Saturday, December 31, 2011

John Wanamaker Building - 100th Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the old John Wanamaker's department store in center city Philadelphia. This massive (1.9 million square feet) Renaissance Palazzo, designed by D. H. Burnham, presents a restrained, dignified face to the world, contrasting nicely with the flamboyant Second Empire stylings of MacArthur's adjacent City Hall. But its true glory lies within, where a marble-columned (with gold-plated capitals), five-storey atrium rises to an ornate, vaulted ceiling. It is often said, "They can't make them like this any more." Well, they certainly DON'T make them like this, as any visitor to one of America's tawdry, cookie-cutter malls knows.

It is said that such buildings are too expensive to make. Well, America, and the owners of businesses like this, are far more wealthy than they were 100 years ago. What it really speaks to is a difference in philosophy. Building such a building would hurt the bottom line of people who see their only responsibility to lie in their (and their shareholders') pocketbooks. Building something of lasting beauty for the public good simply is no concern of theirs ... and we are all the poorer for it.

One matter Christians, many of whom worship the regnant system that has led to the demise of such architecture, should keep in mind is the fundamental matter of humanity's creation as the imago dei. We were put here to reflect and mediate God's rule here on earth. Compare the Wanamaker Building (now a Macy's) with the Macy's at King of Prussia Mall. Which do you suppose better reflects God's design for humankind?