Macy’s Wanamaker organ celebrates 110 years


After 110 years, the Wanamaker Organ has developed its own fan base.

The world’s largest fully operational pipe organ was played for its own birthday on Tuesday, inside Macy’s 5-story Grand Court in Philadelphia. Since 1911, the organ has been played twice a day, each day the store has opened its doors, through two global pandemics, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession and several changes of owner.

Grand Court organist Peter Richard Conte believes the Wanamaker had the largest cumulative audience of any instrument.

“I mean, it’s heard twice a day during office hours for the past 110 years,” Conte said. “Do the math. That’s a lot of people walking around the great yard hearing this incredible instrument.”

Grand Court organist Peter Richard Conte performs on the Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s in Center City, marking the organ’s 110th anniversary. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Of course, many people come to the Great Court to look for a new pair of shoes or buy a watch, not to hear the iconic organ. But when the bellows begin to blow, the pipes begin to sing and the reverberations bounce off the vaulted balconies of the fifth floor, music dominates every cubic inch of the “Cathedral of Commerce”.

Every day organ fans gather on the second floor balcony to have both an eye and an ear full of the organ. For three decades, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ support group has mobilized around its preservation and programming. People across the country are asking for the privilege of coming to Philadelphia to work – for free – on the maintenance of its 28,765 pipes.

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