By Jim Melwert
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It was 100 years ago today, when President William Howard Taft officially dedicated the Wanamaker Building, in a speech over the now-famous eagle statue in the Center City landmark.
“A pretty significant thing in itself to have the president of the United States come and dedicate a department store building,” says Cynthia Little, with the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.
“But John Wanamaker really was a merchant prince. He was very interested in politics, so it wasn’t really in a way totally surprising.”
It was 1875 when John Wanamaker relocated his store to 13th and Market. A smart move, says Little, as the business center of the city was shifting west.
“He takes advantage and he purchases an abandoned building, which was the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station, so it was a big, massive, old station building.”
Good location and good timing, during the centennial celebrations.
In the coming decades, Wanamaker eventually commissioned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to build the 12-story, granite building we know today.
Wanamaker is credited with inventing the price tag and beginning no-haggle pricing, important for making middle class women of the time comfortable in visiting his store.
He also wanted the big atrium, with the organ and the eagle statue, both imported from the St. Louis World’s Fair. “It speaks to a huge sense of civic pride of civic sort of boosterism, really. It’s been a place where we as a city have celebrated.”