ATLANTA’S GREAT TREE

Since 1948, the Great Tree has been

bigger in the South,

than the tree at Rockefeller Center

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Now known as Macy’s Great Tree, for half a century and 12 years, it was lovingly known as

R I C H ‘ S    G R E A T    T R E E

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Every year from 1948 through 1991, the Great Tree was erected on the top of the Crystal Bridge at Downtown Atlanta’s elaborate RICH’S department store. The Crystal Bridge was a four story all-glass bridge connecting the 1924 Italian Renaissance Pallazzo styled building to the modern 1948 Store for Homes. On Thanksgiving night, every year, the bridge was decorated with back-lighted stained glass panels and a heralding chorus on each floor. Above the fifth floor, the Great Tree was a freshly-cut white pine up to 75 feet tall with a 7 foot tall star.

Tens of thousands of people would come from all over the South to the Lighting of the Great Tree. Shortly after the sun set completely, the city lights were turned off (!), and the miles of lighting on the tree were lit. At the same time, the four levels of choruses started singing Christmas carols.

It was a very exciting moment, especially back in the day before the internet and even television!

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In 1961, the event was such an American tradition, it even made the TIME Magazine Christmas cover.

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For history’s sake, this was the first Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in 1931.

 

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The magnificent and unparalleled Rockefeller Center with Christmas Tree in the 1930’s

 

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A view of the Crystal Bridge between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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Must-read book by a beloved Atlanta writer about RICH’S.
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Great photo of the Crystal Bridge on Thanksgiving Night.
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Early Colorfest.
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Flagship store, in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style, by Neil Reid with Shultz and Adler… so true to the style, it could be in Rome.
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Always in style, the modernist Crystal Bridge connecting to RICH’S Store for Homes.
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Dizzying modernist ideals marked the parking structure, now demolished.

In 1953, for the kids, RICH’S added the exuberant PINK PIG monorail

in the Toy Shop. A few years later, it was moved to the roof of the nine floor store giving exciting views of the Great Tree. All of us kids were proud to wear the “I rode the Pink Pig” button for weeks thereafter.

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Way back in 1867, shortly after the Civil War,

three brothers opened a small dry goods store that was to become RICH’S. In coming years, they were taking trips to New York, London and Paris to buy for the store. Rich’s didn’t only market toward the upper crust, but said they had something for everyone. They cemented their presence as an Atlanta institution by their unparalleled customer service and benevolence to the community.

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1917 interior, already celebrating 50 years!
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One of the original Rich’s
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A model of Rich’s before the Alabama Street viaduct (& MARTA) was built.

 

In 1955, RICH’S expanded to Knoxville, TN. In 1959, they opened their first suburban store at Lenox Square. In the 60’s and 70’s they opened large department stores all over Georgia, as well as a few stores in Alabama and South Carolina.

The beginning of the end, they were sold to Federated in 1976. Sadly, the flagship store downtown was closed in 1991. Then, in 1994, Rich’s was bought by Macy’s who had already owned the main Rich’s rival and other Atlanta institution, Davison’s. Thus the demise of both legendary Atlanta department stores, Rich’s and Davison’s.

In 1992, when I designed stores for Macy’s South and they were taken over by Macy’s Northeast, they seemed surprised how forward and money-making our “southern” store merchandising was, quickly implementing them. They moved me to New York, but shockingly cut all the rest.

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Davison’s was patterned after the Herald Square, Manhattan, Macy’s, who already owned them.

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After the downtown flagship Rich’s closed, the Great Tree and the Pink Pig were moved to Underground Atlanta for a few years before they landed at Lenox Square, where the wonderful tradition continues…

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Today, hundreds of thousands of people come to the Lighting of the Great Tree at Macy’s Lenox, augmented by great fireworks and famous vocal artists.

 

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Now, the 1924 Hentz (Neil) Reid & Adler RICH’S building is part of the Sam Nunn Federal Center.

 

100507 Atlanta, Ga., -- The grand atrium of the Davison's/Macy's building is shown on 200 Peachtree Street Friday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., May 7, 2010. The Davison's/Macy's building was glamour, fashion and Elizabeth Taylor, then it went dark. After seven years being empty the grand main floor has a coming out party next month, bringing a downtown landmark back online. The Chandelier specialists were cleaning and repairing the dirty and damaged hanging lights. Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com
The grand main floor of the 1927 Davison’s/Macy’s is now an event space.  Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com
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The Sam Nunn Federal Center from the other side from the grand old RICH’S.
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One thought on “ATLANTA’S GREAT TREE

  1. We were a Rich’s family, so many great memories. Could you tell me if it is possible to find a copy of that color print of the tree atop the crystal bridge? Saw one many years ago and sure wish I had bought it then!

    Like

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