Restoration Highlights – A Detailed Timeline
Below is a partial list of restoration milestones. This page is still under construction and is by no means a complete list, nor does it cover numberless tunings and specific repairs, or the gifts of time and talent of many people. The material is presented in reverse chronological order to highlight the most recent accomplishments
Numerous restoration projects continue. Solo division pneumatics for the back two chests are returned, reservoir is rebuilt, stop actions are readied and pipes await replacement. Restoration details are covered in detail in the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ newsletter The Stentor, sent free to those who join and financially support the Friends.
The Tuned Gongs are hoised to a new perch on the Sixth Floor under the Ethereal Division, where they will be heard unobstructed and with the benefit of the reflective glass dome crowning the Grand Court.
Friends member David Wanamaker funds the restoration of the bronze Eagle by Evergreene Architectural Arts.
Work is completed on the Pedal Grand Mutation X mixture, a huge harmonic stop that has the ensemble effect of a 32′ Contra Bombarde. The massive chest also includes a Cello and two Tibias (8′ and 4′) and two Fagottos, 16′ and 4′. All of the pipes are cleaned and regulated and the area around them is acoustically enhanced with reverberant coatings. A new rubbercloth gasket covers the top of the chest below the pipes. Also the design of the primary was corrected with the insertion of stronger electro-magnets and smaller first-stage primary pneumatics resulting in a swift playing action on 11″ wind.
The Giant Gong on the seventh floor is winded and readied to be placed in service following a period of testing and refinement of its custom-designed striker.
Pedal offsets are returned to playability through new winding and through wiring trouble-shooting.
Huge new wind lines are run from the Main Blower room to the Main Organ in the ceiling area above the sealed off hallway known as Frosty Central. The old galvanized lines had rotted out through mists blown through them to humidify the windlines and chests. As a result the Organ is much quieter.
The Great Chorus division is cleaned of Plaster Dust resulting from the Wanamaker Building lobby re-design.
Hundreds of leather pneumatics are recovered in preparation for re-installation in the Solo division. Old gasketing is removed from the bottom of the chest so that restored bottomboards with gasketing on them can be put back in place.
Macy’s is shuttered amid Coronavirus pandemic beginning mid-March. The Store re-opens in early July to the sound of Wanamaker Organ music as Peter Richard Conte plays “America the Beautiful.” The Wanamaker Organ becomes one of the few venues in the country with live daily music.
Macy’s takes advantage of a decrease in foot traffic during the pandemic to upgrade its escalator system.
Major work continues on the back chests of the Solo Division, the Solo mixtures, the Chinese Gong and the Pedal 10-rank mixture chest.
The CD/DVD Symphonic Splendor is released.
Four Pedal reeds are restored: The 16′ Trombone, the 16′ Tuba, and the Fagottos 16′ and 8.
Friends member David Wanamaker funds the restoration of the Eagle base.
Major additions are made to the Friends’ AV system for concert streamcasts.
Plans are announced for a 32′ Contra Trombone extension of the Pedal Trombone.
Two virtual concerts are held: A Grand Halloween Concert and our Christmas in the Grand Tradition Concert.
Curt Mangel retires as Curator. Matthew Taft succeeds him as Curator.
Original String Division completed and its Soft Bourdon again made available on Pedal
Solo restoration continues with installation of reflective surface coatings and panels. Work begins on two mixtures at top of chamber.
Wanamaker Office Building lobby renovated with big-screen video featuring Wanamaker Organ and other subjects.
Live feed from console connected to giant-screen display.
Kiosk shows what happens inside the Organ when it is switched on at times when the Organ is actually switched on.
Wanamaker Organ Case and stage completely restored with gilding in 22-karat gold in a project that is the year’s major focus.
Chorus Third Diapason chest reinstalled in Chorus area following restoration.
Great unenclosed primary completely rebuilt.
Eagle is carefully and professionally polished.
Additional extensive re-actioning of Main Pedal.
New sound system installed in the Grand Court allowing amplification of choirs and instrumentalists.
