The Wanamaker organ


A National Historic Landmark valued over $57 million, the Grand Organ of Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia has 465 ranks, six manual keyboards, and hundreds of other mechanical controls. Designed by the renowned organ architect George Ashdown Audsley, it was built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

In 1909 John Wanamaker bought the instrument for his new emporium. Thirteen freight cars were required to ship it, and installation took two years. The Grand Organ was first heard in the seven-story atrium on 22 June 1911; later that year it was prominently featured when President William Howard Taft dedicated the store. During the following 20 years it was continuously enlarged under the direction of William Boone Fleming.

Daily recitals by store employees provided a harmonious environment for shopping, and special performances, such as annual Christmas concerts, provided outreach to the community. Today the store is owned by Macy’s, and the traditions continue.

This according to “The Grand Court organ” by Ralph Blakely (The musical times CXXX/ 1761 [November 1989] pp. 703–707). Below, Virgil Fox discusses and performs on the organ.

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5 Responses to The Wanamaker organ

  1. Pingback: The Wanamaker organ | Bibliolore | I Am Locutus of Borg

  2. The organ actually has 465 ranks of pipes putting the total near 29,000 individual pipes and is valued at over $72 million. It is the largest fully functioning musical instrument in the world. The Wanamaker Organ has played every business day since the organ first played in the Grand Court on June 22, 1911. The organ has attracted the world’s most famous organists, composers, and conductors including Marco Enrico Bossi, Nadia Boulanger, Charles Courboin, Marcel Dupre, Virgil Fox, and Leopold Stokowski. In the early part of the 20th century, Leopold Stokowski would direct the Philadelphia Orchestra during special after-hours concerts with the organ that would attract crowds upward of 25,000 people.

    The post of Grand Court Organist is one of prestige and high esteem and there have only been 4 organists to hold the title in 101 years. Peter Richard Conte is the current Grand Court Organist and has held the post for 25 years. Mr. Conte is highly regarded as a skillful performer and arranger of organ transcriptions. He has been featured several times on National Public Radio and on ABC television’s “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight.” He has two radio shows: “The Wanamaker Organ Hour”, which airs on the first Sunday of each month, at 5 PM (Eastern), and can be heard via the internet at WRTI.ORG; on each Wednesday evening at 7 PM, his Grand Court concert is streamed live on Mr. Conte performs extensively throughout the United States and Canada under the management of Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, has appeared as a featured artist at American Guild of Organists’ National and Regional Conventions, and at the International Organ Festival in Aosta, Italy. He has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, and with the Pacific, Delaware, Canton and Allentown Symphonies. In September 2008, Peter was soloist for an historic collaboration of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Wanamaker Organ, performing Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante in the Wanamaker Grand Court.

    Mr. Conte also serves as Choirmaster and Organist of St. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia, where he directs a professional choir in music of the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

  3. John West

    Fact check–The organ has more than 469 ranks.

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