Grand Court Organ, Wanamaker Dept. Store Philadelphia, PA

Photo copyright 1995 by Michael Laird. All rights reserved.

Since taking residence in Philadelphia's Wanamaker Building nearly two years ago, Macy's has made great strides to continue the beloved traditions historically associated with the famous retail location. In addition to the renovated Christmas Light Show and Dickens Village, the historic Wanamaker Organ is one of the most cherished treasures in the Macy's family. Well beyond maintaining the instrument, Macy's has sought new ways to enhance the musical experience for customers and music lovers alike. Celebrating its own 150th Anniversary in 2008, Macy’s is proud to help fulfill a musical legend that began nearly 100 years ago.

On Saturday, September 27, 2008, Macy's and The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ will present “A Grand 150th Anniversary Concert,” featuring Grand Court Organist Peter Richard Conte, with conductor Rossen Milanov and The Philadelphia Orchestra. The program will include the world premiere of Howard Shore's Fanfare, in addition to Joseph Jongen's Symphonie concertante, for organ and orchestra. The latter has historical significance. In 1924, John Wanamaker’s son Rodman began a new project to increase the size of the Wanamaker Organ. Two years later, he commissioned Jongen’s work to have its premiere in the store with The Philadelphia Orchestra to dedicate the completed project. While Jongen’s famous piece is a universal favorite throughout concert halls worldwide, he often referred to it as “that unfortunate work,” as delays in restoration and Wanamaker’s unexpected death in March 1928 indefinitely postponed the performance at that location and the world premiere instead took place that year in Brussels. As a result, this performance will mark the first time one of the greatest 20th-century works for organ and orchestra is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with the Wanamaker Organ, in the setting for which it was originally intended.

"The Grand Court Console"

This organ has 6 manuals (keyboards), about 457 ranks, and over 28,000 pipes!

The John Wanamaker Grand Organ has been thrilling shoppers every business day since 1911. Eighty years later, in the fall of 1991, an organization of Friends was formed to support the musical mission of this Philadelphia landmark.

Robert Swirsky-Warner poses at the massive console

About The Wanamaker Organ

Built by the Los Angeles Art Organ company for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the Wanamaker Organ was designed by renowned organ architect George Ashdown Ausdley, author of "The Art of Organ Building". This heroic instrument had more than 10,000 pipes and its construction was on such a lavish scale that costs soared to $105,000, bankrupting the builder.

In 1909, Philadelphia merchant-prince John Wanamaker bought the instrument for his new Philadelphia emporium. Thirteen freight cars were required to ship the entire organ from St. Louis, and installation took two years. The Grand Organ was first heard in the store's seven-story atrium on June 22, 1911, at the exact moment when England's King George V was crowned. Later that year, it was featured when President William Howard Taft dedicated the store.

Despite its immense size, the tone was judged inadequate to fill the huge court. Wanamaker's opened a private pipe-organ factory in the store attic, employing about 40 full-time employees to enlarge the instrument. William Boone Fleming, the original factory supervisor, was hired to direct the work. Lavish construction and elegant workmanship made the Wanamaker Organ a tonal wonder and a monument to superb craftsmanship. The largest pipe is made of flawless Oregon sugar-pine three inches thick and over 32 feet long--so large that a Shetland Pony was once posed inside for publicity photos. The smallest pipe is a quarter-inch in length. More than 8,000 pipes were added to the organ between 1911 and 1917, and from 1924 to 1930 an additional 10,000 pipes were installed, bringing the total number of pipes today to 28,000. Commanding these huge resources is a massive console with six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stop tablets. There are 168 piston buttons under the keyboard and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons; the entire organ weighs 287 tons.

The Crescendo Indicator

During the lifetime of John Wanamaker and his son Rodman, the world's finest musicians were brought to the store for brilliant after-business-hours concerts, among them France's Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne, and Nadia Boulanger, Italy's Fernando Germani and Marco Enrico Bossi, and England's Alfred Hollins.
The Foot-Feets of the Massive Console

At a 1919 Musicians' Assembly, virtuoso Charles M. Cournoin in association with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed before a standing-room-only crowd of 15,000. Since then, great organists have con- tinued to perform at Wanamaker's, making many special pilgrimiges.

In 1986, the evening-concert tradition continued, as the organ marked its 75th anniversary with a Keith Chapman recital that attracted a huge audience with representatives from all parts of the United States.

Now a National Historic Landmark and valued in excess of $50 million, the Wanamaker Organ is of the American Symphonic design, which can play the great organ masterworks, as well as the entire range of orchestral literature. The pipework encompasses the resources of three symphony orchestras; its String Organ alone has 8,000 pipes.

The Wanamaker store was last operated by Hecht's.

More Pictures of the great organ at Wanamaker's:

Keith Chapman Adjusting Stops on the World's Largest Organ

Wanamaker Organ Left Console view

Wanamaker Far Right View

These three pictures and scans of the Wanamaker organ copyright 1995 by Michael Laird. Other Photos, unless marked, copyright 1996 by Robert Swirsky-Warner. All rights reserved. Non-commercial use and redistribution is permitted.

For Further information about the Wanamaker Organ,


Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc.
224 Lee Circle
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-3726
FAX: 610-519-1349

Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc., is an international organization of supporters of Philadelphia's John Wanamaker Grand Court Organ.

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