Now occupied by Macy’s City Center and office space, the Wanamaker Building, completed in 1911, housed Wanamaker’s Department Store. It sits on the site of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Station in which John Wanamaker placed his first department store, then known as Wanamaker’s Grand Depot. Wanamaker’s, was known for two things, other than selling an extensive selection of goods, and they were the organ and the eagle. The Wanamaker Building has had a few different owners over the years, but the organ and eagle have endured and are still there to this day. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978 as was its iconic organ in 1980.
Wanamaker and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, went into business together and
opened a men’s and boy’s clothing store, Oak Hill, in 1861. When Brown died in 1868, Wanamaker moved on
his expansion ideas. Inspired by the large
stores he encountered in London and Paris, he purchased an abandoned railway
station and converted it into a new clothing store just in time for the city’s
Centennial Exposition in 1876. He
expanded the store to include women’s clothing and dry goods in 1877, thus
creating Philadelphia’s first department store.
Wanamaker’s then embarked on a series of firsts; the first department
store to use price tags as opposed to haggling, electrical lighting (1878), a
telephone (1879), and pneumatic tubes to transport papers and cash (1880).
facing competition from other department stores, decided to expand yet
again. He gradually replaced his Grand
Depot with the current Wanamaker Building from 1904-1911. It was designed in the Florentine style by
Daniel Burnham and dedicated by President William Taft. The heart of the store was, and still is, its
multi-floored Grand Court, that featured a 2,500 lb bronze eagle and a massive
organ. Both had served with distinction
at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and were later acquired and shipped to Philadelphia
at the behest of Wannamaker and his son, Rodman. The eagle was designed by August Gaul and
quickly became the mascot of, not only the Philadelphia store, but the entire
chain. Shoppers can still be heard
saying to one another, “meet me at the eagle.”
built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company, consisted of over 10,000 pipes, came
to Wanamaker’s via 13 rail cars and took two years to install. However, given the immense size of the Grand
Court, it was deemed insufficient for the space and went through a series of
expansions. By 1930 it had grown to 28,500
pipes and 461 stops making it the largest operating organ on the globe, a
distinction it still holds. The organ is
still played twice a day, every day except Sundays and is featured in Macy’s
Holiday Pageant of Lights Christmas Show which began in 1956.
Wanamaker’s, as the years progressed, it faced steep competition from other department
stores and, eventually, suburban malls.
The 15-store chain was then sold to Woodward and Lothrop in 1986. The store was gradually reduced to its
current size of three floors and the name on the front went from Hecht’s to
Strawbridge’s to Lord and Taylor and finally to Macy’s in 2006. Renovations to the building were completed in
1991 which added an atrium starting at the ninth floor, a conference center
with two 400-seat auditoriums, and a three-floor parking garage in the
basement. The floors above the third
have long ago been converted to office space.
However, the organ and eagle remain.