Monday, February 23, 2015

Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building (1893-1914) D.H. Burnham & Co.; Graham, Burnham & Co.; architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The mammoth building at State & Washington Streets in downtown Chicago has a large bronze plaque attached to its corner that reads MARSHALL FIELD AND COMPANY. However the awings lining the ground floor of the enormous structure are trimmed with the words Macy's on State - which may be a bit confusing. Although the Cincinnati-based Macy's corporation now owns the 3,225,000 square foot department store building, the structure's 2005 historic designation commemorates the building and Field - a name that has been associated with this corner location since 1868, and represented Chicago to the world in much the same way Pullman, Palmer, Swift, Armour, Sears and Ward's once branded the nation's second largest city.

  [Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building, 111 N. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Marshall Field had been working as a dry goods clerk in the city's bustling Lake Street retail district for over a decade when in 1865 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself. Dry goods merchant Potter Palmer was looking to get out of the business and focus on real estate development, and Field, along with co-worker Levi Leiter, heard that Palmer was looking for partners to take over the active management of his dry goods emporium. Two years later the active partners bought-out their silent partner and Field & Leiter announced they were open for business. Palmer meanwhile had bought several city blocks of State Street property near the Lake Street commercial area, and in 1868 he built a large six-story, mansard-roofed, marble-clad building on the northeast corner of Washington and State. Chicago had never seen anything like it, and dubbed the eye-popping structure the Marble Palace. Palmer convinced Field & Leiter to leave Lake Street and move into the building, whose gleaming-white, Second Empire-era architecture drew as many customers to the store as the luxury goods offered inside.

  [Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building, National Historic Landmark, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Three years after their spectacular grand opening Field & Leiter's Marble palace burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1871. Sensing that the flames were headed their way, Leiter gathered a group of men, hitched the store's wagons to their horses, packed-up as much merchandise as possible, and headed toward the lake. Days after everything cooled-down Field & Leiter were back in business in a temporary location. Potter Palmer soon sold the rubble-strewn corner to the New York-based Singer sewing machine company, who were looking to get in on the booming post-fire Chicago real estate market. Field & Leiter returned to the corner in 1872, and occupied the brand new Singer Building until 1877 when a fire destroyed the luxury department store once again. This time however, the merchants weren't so quick to return.

  [Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When Singer began construction on their second building, the company assumed that Field & Leiter would return as tenants. The store's partners however didn't want to lease any longer - they wanted to buy - but Singer wasn't interested in a purchase. Instead the sewing machine concern offered the department store merchants a 5-year lease at $50,000-a-year, with the two parties splitting the real estate taxes 50/50. Plus a second 5-year term at $50,000-a-year, this time with Field & Leiter picking up the entire tax tab. The partners countered with a flat $500,000 purchase price for the land and the building, but Singer again said no. After months of negotiations that were quickly going nowhere, Singer started talking to another State Street dry goods partnership, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. As contracts were being drawn-up between Singer and Carson's, Field & Leiter re-entered the picture with a cash offer of $650,000 for the Singer building and land, and $100,000 in cash for Carson's to prevent the lease from going forward. In April 1879, Field & Leiter moved back to the corner of State & Washington and never left.

  [Macy's on State - Marshall Field & Co. Building, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1881 Field bought-out Leiter, and the store was eventually renamed Marshall Field and Company. Field began buying up the buildings around him, and if he could, the ground underneath them. Purchasing the buildings proved to be easier than buying the land, so he leased the ground leasehold rights for terms of up to 99 years or more, and in 1891 hired architects Daniel Burnham and John Root to build the first of what became a series of six inter-connected buildings. By the time Burnham and Field began the exisiting State Street frontage in 1902 Root was dead, and D.H. Burnham & Co., and the successor firm Graham, Burnham & Co. expanded the building over the next 22 years into one of the largest department store structures in the world. And with its Classically inspired architecture and Tiffany glass mosaics, Marshall Field and Company offered-up luxury goods in a supremely stylish setting for generations to come.

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