Monday, February 23, 2015

Marshall Field & Co. - Wabash Avenue South Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Marshall Field & Co. - Wabash Avenue South Building (1892) Charles B. Atwood, D.H. Burnham & Co., architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The year 1891 did not start out well for architect Daniel Burnham. Although his office was   as busy as ever and he was overseeing the design and construction of Chicago's huge Columbian Exposition, on January 15th, John Root, his business partner, friend, and creative genius, died of pneumonia. Into the void left by Root's death stepped Burnham & Co. architects Ernest Graham, Dwight Perkins, and a recent hire, Charles B. Atwood.

  [Marshall Field & Co. - Wabash Avenue South Building, 104 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Atwood had been recommended to Burnham by one of the Fair's consulting architects   William Ware, founder of the architecture programs at MIT, and New York's Columbia University. Atwood had gained recognition in New York as the in-house architect and lead designer for Herter Brothers, New York's exclusive, high-end interior decorating firm. He was credited with the interiors of William Henry Vanderbilt's double mansion on Fifth Avenue, and a number of other Beaux Arts, classically-inspired projects on the East Coast. Charles McKim, one of New York City's pre-eminent architects cautioned Burnham that while Atwood was very talented, he was also, well, perhaps a bit unstable. Burnham brushed aside McKim's concerns and brought the 42-year-old architect to Chicago, putting him in charge of the design of over fifty Fair structures, as well as projects needing attention unrelated to Fair business. One of those projects was for retailer Marshall Field, who was looking to expand his State Street store.

  [Marshall Field & Co. - Wabash Avenue South Building, National Historic Landmark, Chicago/Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When you visit the massive Macy's State Street location today, which was once the flagship store of the Marshall Field & Co. chain, the seamless looking property is actually a series of interconnected buildings constructed over a period of 15 years. The original store stood on the northeast corner of State and Randolph Streets, and by 1890 was bursting at the seams. Field turned to Burnham & Root, who had just finished the design for an armory for Illinois' 131st Infantry on land donated by the retail baron. With Root's death, and an important client to impress, Burnham turned over the design to Atwood.
The new building would stand on the corner of Wabash and Washington, directly behind   the existing Field & Leiter store. Field was only going to use the first 4 floors of the new 9-story building for retail purposes, and rent-out the upper 5 floors to business clients, where the "New Marshall Field Building" would offer the most up-to-date office space available in Chicago's burgeoning business district. Atwood may have helped with the marketing of the 1st class office building by designing a skyscraper that looked nothing like any other building on the city's bustling downtown streets. The structure stood-out among some of Chicago's latest and greatest because with its elaborately decorated "Spanish Renaissance" facade - the city's first purposefully Beaux Arts high-rise. Unfortunately, not long after the building was completed in 1893 the steel girders of Chicago's elevated railroad system rose up along Wabash burying the east facade in shadow. And, as the store you see today began to rise, it slowly began to engulf Atwood's stand-alone structure to become known as the Wabash Avenue South Building. With the store building completed and the Fair on its way to being launched, Atwood turned his attention to another Burnham & Co. project just a block away from the "New" Field Building, the Reliance Building. Completed in 1895, it was Atwood's triumph and his end song. Just a year later, Atwood was dead, succumbing to an opium addiction which may have explained the erratic behavior that Charles McKim had once cautioned Burnham about.

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