Old New York In Photos #40 – View From The Woolworth Building Observatory

A 1920’s View Of Lower Manhattan Looking Northeast From The Now Closed Woolworth Building Observation Deck

Lower Manhattan from Wooloworth building Observatory 1920s

A tourist in the early 1920’s took this panoramic view of lower Manhattan from a place that is currently off-limits to the general public, the observation deck of the Woolworth Building. The visitors observation deck was shut down in 1941 right before the United States entry into World War II, when the Navy ordered it closed because it offered too good a view of ships in the harbor. Recently even the Woolworth Building lobby was declared off-limits to anyone wanting a view inside of the ornamental entrance.

Woolworth Building 1913

Woolworth Building 1913

From this vantage point we can see from right to left the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, the Manhattan Bridge. In the hazy distance is the Williamsburg Bridge. Spread across the lower east side are an array of many small buildings. There are a couple of exceptions, most notably the tower of the New York City Municipal Building, partially seen on the extreme left in the foreground.

When completed in 1913, the 792 foot tall Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway was the tallest building in the world. The Woolworth Building retained that title until the Chrysler Building usurped it in 1930. Depending upon your source and how you are counting stories, the Woolworth Building contains anywhere between 55 – 60 floors.

For the admission fee of 50¢, visitors could get an incredible view of the surrounding metropolitan area from its observation deck. The tour book the building provided for visitors in 1913 gushingly proclaimed:

“The view from the top of the Woolworth Tower is without question the most remarkable, if not the most wonderful, in the world. The scenic and color effects with the sun shining on the multi-colored buildings and on the water and land for thirty-five or forty miles in all directions is a picture impossible of adequate description.

Looking down on the thousands of great buildings, the wonderful bridges that span the East River, the beautiful parks, the great steamers berthed at the piers along the rivers, one realizes the grandeur and vastness of the metropolis.”

And Today

The top 30 floors of the building were sold in 2012 to an investment group and they plan to turn those floors into condos.

If you want to experience first-hand the view seen in this photo you would be able to if you decide to buy that unit of the condo, albeit there are many more tall buildings blocking the vista than there were in the 1920’s. It will also cost a lot more than 50¢.

The penthouse which contains the original observatory, will be converted into a multi-level living space with an asking price of $110 million.

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