This past weekend found me again in Philadelphia for out-of-town friends, with a walk about the city, and grab some small bites and cock-a-tails all over town. It was nice to be able to get back down into town again and we made a pit stop at the old Wanamaker's Department Store, now Macy's. We timed it just right as the daily noon organ concert started back up again from the pandemic. To my surprise my ex-boss from Bloomingdales was there, it was great seeing him... and we met up with him as he is now the visual managing director for the store, and we got a wonderful behind the scenes tour of the store. Some parts of the old store have been closed off for years, like the Egyptian Room, the Crystal Tearoom and the Greek Hall. But the legend of the store has always been its world famous, building shaking organ.
Wanamaker's houses the world's largest fully functioning pipe organ, based on weight, number of ranks and playing pipes. When John Wanamaker first purchased the organ, it had been languishing in storage when it's creator, the LA Art Organ Company went bankrupt. Wanamaker bought it and it took 13 freight cars to transport it to Philadelphia as the store's crown jewel. The organ weights in total 287 tons, has 32,000 pipes, some so big, an elephant could fit in them, and some so small like a flute. The organ consists of six manuals with an array of stops and controls that command the organ. It features 88 ranks of string pipes built to Wanamaker's specifications. The organ is famed for its orchestra-like sound, coming from pipes that are voiced softer the usual allowing an unusually rich build up because of the massing of pipe-tone families. It's amazing to see it's pipes which are in an attic room of sorts, but also soar stories behind the organ. Between the pipes and bells, they are snaked all over several floors. It first played on June 22 1911 at the exact moment when British King George V was crowned. It also featured later that year when US President William Howard Taft dedicated the store. The artistic obligation entailed by the creation of this instrument has always been honored, with two curators employed in it's constant and scrupulous care, which leads to the state of one of the best maintained organs in the world. The Grand Court never tires, and is mind blowing that this is just a "department store"
The famous eagle is also a work of art itself, which weights over 2 tons and required a special support beam under the floor. John Wanamaker certain like to keep things small and understated I must say.