Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Isn't Christmas Without A Monorail

Guest Dog returned to her owners Sunday night, and we are very happy they are reunited for the holidays!

My particular historical interest is post-WWII America, particularly as it relates to the built environment and the experience of everyday life. The Greatest Generation saw such incredible technical and lifestyle change over their lifespan (my grandparents were born when home telephones were still relatively rare amongst most Americans, and all lived to see the invention of the internet. I don't think ANY other generation ever saw so much change in their daily lives).

ANYWAY. Shopping became an EXPERIENCE during this time period, and the baby boom made merchandisers realize the power of children. Marketing to children became a thing. Part of this was making children enjoy the act of going shopping.

What kid doesn't want to ride a monorail through the toy section of their local department store? This made the kid excited to go to the store and turned shopping into an experience for the entire family instead of just another errand. Making the downtown department store into a destination became critically important as their core customer bases moved to the suburbs and branch stores (often in new shopping centers and malls) opened.

I mentioned my love of the Pink Pig (named? Priscilla) in the post about family history projects. The Pink Pig was a monorail that originally circled Atlanta's Rich Department Store's toy section. Originally built in 1953 at some point Rich's moved it to the roof.

Picture from Atlanta Journal Constitution Archives
I love this picture because it encapsulates my experience of riding the pig perfectly. It swayed over a very tall building, with the street seemingly hundreds of feet beneath you. I loved it. It was also slightly terrifying.

In the best possible way.

The Ping Pig closed in 1991 (sniff), but when Federated decided to retire the Rich's nameplate in favor of making every store they owned a Macy's, they decided to throw Atlanta a bone and bring back the Pig.

Photo From the AJC
Yeah...not so much, Federated. There's no slight thrill of danger. It's not a monorail. They pretend it's always been the Macy's Pink Pig. Why not just restore the monorail and hang it up at Lennox, Macy's? Why? Actually you can visit parts of the original Pig at the Atlanta History Center, one of my favorite places in town.

Awhile ago I stumbled upon The Pink Pig Flyer and learned Atlanta wasn't the only city with a magical department store train. I'm not sure why I never pondered the idea that Atlanta just isn't that special.

Picture from K Transit
This is the Meir and Frank Department Store in Portland, Oregon. Apparently their monorail, the Santaland, still ran as of 2005. However, that's also the year Federated turned all their stores into a Macy's and it sounds like the Santaland was a victim of the switchover. (Thanks for ruining EVERYTHING, Federated!) Love seeing one running through a toy department!

Photo from The Post Standard

The Edwards department store in Syracuse was graced with the Rocket Ship monorail which circled Toy Land. The Rocket Ship last circled Edwards in 1972 when the downtown department store was demolished.  I found multiple articles discussing resurrecting it in the Victor Gruen designed local mall. Sounds like an awesome idea to me!

Photo From Michigan Live

I think I love this monorail the best because it reminds me of the Pink Pig's face. This, apparently, was the latter day appearance of the Santa Express. It started out resembling the Meir and Frank train and went through various appearance changes. The monorail outlived the department store, Herpolsheimer's, that brought it to Grand Rapids. After the department store left the downtown area the ride continued to operate as various government and civic groups used the building. It now resides at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Photo From The Monorail Society
Remember my spiel about how Christmas monorails helped downtown department stores compete against fledgling suburban malls? Yeah, well. The Christmas Express at Rochester's Victor Gruen designed Midtown Plaza began and ended its life in a suburban mall. The Christmas Express last circled the plaza in 2007 and the mall itself was demolished in 2008. The Christmas Express is currently in storage.

Picture from Humanities Magazine
From my research I believe Philadelphia's Wanamaker's department store debuted the first toyland monorail, the Rocket Express, in 1946. The train ran until 1984. It is now on display at Philly's Please Touch museum.

Does anyone else have memories of riding department store trains? Or know of any I missed? 

I am taking a break from all things house related until after the new year. The rest of this week/start of next will be all about the other things I find fascinating. I'm sure you guys are all super excited to learn about what I read/where I go/other stuff I love! 

However I'm busy WORKING on house projects. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for sneak peaks.


  1. I had no idea malls and stores had monorails! I must be too young :( The only monorail I have ever ridden is the one that circles Disney Land.

  2. Please visit my site.


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