New gasketing installed in Original String Division. Each tin pipe cleaned and hand polished and lacquered.
Original String chamber lacquered and bottom boards and pipes returned. Swell shades adjusted. Stop actions restored. Tuning collars placed on mixture pipes that were formerly cone-tuned for their protection.
Choir division restoration completed.
Six reeds from Solo division restored from gift in honor of John Binsfeld.
Proposal developed for restoration of the Grand Organ Case.
Striker for Giant Gong completed.
Main Pedal and Solo Divisions re-actioned.
Main Chamber floor repainted.
“Hall of Flags visitor center outside Orchestral Chamber completed.
Contra Bombarde 32′ restoration completed from a gift by Thomas Jefferson V. Offset chest for upper octaves moved to front of the chamber.
Choir Chamber emptied and varnished, and pipes cleaned, regulated as needed and put back in place.
Four reeds from Choir Division restored and installed by Sam Hughes.
New projector and giant screen installed in Grand Court for projection during concerts from private gift.
Restoration of Original String Division begun from Seifert family gift in honor of Michael Stairs.
New wiring and bottom boards allow four prominent Orchestral 16′ reeds to be played in the Pedal.
New combination-action setter drawer installed.
Choir manual professionally restored by outside vendor.
Swell Corroborating Mixture V restored and regulated.
The Mustel Celesta restored by Jerry Biasella of Chicago Heights., Il., as a gift of the Seifert family.
Choir bottom boards restored and 1400 actions renewed as complete overhaul of 24-rank division remains focus.
Organ loft re-carpeted and dedicated by Macy’s in honor of Frederick R. Haas.
Organ Historical Society holds convention in Philadelphia.
Assistant Curator Samuel Whitcraft passes away.
Console enclosure refinishing completed. Work continues on Opus-Two conversion.
American Theatre Organ Society holds convention in Philadelphia.
Chorus chests put back in place and toe boards installed. All pipes returned and playing for its premiere in October
New Friends kiosk installed and Visitor Film featuring Bill Bragg as narrator prepared.
Samuel Hughes donates a Flugel Horn to the Orchestral Division in memory of Keith and Sally Chapman.
Friends Ambassador Wally McLean passes away.
Funds received from Dr. Charles Bower to restore the Swell Corroborating Mixture.
Opus -Two relay system debuts to rave reviews. Installation in other divisions continues to present day. As part of the project, the Combination Action was expaned to 1000 levels, and a sequencer was installed to allow any piston to advance the settings to the next higher General Piston number. Opus 2 works by monitoring which stops or keys are on or off and sending the information digitally to receptors inside the organ, which interpret the information and send current through the appropriate wires to the magnets. If a stop doesn’t totally flip on or off mechanically, Opus-Two overrides this to conform with the organist’s wishes.
Chorus primary rebuilt. Some pipes returned to chests.
Ethereal Primary rebuilt.
Major work continues on Gongs with adjustments of mechanism by Sam Whitcraft.
Diapason Magna pipes cleaned.
Intricate console balcony metalwork panels refinished.
Daniel Angerstein does Chorus voicing on a division that was never really finished.
Opus-Two relay systems begin installation.
Three Pedal 32′ Open Metal pipes placed on new offset chest.
Console enclosure removed for refinishing.
Combination Action receives a major overhaul.
Further enhancements made to recording studio.
Restoration of Chorus Division begins.
New chamber doors are built on Third Floor behind Chorus Division.
Wanamaker Organ Curators Tour DVD released,
Chorus pipework begins finishing by Daniel Angerstein.
Giant Gong purchased and hoisted into place on Seventh Floor.
Ethereal Organ pneumatic actions replaced in major chest project.
Restored Stentorphone returned to Swell Division.
Vox Humana Choir gets its own color coding as a new floating division.
Major Chorus division restoration begins.
Wanamaker Organ celebrates its 100th year with performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and New Jersey’s Symphony in C.
Curators Curt Mangel and Samuel Whitcraft honored with plaque in Grand Court.
Recording studio set up by Jim Stemke captures the sound in very high fidelity.
