During the off-season the show is stored in the passageways around the Organ, making the area look like Santa’s workshop. The Magic Christmas Tree is kept on the second floor, Chestnut Street, behind the ladies suit department. The branches are hung from trusses in the ceiling and the endpoints are color-coded for easy installation on the center trunk and connection to the electrical outlets. The rest of the light-show panels and trusses are stored on the second floor around and behind the Main Organ chambers. The sections are arranged in order from top to bottom as one travels from the control room, affectionately known as Frosty Central around the organ to the Thirteenth Street side of the second floor.
Wanamaker’s maintained a large Toy Department at the south end of the Eighth floor. It included a real monorail for kids that made a circuit around the department from 1946 to 1984, and a sprawling electric-train layout. The rocket monorail cars have been moved to the Please Touch Museum.
John Wanamaker was a leading Christian layman and founder of Bethany Presbyterian Church, and his family built on that faith. During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s the Grand Court included a Christmas Cathedral at the rear (also with a thick blue-green drapery behind it) that had a Nativity scene as its focus and saints and bells in its towers. Cathedral-like arcades on the second floor held statuary showing Biblical stories including the Annunciation and Flight into Egypt, and the Main Floor had a series of Gothic pavilions atop each sales counter that were likewise lighted to give an air of enchantment to the entire Grand Court.
Side aisles were draped in repeated festoons of greenery with wreaths at each top corner. In the first half of the 20th century it was a famous John Wanamaker tradition to have a Christmas Carol sing-along on Christmas Eve, and songbooks were regularly given to customers. Organist Mary Vogt would push buttons from a device at the console and the page number of each Carol would be projected.
During Lent and Easter paintings of the Passion of Christ by the celebrated Hungarian painter Michael de Munkacsy were hung in the Grand Court. These paintings had been sent on an international tour following their completion and thousands paid admission to see them. Leading newspapers and clergy were profuse in their praise of the characterizations. So precious were these paintings to John Wanamaker that he paid the highest price received by any living artist to date (estimates vary from $100,000 to .$175,000 each). Before 1908 they hung in his country home Lindenhurst. When that home burned to the ground in 1907, neighbors cut them from their frames and rescued them. After Mr. Wanamaker’s death the paintings were hung in the Grand Court annually and were displayed at the New York 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, before being sold in 1988. Choirs and orchestras frequently played special programs of sacred music during this period.
The Wanamaker Organ Case with the
The John Wanamaker Grand
Court at Christmas with a view of
the Christmas Cathedral
The John Wanamaker Christmas Cathedral, Philadelphia. Inspired by the beauty of famous churches and religious art throughout the world, this Christmas presentation is located in the Grand Court of the Philadelphia store. The Nativity tableau is placed in the central portal above which are stained glass windows portraying The Annunciation and The Flight Into Egypt. Figures of the Disciples and Prophets are set into the Cathedral front.
Towering high above the Wanamaker Grand Court, facing the Christmas Cathedral, the Magic Christmas Tree of a Million Lights adds brilliance to the holiday season. As though touched by a magic wand, the colors flash and change before your eyes while the Enchanted Fountains rise and fall to the accompaniment of Christmas music.