Nowadays, “rags-to-riches” stories involve dropping out of Harvard and starting a multi-billion dollar internet company or writing a screenplay while in the mailroom at CAA and seeing it in the multiplex a year later. Or, in the case of the NBA, “rags-to-riches” is the spine-tingling success of Jeremy Lin, who has taken over LeBron (aka: LeBrick) as the NBA’s latest sensation.
While all these scenarios are impressive, sometimes we forget a long time ago – before most of us were born – “rags-to-riches” literally meant just that.
One of America’s greatest success stories was, is, and always will be F.W. Woolworth. Woolworth was born in 1852 and worked as an unpaid stock boy in a general store. It was there that he got the idea for a “five-cent” store, when he saw that a table with items for five cents traditionally sold out, while inventory in the rest of the store sat much longer.
Woolworth borrowed $300 and opened his first five-cent store in New York in 1879, and within weeks it failed. Woolworth’s second store in Pennsylvania fared much better, and he expanded his product selection to include merchandise priced at ten cents. In 1911, the F.W. Woolworth Company was incorporated with 586 stores.
So, what does this “rags-to-riches” story have to do with Bungalux, you wonder?
Well, the Woolworth Mansion in Manhattan is listed for sale at $90 million and is today’s house spotlight.
The Neo-French Renaissance townhouse was commissioned in 1911 by F.W. Woolworth for his daughter Helena. Woolworth engaged high-society architect Charles Pierpont Henry Gilbert, who was renowned in designing mansions in the French Gothic style (take a look at the Ukrainian Institute on Fifth and East 79th as one of our favorite examples of his work), to design his own residence, as well as residences for his three daughters. Woolworth's other two daughters Edna (who committed suicide and was the mother Barbara Hutton) and Jessie were gifted mansions on either side of Helena’s. There is an advantage to being the oldest: Helena’s mansion is 35 feet wide, while her sisters’ were each 25 feet wide.
According to the listing information by Brown Harris Stevens, the 18,000 square foot mansion has seven floors, eight fireplaces, a thirty-five foot wide library, a dining room that seats fifty (who said dinner parties are a thing of the past?) and staff quarters. Unlike many mansions which have come up in recent years in New York, this one's been fully renovated in Pre-War style. So, all you need is your toothbrush. That’s worth $90 million alone, right?
Incidentally, while Woolworth’s roots were humble and he built an empire selling to the working class, his tastes in real estate were not. In addition to the four mansions commissioned to Gilbert, in 1913 Woolworth built the Woolworth Building in New York City at a cost of $13.5 million in cash. (Yes, you read that correctly: $13.5 million in cash in the year 1913.) At the time, it was the tallest building in the world, measuring 792 feet. Woolworth also built a substantial country home, Winfield Hall, on Long Island in 1916. We’ve included a photo of it above. The 56 room estate required seventy full-time gardeners and dozens of servants.
The moral of the story: Lots of nickels eventually add up to a whole lot of real estate.