Before Bloomingdales

Former Medinah Temple, Chicago (detail)

Former Medinah Temple, Chicago (detail)

My Isle of Man friend John, whose antennae can detect a pipe organ over astonishing distances, has pointed me to footage of the interior of the Medinah Temple, Chicago, dating from 2000, when the Austin Opus 558 organ was intact and playable:

Perhaps Bloomingdales missed an opportunity when they stripped out this instrument to convert the building into a department store.

Macy’s in Philadelphia, the current owners of what was once Wanamaker’s, have retained and restored the gigantic pipe organ which John Wanamaker purchased from the St Louis World’s Fair of 1904.  Designed by the great organ designer George Ashdown Audsley, this exhibition instrument – the largest in the world with over 10,000 pipes – proved insufficient to fill the volume of the store’s seven-storey atrium.  Enlargements took place in 1910-1917 and again in 1924-1930, so that there are now 28,500 pipes, controlled by six manuals.

The Wanamaker Organ, as it is still named, is a much-loved part of Philadelphia life.  It figured in one of the Knight Foundation‘s Random Acts of Culture in which 600 choral singers, disguised as shoppers, led by the chorus of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, burst into an impromptu performance of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ to the astonishment and delight of ladies trying on shoes and having their make-up done:

A video history of the Wanamaker Organ is at


For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago please click here.


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