early published drawings of the tower announced that it would be 750 feet tall, Gilbert decided to increase the height of the tower to 792 feet after the completion of the project's working drawings on April 29, 1911, probably in the interest of improving the building's proportions aesthetically, by making the tower seem to soar skywards. Revisions by Gilbert's office staff continued until the end of July.

Gilbert's new design may have inspired Woolworth to claim a 60-story height at the building's opening ceremony on April 24th, 1913. In fact, the building still contained 55 stories, although many of these were much higher (17.5 ft and 20 ft) than originally planned. Woolworth's count included "new" mezzanine stories within the tower-on one within the pyramidal roof, and another lantern at the tower's pinnacle, none of which could be comfortably occupied.

A hand-written note of 1920 in the New-York Historical Society archives directed to Mr. Gilbert states: "The owners of the building have numbered the pipe galleries and they now call the building 60 stories high."

Woolworth promoted his skyscraper as a 60-story building, with an observation platform at the 58th floor, in publications such as Above the Clouds & Old New York (1913) and Cathedral of Commerce (1916), so that is how it came to be known.

In June 1914, Gilbert employed a surveyor to measure the tower' s height from five different sidewalk locations, yielding an average height of 792 feet 5.5 inches.