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.
A massive organ and... the Maltese Falcon! I am so impressed!ReplyDelete
I'm not really a size queen but I love a huge organ.ReplyDelete
Look at all those keyboards! Holy moly!ReplyDelete
I do love a huge organ! LOL!ReplyDelete
A true Cathedral of Shopping! Love the eagle statue -- I'm surprised it wasn't appropriated by the U.S. government and melted down in WWII...ReplyDelete
I love that eagle. Im shocked that it didn't get melted down either. Some fun facts...the bronze eagle sculpture came from the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis, stands 10 feet tall, weighs over 2tons, and has 5,000 customized feathers – all of which were cast individually and assembled in St. Louis.Delete
Wow, quite impressive.ReplyDelete
Coffee is on and stay safe
So cool. Your photos are amazing. Philly should hire you to be their official tourist bureau photographer. Everything you share makes me want to come to Philly.ReplyDelete
what's in his jeans has brought many to Philly...Delete
I remember your post on this, and it has always fascinated me. Nothing else like it in this country. Let alone any department stores that even look like that anymore.ReplyDelete
That is absolutely amazing that, yet another company, has kept this going. I have seen it once. When that organ played it literally is earth shattering. I have yet to see anything else like it.ReplyDelete
And in the video... "The first time that I was ever left alone with a organ, I went into a trance and I didn't come to for 4 hours." Yep. That sounds like you too.
any organ puts the mistress in a trance.Delete
I tend to agree with him. The first big organ I played put me in a trance for at least 2 hours.Delete
With or without tulips?Delete
Excellent post! When I first moved here, I was utterly amazed that a store had such a thing and was blown away when I heard it the first time. I was over excited the first time the orchestra played in unison with it for a concert.ReplyDelete
A Philadelphia crown jewel to be sure. We were Friends of the Wanamaker organ for year till we got older and didn't get out like we used to. Virgil Fox, a blast from the past....and he was a wonderful ambassador for the organ. He made it fun. Showed us that it was far from the dull instrument that many people thought. Love him or hate him he did nothing but good for the organ movement.ReplyDelete
With exception to present company of yourself, of course.
I like that...an Ambassador of the Organ. I like to think I'm one too! lolDelete
A excellent post. I haven't been to Wanamkaers or to see the organ in years. Gosh!. . .I remembered he used to give organ concerts at the Filmore back in the 60's. I'm old. He singlehandedly rescued it from being just a 'church' instrument. A real 'showman'!ReplyDelete
At the Filmore?!?!?! Really?Delete
WOW! I should really come to Philly sometime for all the history.... but I can't wait to read all the comments for the post already over the organ talk.....ReplyDelete
Weights in total 287 tons and pipes that soar five stories! That thing is a marvel! I can't even imagine the upkeep. I myself love playing the organ.ReplyDelete
I only saw the organ in person once back in the late 80's and I still remember it. But the video was enjoyable. Virgil was the most exciting organist I ever heard.He really did bring a lot of the great classic organ music to the world that would never have otherwise realized the grandeur of this magnificent music. In that video that he was playing the Gigue Fugue at that tempo, on that instrument was REMARKABLE..ReplyDelete
I love it when you share pics from your trip to Wanamaker's. I have to admit, I thought this was going to be a post about the newest houseboy at the casa!ReplyDelete
Then of course there's Bloody Stupid Johnson's organ at Unseen University that can only be played by the Librarian.ReplyDelete
Wow! Thank you Maddie, I did not know of this incredibly huge masterpiece of an instrument. I very much like the idea of it being installed and used since the opening of this department store for the obvious pleasure of its customers. Must be quite the experience, one that goes right on my 'wanna do' list :-)ReplyDelete
The videos are great, but the shear sound and loudness of it can't compare to seeing it in person. John Wanamakers had a lot of "first" for the department store world. But this organ and building are just stellar in size.Delete
It's been a while since I looked up at a massive organ looming over my face... Impressive! JxReplyDelete
We all know that feeling.....Delete
My snide remark didn't postReplyDelete
See what happens when you get snide, lol!!!!Delete
And what are the odds you'd meet your old boss there? Such a moment.
I love these old stores that have been kept open. It's a pity that not all rooms are used nowadays, but that also may protect them.
Lovely. And to think that when I read the title I thought you were talking about a selfie...
HA HA HA! A selfie!Delete
Yes my last boss I worked for is there. We stayed in contact. He has already expressed intrest at bringing me there with him once there is a opening.
Magnificent. I think you’ve posted about the organ before. It is worthy of another post. I think the last time I searched YouTube for some additional videos. Wunderbar!ReplyDelete
Oh, I know which Large Organ you were really thinking about!!ReplyDelete
Seriously, it's an amazing thing, that organ. Glad you had the chance to actually hear it again.
I remember sharing info about this some years back and I still find it fascinating, especially having never been to Philly. I’ve always found large organs especially interesting.ReplyDelete
I'm always impressed by the big ones.ReplyDelete
A truly impressive organ! I can safely say that I've never seen one as big as that.ReplyDelete
And how fortunate that you were able to have a tour behind the scenes, too.
I used to play the church organ in high school days. It is a marvelous instrument when done right.ReplyDelete
Great. Now I have this song running through my head:ReplyDelete
"At Wanamaker's and Saxon Klein's a lesson I've been taught.
You can't get alterations on a dress you haven't bought."
("Marry the man today" from Guys and Dolls)
Oh... that is a great call! Been ages since I have seen or heard music from Guys and Dolls.Delete
I feel like such a philistine not knowing about this organ and Wanamaker Building! The last time we visited Philadelphia we had the young krewe with us and saw all the historical tourist venues! Thank you for introducing me to Virgil Fox. I shall check out youtube later. Having grown up in the Catholic church, I was used to hearing the organ. As an adult my listening experiences have been with jazz organ playing, think Rhoda Scott, Doug Carn, etc. Next time I get to Philly, I am making making sure go to Wanamaker's (I can't bring myself to say Macy's) when there's an opportunity to hear that Organ! xoxoReplyDelete
Oh I have heard of Rhoda Scott and heard her stylings. I enjoyed them. Yes, I don't care for Macy's, but I will say they are at least pumping money into the building to maintain it and the organ.Delete
How I would love to visit there. Sweet Cheeks also has a large organ. I like to play it. I'm so glad I learned how to blow a harmonica.ReplyDelete
Nice to see you back!
With the Hook Line of your Blog Title I was almost afraid to visit... lest it be a big other type of Organ. *smiles* That is a Magnificent Musical Instrument and the Architecture around it is Sublime.ReplyDelete
That is beautiful!!ReplyDelete