Menu Filter

Macy’s / Wanamaker’s – Department Store Archeology Now Macy's but Still Fascinating! - Philadelphia, PA

Posted on: January 20, 2010

2018 UPDATE:

There are TOURS offered that go behind the scenes at Macy’s so you can see more remaining elements of the Wanamaker department store! Contact them at to find out more, and I’ll post whenever we do a Retro Roadmap meetup there!

Retro Roadmap gang at the Wanamaker Eagle 2015


Original 2010 Post:

Even though the Wanamaker’s Department Store building in downtown Philadelphia PA has been taken over by Macy’s, if you look closely you can still see signs that this place used to be the grande dame of department stores in her day.

Here are a few snapshots of some of the retail archeological finds I saw on our quick trip into Center City before Christmas.’ve actually never seen the organ without it being obscured by the giant Christmas Tree, but here’s a shot to show you how cool and old fashioned it is (thanks to Wikipedia for the use of this image))

As a quick refresher, Wanamaker’s was the first department store in Philadelphia and one of the first department stores in the country. The current building harkens from 1910 and originally had 9 of its 12 floors designated for retail. Now only a handful of them are shopping destinations, but the building still houses the fabulous Wanamaker Organ, which gives a hint to the fabulosity that the store once had.

When you’re walking in through some of the vestibules off of the street you can still see the intricate mosaic work and the stylized JW signature emblazoned in the center.

wanamaker mosaic
The fluorescent lighting and my photos don’t do them justice, but the colors are just wonderful in a very art nouveau palette.

There are a number of these “stairways to nowhere” around the store. This one was located in the young mens department and perfectly contrast the elegance of years gone by with the hyper casual lifestyle of today (sigh.)

Wanamaker Stairs To NowhereEvidence of the Great Egyptian hall can be seen if you look closely at the beams on the 3rd floor:

The Egyptian Hall Wanamaker'sDown in the cosmetics section there are a number of these giant state seals lining the walls, which bring out the lovely gold of the stair railings in the background.

State Seal WanamakerI’m not sure what era this light fixture is from, but by the look of it’s wonderful sculptural glass shade and formidable metalwork, I’d say it’s not of this era, or last half decade easily!
Wanamaker Lighting FixtureAnother staircase to nowhere.  That curving brass bannister and faded burgundy carpet just screams “This used to be a tres elegant place!”
Wanamaker CherubsI bet those cherubs had a much nicer shade back in the day, but I guess I should just be glad they haven’t been replaced by halogen torchieres.

So if you’re in Center City Philadelphia and want to go on a retail archeological dig, and envision what this place would’ve been like in her heyday, pencil in a visit to Wanamaker’s – and show me what I missed!