Woolworth Building, 221 Fifth Avenue North

The interior of The Woolworth Building is currently undergoing extensive renovations as it prepares to re-open next year as the Woolworth Theatre. While we applaud uses that keep this site accessible to the public, we also want to remind the current occupants that they are stewards of one of the most important spaces in this city’s history. Built in the 1890s, this building was occupied for 80 years, from 1913-1993, by retailer F.W. Woolworth Co. In 1960, it became the focal point of efforts to desegregate the city’s lunch counters. Because of those events, the Woolworth Building is now a national historic site. The previous tenant, the Woolworth on 5th restaurant, sought to preserve as much of the original interior architecture as possible and emphasized this history before closing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the current tenants prepare for the next chapter in the story of this site, we recommend that they bring in a with a specialization in the Civil Rights Movement or Black Freedom Struggle, a trained historic preservationist, and a conservator who can assist with the identification and care of the building’s remaining historic elements. Sometimes, historic preservation encompasses not only a building’s exterior but also respect for the interior where historic events took place.

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