Wanamaker Building Marks 100 Years

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.”

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  • NS

    More information can be found at http://www.wanamakerorgan.com

  • Joan

    Great memories of the soda fountian counter in the basement of Wanamaker’s, it was always a very special treat when visiting Center City as a youngster. As well as the after Valentine’s Day specials – the heart shaped candy boxes with the little dolls on top. On the one side staiwell was a mini post office, which always seemed to be busy. Thanks for the light show and the wonderful memories!

  • love Wanamakers

    When I was young, Wanamaker’s had a soft ice cream stand in the Bargain Basement when you came in from the subway called “Wanamode”. It was delicious and only a nickle.

    • noonecares

      That’s a great story, thanks

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