As part of a lavish opening ceremony on April 24, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House that lit up the interior floors and exterior floodlights (a new innovation at the tine) of the Woolworth Building, so that the entire façade was illuminated. Also at this ceremony, Reverend C. Parkes Cadman gave the building its enduring nickname: the “Cathedral of Commerce.” In fact, Woolworth headquarters only occupied a floor and a half of the completed building; the owner hoped to make a profit by renting out the rest. Among the building’s groundbreaking features, apart from the exterior lighting, were its water supply system and its high-speed electric elevators, which offered both local and express service. In addition to offices, the Woolworth Building contained a shopping arcade, health club, barber shop, restaurant and social club.
At 792 feet and 60 stories, the Woolworth Building was not only the tallest building in the world in 1913, but the second-tallest structure, after the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It would remain the world’s tallest building for 17 years, until the nearby tower at 40 Wall Street was completed; the Chrysler Building (1930) and the Empire State Building (1931) later dwarfed both. Made a National Historic Landmark in 1966, the Woolworth Building is still one of the 50 tallest buildings in the United States and one of the 20 tallest in New York City. It remains a popular sight on the New York City skyline, although its observation deck, once open to the public, closed in the mid-20th century.