Gongs taken down for restoration.
Orchestral flutes voiced.
Lower Swell Primary rebuilt.
Weekly Internet Streaming begun on YesterdayUSA.com
Swell Organ failing pneumatics replaced in major project.
Significant work done on Ethereal chests.
Opera Company of Philadelphia stages a Random Act of Culture: a singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Resulting video goes viral attracting more than 9 million viewers to date.
Greek Hall gets restored lighting and projection system and provision for recordings.
Wurlitzer dedicated in gala weekend.
Pedal upperwork chest completely re-actioned.
Combination Action upgrade completed allowing 30 levels of memory. The action previously had eight levels.
Centennial Tuba dedicated on Wanamaker Organ Day.
Great primary restored and work done on 8-rank mixture chestwork actions.
Pipe-washing sink installed.
Friends begins three-year Century II capital campaign for 2011 centennial of Organ in Store.
Orchestral starts being used in part.
Wurlitzer Toy Counter restored and relay rebuilt.
New voicing machine restored.
Wurlitzer console lift rebuilt.
Orchestral Blower rebuilt. Orchestral benefactor Edith Grace Brickman dies.
Composer Howard Shore writes piece for Wanamaker Organ and orchestra.
Philadelphia Orchestra performs for Macy’s 150th Anniversary.
Jongen’s Symphony Concertante heard in Grand Court for first time.
Framing built for chests in new chamber and chests begin to be installed.
Orchestral expression shades put in place.
Julie Andrews makes Grand Court appearance.
New Orchestral framing finished and offset chests installed with other pipes and mechanisms.
Console receives sumptuously restored paneling brought back from Chicago refinisher.
January 22: New Organ Shop dedicated by Macy’s, Fred R. Haas and the Friends with ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Vox Humana chamber completed.
Orchestral chests laid out on floor of shop for measurements and layout exploration.
Work on Wurltzer begins.
Work on Orchestral Division begins with construction of new chamber and framework.
Work begins on Centennial Tuba project.
Console shell removed for refinishing.
Nelson Buechner archive donated to the Friends by Charles W. Gibson.
Wanamaker Building gifts space for moving Orchestral Division to Fourth Floor.
Old Orchestral Chamber emptied of pipes in preparation for moving of division.Great 8-rank mixture chest restored.
Restoration of Vox Humanas begins.
Work on the new organ shop begun, including rehabilitation of space and installation of woodworking machines and a restroom/shower.
May 13: Lord & Taylor closes. August 2: Macy’s takes over operations and reopens Store after extensive renovations.
Gift of Wurlitzer Organ from Smithsonian Institution announced by Brantley A. Duddy.
Chest for Great/Pedal Mixture VIII rebuilt by Scott Kip.
New Vox tremolo unit built that varies the pulses from rank to rank.
A harp is donated by Brantley A. Duddy, restored, and placed in the Enclosed Great/Choir expression chamber.
The Major Chimes receive an overhaul.
Federated Department Stores announces plans to merge with the May Department Stores Co.
Philadelphia Preservation Alliance honors the Wanamaker Organ Restoration.
Great Harmonic Flutes,Solo Soft Tuba and String Violin Diapason restored. Store is cleared of all fixtures and merchandise as Lord & Taylor vacates. Organ has amazing reverberation from bare marble floors and walls and with clothing absent.
Wanamaker Organ honored during 100th anniversary of St. Louis World’s Fair.
Great Chorus grate valve restored.
Solo Soft Tuba restored by Samuel Hughes, who vows to keep it soft.
Swell wind-chests are re-actioned during Symposium session.
Restoration begins on Solo Mixtures at top of chamber. Project is half-completed and work resumes in 2019.
Cymbal-star is presented to the Organ by Bob Knight in memory of Virgil Fox and to mark the Organ’s centennial.
32′ Metal Diapason reactivated.
Larry Trupiano restores mixture in Great Division and adds tuning slides to a resource damaged by cone tuning.
Vox Humana Pedal returned to use in String Division.
Restoration needs of the Orchestral Division assessed.
Work continues on piano.
