Wanamaker Building is now 100 years old. It was the home of the first department store in Philadelphia, and one of the first department stores in the U.S.
The founder of the store John Wanameker ventured into business with his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown. According to Wikipedia, in 1861, they founded a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia called Oak Hall. Wanamaker carried on the business alone after Brown’s death in 1868.
In 1876, Wanamaker purchased the abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad station for use as a new, larger retail location to 13th and Market. The concept was to renovate the terminal into a “Grand Depot” and forerunners of the modern department store, as the business center of the city was shifting west.
Wanamaker commissioned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to build the 12-story, granite building. In 1877 the interior of Wanamaker’s was refurbished and expanded to include not only men’s clothing, but women’s clothing and dry goods as well. A circular counter was placed at the center of the building, and concentric circles radiated around it with 129 counters of goods.
By the end of the 20th century in the shopping-mall era, there were 16 Wanamaker’s outlets. As of 2011, the occupant of the former Philadelphia Wanamaker’s Department Store is Macy’s Center City.
“John Wanamaker really was a merchant prince. He was very interested in politics, so it wasn’t really in a way totally surprising,”said Cynthia CBS News, with the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. “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.”
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.”