Monday, February 23, 2015

Charles A. Stevens Building
 by: chicago designslinger

[Charles A. Stevens Building (1912) D.H. Burnham & Co., architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1886, Charles A. Stevens left the tiny town of Colchester, Illinois and journeyed 250   miles northeast to Chicago. Stevens and his brothers were running a dry goods store in Colchester at the time, when middle brother Charles decided to take a chance in the big city. He saw a future in the silk trade, and opened a small store on the second floor of Burling & Adler's Central Music Hall Building which shared the same city block with Marshall Field's State Street emporium. Selling silk exclusively paid off. By 1889 all of the male Stevens siblings had relocated to Chicago, and the following year Charles A. Stevens & Bros. moved into the ground floor space beneath the second floor shop. The company was on its way to becoming the largest, exclusive silk-seller in the country.

   [Charles A. Stevens Building, 17 N. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By sticking to one commodity, the company cornered the market on offering fine silk products from around the world, and required more space in which to do business. In 1890, Stevens moved into a larger storefront just down the street, and by 1901 had expanded into the upper floors of that building as well as having taken over two adjoining properties. Then in 1912, Chas. A. Stevens announced that they would build a brand new store on their multi-building, rather disjointed piece of land, designed with a sparkling white terra-cotta exterior by D.H. Burnham & Co. The 19-story structure would be unique among its mammoth merchandising neighbors because Stevens wanted to lease the upper floors to smaller retailers. He wanted to give them an opportunity to rent space in one of the country's most popular (and high-rent) retail districts, which was totally out of reach for many small business people. It harkened back to the days when he started out in his small shop on the second floor of the old Music Hall Building, which by this time had been demolished to make way for an ever expanding Marshall Fields.

  [Charles A. Stevens Building, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The ground floor included an arcade passageway that extended from State Street through to a Wabash Avenue property that Stevens had acquired in his earlier expansion binge. The arcade was actually more of a long hallway which included a row of display windows along one side that featured the goods and services sold by the upper floor tenants. Once you'd been enticed to take a further look, a bank of strategically placed elevators would whisk you up to the retailer of your choice. It seemed like a great idea, but it never really took off as intended, and many of the upper floor Stevens Shops became home to a cluster of shoe repairmen and manicurists.
Charles A. Stevens & Co. The Store for Women, celebrated in 100th anniversary in 1986, and closed for good in 1989. The ground floor retail space has continued to host variety of women's clothing stores, while the upper floors have lost their shoe fixers and fingernail filers to Westwood College and other non-retail focused tenants.

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