Carl Loeser installs top notes of Ethereal Clear Flute.
Plans to focus on the Orchestral Division announced.
Console combination action improved with new gaskets with ports of the needed size to insure air-tightness installed under each magnet by Curt Mangel. System is tested by having every other stop on, then alternating with the opposite pattern.
Entire Swell plays again for the first time in about 10 years.
Curt Mangel appointed curator. Beginning of term is focused on many “triage” projects.
Main Blower gets emergency repairs as Curt Mangel works with Peter Batchelder
Curt Mangel brings Medium Pressure Swell back on line.
Metal Double Open Diapason pipes paired up by Curt Mangel to let the Swell Organ play into the Court.
Sam Whitcraft restores the piano and its adjustable attack.
Wanamaker Organ becomes the centerpiece of the AGO National Convention.
Centennial Fund Three Year Capital Campaign begun for St.Louis World’s Fair Centennial in 2004.
Springs being put on more and more bottom boards to keep chests sealed during winter wood shrinkage.
Swamp Cooler humidification systems installed by Curt Mangel together with variable speed drives for blowers, allowing humidified air to waft through organ chests when organ is not played, keeping wood parts from drying, shrinking, splitting and leaking wind.
Virgil Fox memorial concert held after September 11 tragedy. Central tower displays red white and blue ribbon made of carnations.
Electronics provide new expression-shade couplers.
Ethereal Swell Shades reworked to open farther.
High Pressure Reed Chorus restored and returned to Swell with new resonators for 16′ pipes.
Dorian records Peter Richard Conte’s first CD, “Magic!”
San Filippo staff build new rectifier with the rock-steady current the organ’s new electronics need and decorate it with the Lord & Taylor logo and rose.
Symposium session includes adjustments to Great Chorus division.
Work moves forward to have combination action working by 2001.
String Organ given a complete tuning.
Charles Kegg repairs notes of the 32′ Contra Bombarde.
Jim Stemke makes recordings showing tonal progress.
The first weeklong Friends Symposium Program opens as numerous experts donate their time to restore the String organ expression shades and address numerous issues with pipes, winding and finishing together with the curators.
Music in the Marketplace, the story of the Wanamaker Organ published.
Echo Division restoration completed. Peter Conte finishes playing the Wagner “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from measure 43.
Ethereal Division comes back on line in November.
Work continues on Echo and Ethereal and console shoes are wired in.
Mechanisms are installed behind some stop tablets and the crescendo shoe is taken down for restoration.
Great relay is restored.
Extensive wiring carried out, particularly in the Echo.
Pipes are returned to the Ethereal.
January 4: Hecht’s closes for renovations as a Strawbridges.
The fourth and Fifth floors of Grand Court are enclosed in glass. The Store itself is reduced to three floors from five.
Main Organ is meticulously covered in plastic to keep dust out of the Organ. Theft precautions are taken for demolition areas.
Lord & Taylor cleans organ case and restores show-pipes as it begins retailing after a period when the Store was closed and new escalators were installed.
Preliminary work done on Echo chamber. Console work continues with restoration of stop manifolds and wiring.
Rubber membrane installed in Ethereal chests and windlines.
August 6: Store reopens amid Grand Court ceremonies as a Strawbridges.
AGO Announces 2002 Philadelphia Convention.
Console has all six keyboards and pedal clavier operational with two working swell shoes.
April 4: May Department Stores Co announces it is buying all Strawbridge & Clothier stores,
Mid July: Organ Historical Society convention held in Philadelphia.
Ray Biswanger series on Charles M. Courboin and Leopold Stokowski published in The American Organist magazine
Main cable wired at main junction board inside organ.
Top two keyboards installed and wired in. Steam humidifiers installed in String chamber.
Stop rail frames cleaned and parts put in tumbler for polishing. Contact arms and tilt knobs cleaned.
Stop mechanisms being pre-wired for installation in organ shop.
