Monday, February 25, 2013

The Woolworth Building @ 100


My wife's grandfather, William Kraemer worked on construction of the terra cotta architecture ornamentation of the building. He had been employed by Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, the firm that created all of the ornamentation, where he modeled and made architectural elements. As an expert in the materials, Atlantic Terra Cotta, assigned him to the project as the superintendent or foreman for the installation.

An original terra cotta decorative ornament from the Woolworth Building, created by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company.

A floor plan of the Woolworth Building, from my wife's private collection, now on loan at the Skyscraper Museum. This plan is approximately five feet long.

Later, he and his son, my wife's dad W. Frank Kraemer, started a building maintenance firm, Remark Building Services, Inc. They launched the business in the depths of the depression with the Woolworth Building as their first big client. For the next 50 years, their firm maintained and cleaned the exterior of the building. My wife's brother, Jeffrey M. Kraemer, worked on the building as well for nearly half his life. He was immortalized on the famous Red Grooms sculpture "Ruckus Manhattan," poised high about the street on scaffold.

 An original terra cotta element from the Woolworth Building.

A terra cotta ornament in pristine condition. I'm not sure if this was a sample or a spare. It was clearly never installed and exposed to the elements.

A very rare group of orginal monographs about the Woolworth Building. We have several of these in my wife's personal collection. I'm not sure if the one pictured here is from her collection or not.

The Woolworth Building @ 100

From the museum's official website:

"In 1913, the “Cathedral of Commerce”–the great Gothic tower of five-and-ten-cent store king Frank W. Woolworth and his architect Cass Gilbert–became the dominant silhouette on the New York skyline and took the title of world’s tallest office building. 

"At 792 feet to the tip of its spire, the skyscraper was a marvel of early 20th-century technology and a masterpiece of the architectural arts. The Skyscraper Museum's centennial celebration examines the many dimensions of the skyscraper’s novelty and the achievements of its designers and builders–from the advanced technology of its engineering and construction to the extraordinary abundance and intricate variety of its handmade terra-cotta ornament.

"Architect Cass Gilbert, who once defined the skyscraper simply as "a machine to make the land pay," aspired to elevate his building beyond the realm of real estate to the status of a civic monument. Over the engineer's robust steel skeleton, Gilbert draped a terra-cotta curtain wall of enormous intricacy and invention. He and his office of draftsmen indulged in a panoply of ornament designed for the commission and created in clay by a small army of artisans. More than 7500 tons of cream-colored glazed terra cotta, with accents in bright hues graced the fa├žade. In the soaring lobby, the medieval theme played out in opulent marbles, colorful mosaic vaults, amusing corbel sculptures, and elevator doors that imitated confessionals.

"A masterpiece of early 20th-century art and technology, the Woolworth Building celebrates its centennial year in the process of conversion, with office space remaining below and luxury residences planned for the upper tower. Still radiant on the lower Manhattan skyline, the landmark heralds both the past and future of New York."

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