Since 1948, the Great Tree has been
bigger in the South,
than the tree at Rockefeller Center
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
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!
In 1961, the event was such an American tradition, it even made the TIME Magazine Christmas cover.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.