Happy Birthday To The Cathedral Of Commerce!

As many people do, I’ve often found it necessary to have things framed for display at home and in our studio—a relatively simple process that had always had a satisfying result. One “gallery” I used to take my stuff to also specialized in selling vintage prints of all kinds that they would beautifully frame and offer for sale. Unfortunately, one particular visit revealed the circumstances surrounding some of the framed pieces they chose to sell.

Regardless of how lovely a 1930′s “Fortune Magazine” cover might be, when I was informed that they purchased the entire magazine intact, and then separated the cover from the rest of the publication only to dispose of the mag, I went nuts ! They were certainly entitled to do as they pleased, but this just seemed crazy. At the same time, I looked on the counter and saw an envelope with the title “Cathedral Of Commerce.” I opened the browned and obviously vintage envelope to find a booklet from 1913 about the building of the Woolworth Building. I asked them how much it was, only to be told that it wasn’t for sale because they intended to remove several of the images and sell them as separate framed pieces.

Short of making a scene that I’d certainly regret later, I pleaded with them to sell it to me intact and not destroy a piece that had managed to survive that long—and in such wonderful condition. I was thankfully able to convince them to part with it in its original form. I remember being additionally thankful that they didn’t totally bankrupt me even though they knew I wasn’t leaving without it. I was probably able to remind them of all the framing they’d done for me up to that point. Their loss is this week’s Imprint gain!

This year marks the centennial of the Woolworth Building’s dedication. On April 24, 1913 the building’s lights were turned on by President Woodrow Wilson using a remote switch in Washington D.C. From that point until 1931, it was the world’s tallest building.

These days we take tall buildings for granted, but one hundred years ago the feeling was quite different. A structure of 741 feet was magical and being able to view New York City from an observation deck that high was definitively awesome ! This 8″ x 11″ booklet touts the landmark building’s amazing attributes. Speaking of taking things for granted, I have to remind myself that Woolworth’s no longer exists. It was ubiquitous in even the smallest U.S. towns. Hard to believe it’s been gone for 16 years.

I’ve also included some brief but interesting information on the architect, Cass Gilbert towards the end of the piece, so follow it all the way down. . .

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Front of postcard included in envelope with the booklet.

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Reverse side of postcard above.

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Original envelope for booklet.

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Cass Gilbert arranged for one of the building’s interior gargoyles to depict him holding a model of the building.

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The Supreme Court Building in Washington DC was also designed by Gilbert.

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NYC/NJs George Washington Bridge was originally designed to be encased with masonry. This is Gilbert’s design (see lower left corner) of the proposed bridge as originally envisioned. . . Ultimately, depression era costs and the exciting “modern” look of the span’s skeleton won out.


new_york_coverCelebrate your appreciation for New York City design with The Best of the RDA: New York City digital download. “It’s pluralism on steroids, stylistically speaking,” quips Ken Carbone about the city, which has always been defined by its eclectic population. In this comprehensive overview of the past 4 years of graphic design in New York City you’re going to find quite a bit of diversity. It’s kind of hard to pin down what makes New York design special, so we’ll let the work speak for itself.

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