Federated Department Stores named as successful bidder for stores. Center City store is to become a Macy’s. May Company outbids Federated. Wanamaker’s closes Monday August 18. Stores open Sun. September 3 under Hecht’s brand, which dedicates the Wanamaker Organ to the people of Philadelphia. During the transition the chain was temporarily called Hecht’s Wanamakers.
Mann & Trupiano Co. awarded Echo Division restoration contract; division is removed in April.
Ethereal Post Horn and its reservoir restored.
Curator Nelson E. Buechner dies; Sam Whitcraft joins staff.
Combination Action cabinet wiring completed.
Wanamaker Organ 90th Birthday observed in June – the first Wanamaker Organ Day. Mayor Rendell cuts giant birthday cake.
Store parent company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Widespread public concern and publicity regarding the Organ the Eagle and the Light Show.
Swell and Solo keyboards rebuilt.
Check valves installed for String and Ethereal so chests don’t slam shut when wind is cut off.
Console area made visible by removal of stockrooms,
Capacitor bank reduces ripple from DC current to electronics.
Small console parts cleaned and readied, including stop tablets.
Primaries and switches restored on Tutti board, which gives three stop combinations to console.
Crescendo shoe cancel restored.
Ethereal restoration planning begun.
New blowers (modified air-handling equipment) present problems in overheated and underhimidified air. Exhaust valve in new blower room added tolower temperature of steam-operated humidity system.
Junction box by console restored and key drivers installed.
Solo rear primary rebuilt.
American Theatre Organ Society National Convention concert at Store is not held because console has not been completed.
November: Choir and Great keyboards activated in console shell. Pedal hooked up shortly thereafter.
First issue of The Stentor published.
Swell shade and crescendo shoe assembly restored and awaiting installation.
Main Pedal resevoir, two “winker” reservoirs and front pallet box of Solo Organ restored by contractor Carl Loeser.
Steel bracing put under console to allow it to pivot.
February 14: A worker knocks an elbow off a sprinkler pipe on an upper floor undergoing renovation, thoroughly drenching the Echo organ below and sending water dripping from its chamber floor into the Grand Court. Ultimately an insurance liability policy funds this restoration.
729 sets of stop pneumatics restored by Anthony Bufano, curator of the Riverside Church organ.
Restorer James Breneman dies suddenly after fifteen months of service as a contractor. During his involvement he rebuilt two suction reservoirs for the console, four reservoirs in the Solo, two in the Orchestral, one for the Ethereal, and two for the Great Chorus, and rerouted winding to the String Contra Diaphone (made necessary by the new String blower not providing adequate pressure).
Planning for a Friends of the Wanamaker Organ society begun, with a first meeting in October in the choir roomof St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.
Combination-action cabinet built by carpenters.
Hesco re-engraves console stop tabs as necessary.
Stop rail above top keyboard completed but not installed.
January 19: Announcement made that the Organ will be silent until May during the console restoration. Console completely apart in August.
November: Store asks that the organ be made playable for the Christmas season. A Kimball theatre-organ console is placed on the third floor, directly above the present console loft, with three stop keys, one for each tutti-board setting.
Main blower restored to operation by independent contractor.
Store auctions or gives away Wanamaker flags, liturgical vestments and other materials from the Store attic. Archives given to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Wanamaker’s office catalogued and dismantled and given to the HSP>
Wanamaker Organist Keith Chapman and his wife Sally are killed when their private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies; Peter Richard Conte appointed his successor. Console restoration begins.
Upper two floors of Grand Court are enclosed in glass. First full year of Wanamaker Building renovations.
Store income drops from $100 million to $65 million it is later revealed. Store chain put up for sale but offer withdrawn.
Building construction dust gets in organ blowers and into chests.
Demolition work results in severing of Echo Organ cable. Peter Richard Conte is at measure 42 of Wagner’s “Pilgrim Chorus.”
Nov. 30: A stuck valve admitting water to the Ethereal blower sends water through a telephone trough to the Ethereal chamber below, thoroughly soaking the chests and pipes. Curators are unable to see what is happening because uppermost floors are accessible only by an exterior scaffolding elevator on 13th Street. Huge fans are set up to dry the chamber. Woodward & Lothrop chairman Robert Mulligan declares that all damaged divisions of the Organ will be restored.
