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.



Info on the David Fox Biography

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.



 

 


Dr. Irvin J. Morgan
(1911-17)


Mary E. Vogt
(1917-66)


Dr. Keith Chapman

(1966-89)


Peter Richard Conte

(1989-present)



 


Peter Richard Conte is Grand Court Organist of the Wanamaker Organ at the Macy’s Philadelphia department store. Mr. Conte was appointed Grand Court Organist in 1989, and is only the fourth person to hold that title since the organ was first played in 1911.

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. His monthly radio show, The Wanamaker Organ Hour, airs on the first Sunday of each month at 5 pm (Eastern), and can be heard worldwide via the Internet at WRTI.org. In September 2008 he performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a Wanamaker Organ concert marking Macy's 150th anniversary that won international acclaim. It featured the premiere of the Jongen Symphonie Concertante with the organ and orchestra for which it had been written in 1925.

He concertizes extensively throughout the United States and Canada under the management of Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, and was a featured artist at the American Guild of Organists’ National Convention in 2002, and at the International Organ Festival in Aosta, Italy, in September 2004. He has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, and with the Delaware and Allentown Symphonies. When not touring, he performs on the six-manual, 28,482-pipe Wanamaker instrument twice daily, six days each week.

In addition to his concert career, Mr. Conte serves as Choirmaster and Organist of St. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia, where he directs an eighteen-voice professional choir in music of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. That choir has recorded several internationally-acclaimed compact discs on the Dorian label.

Peter Richard Conte is an Associate of the American Guild of Organists, and has served on the executive board of its Philadelphia Chapter. Mr. Conte studied with Larry Smith and Robert Rayfield at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he was awarded the prestigious Performers’ Certificate in Organ. He returned to Indiana University in 2008 to accept the School of Music’s Distinguished Alumni Award. During high school, he studied with Robert Kennedy, while serving as Associate Organist at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York.

Mr. Conte appears on the Gothic, Dorian, JAV and DTR recording labels. His first Yuletide compact disc, Christmas in the Grand Tradition, features the Philadelphia Brass and the Wanamaker Organ.

 

 

 

Like the Organ, the Eagle, also came from the St. Louis World's Fair, where it was part of the German Exhibit of Arts and Crafts. Made by the Armbruester Brothers in Frankfort, Germany, the Eagle is fashioned of Durana bronze from models by Berlin sculptor August Gaul. All of the heavy plates that form the inner structure, as well as the feathers and other surface features, were separately wrought by hand with chisel, file and hammer. Each individual feather on the head and body was carefully modeled and fitted into place. There are 1,600 feathers on the head alone, and 5,000 on the entire Eagle. The sculpture weighs 2,500 pounds and sits on a granite base. When brought to Wanamaker's it became the John Wanamaker chain's corporate trademark. The floor of the Grand Court had to be strengthened with girders to accommodate it. There is an old Philadelphia custom to rendezvous in Center City by saying "Meet me at the Eagle."



The deep-voiced bell that rings from the belfry of the PNB-First Union bank building on North Broad Street and Penn Square in Philadelphia was commissioned by Rodman Wanamaker in 1926 as a memorial to his father, John Wanamaker. Consequently, the bell is known as the Founder's Bell. It was also cast to celebrate the Sesqui-Centennial of the United States of America and the 50th Anniversary of The New Kind of Store, John Wanamaker's department store.

The bell was cast by the distinguished Gillett and Johnston foundry in Croydon, England, a firm which had revived a method of tuning bells by shaving off some of the bronze at various places on the bell surface to make their sound more concordant. The completed bell, which sounds low "D," weighs 15 tons—one ton for each decade of American independence—and was the largest tuned bell in the world at the time of its casting. (Subsequently, slightly larger tuned bells were cast for the carillon of New York City's Riverside Church, also by Gillett and Johnston.)

The Founder's Bell was originally placed on the roof of the Wanamaker Philadelphia store. Production delays caused its dedication to be postponed from the Fourth of July until New Year's Eve 1926-27. However, the roof location proved inadequate, and in the 1930s the Wanamaker management provided a belfry where the bell could be fully swung. It was erected atop Wanamaker's new men's store, originally known as the Lincoln-Liberty building and now called the PNB-First Union building. The Founder's Bell, whose majestic tone has been praised by Leopold Stokowski and many others, continues to ring the hours daily from its perch high above the city.

Many people, incidentally, mistakenly believe the sound comes from nearby City Hall. Although there is no official policy, the managers of the real-estate firm that manages the PNB building occasionally take visitors to the belfry on appointment.

THE WANAMAKER GRAND ORGAN now at MACY'S has been thrilling Philadelphia shoppers and visitors every business day since 1911. Eighty years later, in the fall of 1991, an organization of the Friends Society was formed to support the preservation and musical mission of this irreplaceable American treasure.

 

 

Friends of the Wanamaker Organ is a world-wide group of sponsors and supporters formed to encourage the preservation and musical mission of this National Historic Landmark. Introductory contributions of $20 entitle the donor to become a Friend and to receive four issues of The Stentor, the Society's quarterly historical newsletter and restoration update. Added tax-deductible donations support Friends programs. Join the Friends now!

The official registration and financial information of the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc., may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.


 


E-Mail the Friends

VIEW a spread

The Stentor is published in the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with all renewals taking place at the beginning of the new year. The minimum annual donation is $20 per year special rate for new members. Those joining in the middle of the calendar year who do not wish to receive that year's back issues can pay just for the issues still to be published (at $5 apiece). Kindly make checks payable to Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

Please enclose your check with a brief note or print-out or facsimile of the Order Form and mail to the:

Friends of the
Wanamaker Organ
630 Hidden Valley Road
King of Prussia, PA 19406-1712


With your support,
we are making a difference!

 

 

©2011 Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, Inc.         Site Design and Hosting: www.sherwoodweb.com