One of my favorite things to do before Christmas, when I lived in Philadelphia was to visit the John Wanamaker Department store, see the decorations, visit the huge brass eagle in the Grand Court and listen to the huge pipe organ.  While Mary Vogt was the principal organist at that time, my mother’s uncle, Howard Van Dyke served as a substitute for many years.

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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 Audsley, 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.

 

1904 St. Louis World’s Fair — Festival Hall

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 at Westminster Abbey. Later that year, it was prominently 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 up to 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 both a tonal wonder and a monument to superb craftsmanship. The largest pipe is made of flawless Oregon sugar-pine three inches thick and more than 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 28,500.

 

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 keyboards and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons; the entire instrument weighs 287 tons.

During the lifetimes 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 Dupre, Louis Vierne and Nadia Boulanger, Italy’s Fernando Germani and Marco Enrico Bossi, and England’s Alfred Hollins.

At a 1919 Musicians’ Assembly, virtuoso Charles M. Courboin, in association with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed before a standing-room-only crowd of 15,000. Since then, great organists have continued to perform at the Store, many making special pilgrimages.

 

French Horns in the
Orchestral Division

In 1986, the evening-concert tradition was continued as the Grand Organ marked its 75th anniversary with a Keith Chapman recital that attracted a huge audience. More recently, elaborate music events have regularly been sponsored by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, attracting visitors to Macy’s with representatives from all parts of the U.S.  In 2008 Macy’s celebrated its 150th anniversary with a Philadelphia Orchestra concert under Maestro Rossen Milanov. At the Wanamaker Organ, Peter Richard Conte performed Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante (1925) for the first time with the organ and orchestra for which it had been written.

Now a National Historic Landmark and valued in excess of $57 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 7,000 pipes.

 

 

THE MAIN PEDAL DIVISION is unexpressive. It has forty-four stops and wind pressures of five to twenty-five inches.

THE CHOIR is on five inches of wind pressure.

THE GREAT DIVISION is on wind pressures of five to sixteen inches, and consists of unenclosed stops as well as a section enclosed with the Choir division.

IN TWO EXPRESSION CHAMBERS, THE SWELL is on wind pressures of five to twenty-two and a half inches. All are under expression. One of these expression chambers houses the Original String division designed by George Ashdown Audsley—the first independent String organ ever found in a pipe organ.

THE ENTIRE SOLO DIVISION is under expression, on a wind pressure of fifteen inches.

THE ETHEREAL ORGAN IS POWERFUL, rich and full in tone, entirely expressive. It has twenty-one stops, and a wind pressure of twenty-five inches. It is located on the seventh floor.

THE STRING ORGAN is entirely expressive, has eighty-seven manual stops and a wind pressure of fifteen to twenty-seven inches. It has a matching pedal of twenty-seven stops. Its tone is unusually rich and beautiful, producing at full volume a velvety carpet of lush string tone suggestive of hundreds of stringed instruments. Individual tablets enable the organist to reduce the sound to a gorgeous hush with a sweep of the stops. This division, with metal pipework by the famed Kimball company, occupies the largest space of any single organ chamber ever constructed. It is approximately sixty-seven feet long, twenty-six feet deep and sixteen feet high.

 

THE ORCHESTRAL, also with Kimball metal pipes, has pressures of fifteen and twenty inches and is entirely expressive. It has forty stops.

THE ECHO DIVISION is located opposite the main organ, on the seventh floor. Entirely expressive, it has a wind pressure of five inches.

THE PERCUSSION DIVISION is expressive and operates on pneumatic, vacuum and electric action.

THE MAJOR CHIMES are usually referred to as “tower chimes” because they were especially made for outdoor tower-chime playing. The largest chime of this set, Note C, is twelve feet long, five inches in diameter, and weighs 600 pounds. It is struck by a leather-topped hammer four inches in diameter, the stroke of which is nine inches. It weighs eighteen pounds and has an impact of seventy-two pounds of pneumatic pressure.

PULSATIONS OF THE TREMULANTS, two for each division, are controllable in ten stages by means of tremolo pulsation levers to the right and left of the music rack on the console. This device was invented and patented in the Wanamaker Organ Shop. It enables the organist to adjust the speed of an individual tremolo or of all the tremolos to suit the performer’s taste.

Thirty-six regulators furnish steady wind pressure from five to twenty-seven inches. The organ is electro-pneumatic throughout, requiring seven blowers totaling 168 horsepower.

PEDAL

75 ranks, 81 stops, 2,573 pipes

CHOIR

24 ranks, 19 stops, 1,452 pipes

GREAT

58 ranks, 43 stops, 3,634 pipes

SWELL

70 ranks, 51 stops, 4,361 pipes

SOLO

51 ranks, 35 stops, 3,640 pipes

ETHEREAL

23 ranks, 20 stops, 1,670 pipes

STRING

88 ranks, 87 stops, 6,340 pipes

STENTOR

1 rank, 2 stops, 61 pipes

ORCHESTRAL

31 ranks, 31 stops, 2,227 pipes

ECHO

33 ranks, 22 stops, 2,013 pipes

VOX CHORUS

8 ranks, 8 stops, 572 pipes

Click here for the STOPLIST.