PD Smith

Woolworth’s shrine to commerce

28 January 2009 | cities, New York, TLS | Post a comment

The Times Literary Supplement has just published my review of three immensely impressive studies of urban history: Gail Fenske's The Skyscraper and the City: The Woolworth Building and the Making of Modern New York (Chicago), Robert H. Kargon & Arthur P. Molella's Invented Edens: Techno-Cities of the Twentieth Century (MIT), and Dell Upton's Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic (Yale).

This is the first paragraph:

tls_1929 "At 7.30 on the evening of April 24, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pushed a button on his desk in Washington, DC, sending a telegraphic signal to New York where it set off an alarm bell in the engine room of a skyscraper and set in motion four mighty Corliss-type engines and dynamos. In an instant, some 80,000 incandescent bulbs flashed on, illuminating for the first time the world’s tallest skyscraper – the Woolworth Building. Thousands of spectators had gathered in City Hall Park and along lower Broadway to witness the dazzling electrical spectacle that marked the opening of this fifty-five-storey addition to New York’s skyline. On the New Jersey shore, people caught their breath as the tower appeared, shimmering against the night sky, a gleaming beacon of modernity visible from ships a hundred miles away. As the 792-foot tall skyscraper was bathed in electric light, the news was being transmitted from its pinnacle by Marconi wireless to a receiver on the Eiffel Tower. From there it was beamed around the world. This modern media event was, as one commentator said, 'the premier publicity stunt of this or any other day'. It was a fitting opening for what would become the most famous office building in the world."

Read the rest here.

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