​Woolworth Building Centennial In Manhattan​​

By: | 04/25/2013 07:15 AM ET

Woolworth Building Centennial - Just in time for this spring’s centennial of the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, descendants of its architect, Cass Gilbert, put a commemorative Tiffany silver bowl on the market. The heirloom, which weighs about 15 pounds, was the retail tycoon Frank W’s gift to Gilbert at an opening gala for the 57-story terra-cotta skyscraper.

Woolworth Building Centennial

On March 3 the Skinner auction house in Boston sold the bowl for about $42,000 to the New-York Historical Society, and it is already on view in the society’s lobby. The lot, which was expected to bring up to $50,000, included a 1913 book about the gala, with a menu recording servings of celery knob and Cotuit oysters.

Tiffany silversmiths molded Gothic-inspired tracery around the bowl’s crenelated rim and engraved a silhouette of the ziggurat building on the base.

“It is stunningly beautiful and really just a marvelous representation of a client’s high regard for his architect,” Gail Fenske, the author of “The Skyscraper and the City: The Woolworth Building and the Making of Modern New York” (University of Chicago Press), said in a phone interview.

Ms. Fenske is a curator of an exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan called “The Woolworth Building @ 100″ (through July 14); the two other curators are Susan Tunick, the president of the Friends of Terra Cotta, and Carol Willis, the director of the Skyscraper Museum. (All three will be participating in public programs for Woolworth Week, starting April 22.) The Skyscraper Museum had hoped to borrow the bowl from the Gilbert family, just as the consignment to Skinner was under way. Ms. Fenske last glimpsed the piece at 1988 celebrations of the building’s 75th birthday.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it again,” she said.

The Skyscraper Museum is showing chunks of the architectural ornament that Tiffany artisans sculptured in miniature on the bowl as well as images of the Staten Island terra-cotta factory workers in action.

The exhibition also examines the tight bond between architect and patron. They took vacations together; one photo shows a uniformed porter pushing Woolworth and Gilbert around Palm Beach, Fla., in a wicker carriage.

Gilbert outfitted the Manhattan building with a swimming pool, a fireproof vault for valuables and display space for Woolworth’s collection of Napoleon memorabilia. In the lobby one terra-cotta bracket portrays Gilbert clutching a model of the tower. Another depicts Woolworth, counting coins.