PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 28 -- The John Wanamaker department store, a Philadelphia institution since 1877, closed Monday and will reopen next week as a Hecht's department store. A total of 13 Wanamaker stores in the region, including the landmark downtown store, were purchased by Hecht's parent company, the May Co., for $460 million. Hecht's officials said the Wanamaker name and inventory will be phased out over the next two months. John Wanamker was 28 when he opened his firstretail store, a men and boys clothing store, in 1861. His first department store opened 16 years later, and was set up as a giant wheel with 196-foot aisles radiating from a 90-foot circular counter. The store also featured the first department store restaurant. The current building opened Dec. 30, 1911, during a ceremony attended by President William Howard Taft and was billed as the world's largest department store. The store contains 1.9 million square feet of floor space including a central Grand Court that rises the entire 12-stories of the building. The floors are marble and the ceilings are supported by massive granite columns. Nearly as renowned as Wanamaker's itself is a 2,500-pound bronze eagle that has been perched in the Grand Court since the store opened. Built in Germany for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the eagle has 5,000 bronze feathers. The store is also home to a 2 -ton pipe organ that Wanamaker also bought at the St. Louis expo and the Crystal Tea Room, which overlooks the Grand Court, and with 1,400 seats, is Philadelphia's largest restaurant.
Another Wanamaker tradition is the annual Christmas light show that has captivated generations of children. Officials with the May Company, which bought the Wanamaker chain from the bankrupt Woodward & Lothrop Co., said they plan to retain the pipe organ and eagle and are considering continuing the Christmas light show.