Ray Biswanger three-part series on the Wanamaker Organ published in The American Organist magazine.
Virgil Fox Plays the Wanamaker Organ released for the first time on CD.
Wanamaker Great Crystal Tea Room closes as a restaurant December 30.
Chuck Gibson leaves employ as Assistant Curator to continue his own business.
Store renovations begin in summer. Plans for the organ include new String and Ethereal blowers because the space they occupy on the 8th floor is to be used by offices. The old Welte combination action is removed to meet needs of the new building design, giving impetus for funding for a new electronic combination action. This provides added impetus to restore the console so the pneumatic action can move the stops. Peter Richard Conte becomes a Keith Chapman assistant.
Wayne Concert Series presents Keith Chapman concert in honor of the Wanamaker Organ’s 75th Birthday, the first after-hours concert in many years. Founder Shorty Yeaworth solicits materials for a Wanamaker Organ history.
Organ is completely playable except for the Orchestral Division.
Store chain is sold by Carter Hawley Hale for $170 million. Developer A, Alfred Taubman buys the chain and merges it with Washington, D.C.’s Woodward & Lothrop Chain.
Virgil Fox tapes a segment on the Wanamaker Organ for Group W’s Evening Magazine syndicated TV series.
A series of regulator failures and rebuildings cause the Orchestral Division restoration to be postponed.
John R. McCormack retires and Nelson E. Buechner is promoted to Curator. Perflex starts failing. String Organ is redone in leather and Orchestral bottom boards are taken down in preparation for releathering. Chuck Gibson hired as Assistant Curator to Nelson E. Buechner and joins him in experiments on Perflex removal, which proves time consuming and difficult. Rudy Lucente becomes an Assistant Grand Court Organist.
Perflex installed in String and Orchestral Divisions.
Curator John McCormack connects a relay to select stops of the Ethereal Division to allow Keith Chapman to switch solo stops with pistons. Perflex artificial leather installed on String and Orchestral pouchboards about this time.
Reservoirs for the Great Chorus are releathered for the first time, after a store carpenter takes down a heavy wall “built like it was for the U.S. Mint” that surrounded these reservoirs. There was “studding and wall board of two thicknesses.”
Mary E. Vogt retires as Grand Court Organist (a post she held since 1917). Keith Chapman succeeds her.
Virgil Fox releases his Command Classics ultra-high-fidelity recording of the Wanamaker Organ.
William Ruff retires as curator, succeeded by John R. McCormack. Nelson E. Buechner appointed Assistant Curator.
New Expression Shade relays installed. Piano completely rebuilt.
Organ shut down in August as Console is completely rebuilt:
On-off stop pneumatics releathered; armatures and magnets cleaned; new center-rail touch buttons added to key beds; keys and pedal board rebushed; all stop tablets cleaned in hopes of attaching the instrument to a new combination action.
Reeds in Ethereal division cleaned and regulated
All new electric relays placed in the String Organ.
Gongs removed from storage above Solo Organ and installed.
Three Orchestral reeds moved to High-Pressure Swell, replacing Bass Trombone 16, Bass Tuba 16 and Tuba 8′. The stored pipes,were intended to be relocated elsewhere (whether under expression or not had not been decided). They later suffered damage from prolonged storage. This arrangement was reversed in the 1990s
Assistant Curator Andy Friel leaves the company—September 1958. John R. McCormack becomes Assistant Curator.
In August on a Saturday when the Store was closed, a water pipe in an air-conditioning unit on the fourth floor broke, and ran unckecked for several hours through a trap door in the floor. Much of the Orchestral, Great , Choir and several stops of the Main Pedal were soaked and one large regulator had to be torn apart and completely rebuilt. Fortunately the electrical and relay systems were spared. In spite of the damage (which was subsequently corrected), the Organ played on Monday when the store opened.
Assistant curator Henry A Backer, who joined the staff in 1929, leaves the company
William Ruff becomes curator
Curator George W. Till retires.