Civic and Retail Monuments, Chicago

I was always intrigued how for decades, the Cook County Building/Chicago City Hall stared at the Marshall Fields Department Store across the Daley Plaza and Block 37. Then, several years ago, Block 37 was redeveloped, Marshall Field’s became a Macy’s, and that grand urban vista was blocked and altered, most likely forever.

While it looks like a single building, technically the edifice is two different ones both designed by William Holabird and Martin Roache; City Hall is the western half, completed in 1922, and the Cook County Building is the eastern half, completed in 1908. This is the seventh City Hall. I’ve been told of a legend that Cook County started its half first, and basically the City of Chicago was left with the only option of having to build their half to look the same as the new side rising to the east! I looked at the building fleetingly back in December of 2013 (third photo), and all of the photos in this post are the east side.

It’s a massive, hulking structure that will probably remain the center of government forever, as offices now spill over to other nearby skyscrapers.

The design makes use of the Colossal Order, which Michelangelo pioneered on the Campidoglio and New St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Those are just some massive Corinthian columns!

It’s hilarious how territorial the two halves are; I’ve witnessed different Christmas decorations that change right in the middle of the central corridor that runs the length of the building, and City Hall has a green roof and the Cook County half doesn’t!

To the north is the much-maligned Thompson Center, which much to the consternation of Modernists, will be saved after a much-needed renovation. I personally like the building, and it’s a fantastic example of Post-Modernist architecture.

Jean Dubuffet’s giant sculpture, Monument with Standing Beast, will be moving elsewhere, according to this article.

After our slight detour, we move east across Daley Plaza and the federal building, and look at the famous Picasso sculpture. The Daley Building blocks the view much like Gateway One in St. Louis.

Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. When Pablo Picasso’s untitled, fifty-foot abstract sculpture appeared on a plaza on Washington Street in 1967, it became, to some, Chicago’s Eiffel Tower, a symbol of the vibrant city. United States Illinois Chicago, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph.

Closing the eastern end of this former grand Chicago vista is the former Marshall Field’s, now labeled Macy’s on State Street.

Its competitor, Carson, Pirrie and Scott, after languishing in what could best be described as outlet mall purgatory for years, finally closed and was converted into a Target. Montgomery Ward succumbed years before.

Its gigantic interior spaces evoke the grand Parisian department stores that were similarly popping up to cater to the growing middle classes in the urban cores.

If you look carefully you can see how the building grew in stages as it slowly engulfed an entire block of the Loop. The atriums aided in cooling the building but it also drew the shopper’s eyes upwards to see merchandise on other floors. As I suspected, the vault below is by Louis Tiffany.

Following classical design, the orders of columns and pilasters grow more elegant on higher floors.

Upstairs, the famed Walnut Room is still open.

These huge department stores are growing rarer. I think about our old Railway Exchange Building, with its former Famous Barr which now sits totally trashed, and then I look to see how this institution still holds on.

This photo below is my bad attempt to show you the beauty of the walnut.

I was interested in the Marshall Field’s coat of arms, which are three bundles of wheat.

They’re even on the floor of the elevator.

No detail was spared, with even the floors and what part of the building you were on had medallions stating which street you were facing.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Yoji says:

    Been in MF/Macy’s several times — never noticed some of the details you point out. Thx Chris!

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