Thursday, December 22, 2011

Department Store Gothic

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! I haven't had a lot of time to blog, because December was a very busy month for me. One of the things that kept me busy, was a day trip to Chicago. A week before Christmas, my Mom and I visited Chicago to see the decorations and do some shopping. It took us a little over an hour by train to get down there. We did end up finding some deals, and enjoyed looking through the Macy's Christmas window displays. There's also a nice (and quite crowded) German Christmas Market there.

Along with visiting the traditional Chicago stops, I had an unexpected treat. While walking down State Street, I saw a beautiful, ornamental, and slightly spooky building. The details on this building stopped me in my tracks. I said "What is that building!?" My Mom actually knew the name of it! It was the Carson Pirie Scott Building, which was designed by Louis Sullivan in 1899. Here are a few photos I managed to capture of its details. I say managed, because it was hard to stand still in the crowds and not get any people in my shots!

Be sure to click on these photos to see the details. Isn't that just breathtaking? Here's the doorway:

I had to learn more about this fantastic building, so I got to googling as soon as I got home. Of course, the building has it's own Wikipedia page: Carson Pirie Scott Building Wiki

The basic history of the building is this: The building was created for the retail firm Schlesinger & Mayer in 1899, and expanded and sold to Carson Pirie Scott in 1904. The Carson Pirie Scott company was a department store. I don't remember ever shopping there, but the store was probably a lot like Boston Store. I noticed that the Carson Pirie Scott logo looked exactly like the current Boston Store logo. (It was a Bon-Ton store like Boston Store.)


Anyway, the building existed as a Carson Pirie Scott department store until the year 2007.  That's the year the department store chain went out of business. It is now referred to as the Sullivan Center. The rumor online is that there will be a Target store in the building soon.

The building has a steel structure, because it was built after the Chicago Great Fire of 1871. No one wanted a flammable building after that! The gorgeous ornamental details I took photos of are bronze plated cast iron. 

Here's some trivia (from the Wiki page) for all you Horror fans:

"The Carson Pirie Scott building was briefly featured in the 1988 horror film Child's Play, as the place where Andy Barclay's mother works. Carson's signage can be found during the scene where Karen Barclay buys the Good Guy doll from the homeless peddler."

The only Chucky movie I've seen is Bride of Chucky, so I'll have to take Wiki's word on that one.

An old photo of the building gives you an idea of its size. I found this picture online and I would guess it's a postcard. Under the photo are the words, "The busiest corner in the world." It still feels that way! If you look at the photo closely, you'll see horse drawn carriages and trolleys. 

Here's one of my photos of the building in its current state:

If you've read The Devil in the White City, you're already familiar with the building's architect, Louis Sullivan:

By the way, if you haven't read that book, go and find it! It's one of my favorites. If you are into architecture, true crime, or history in general, you'll love it. You'll learn about several prominent architects, The Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and one of the most notorious serial killers in America's history. I should probably just stop writing about that book, and save the topic for an entire blog post!

This is an absolutely gorgeous video filled with samples of Sullivan's work, set to dramatic music. It's listed as a trailer, so maybe there was a TV special about Sullivan at one point.

You can see even closer details of the Carson Pirie Scott Building, by looking at photos from the recent restoration:

Restoration details

If you find yourself in Chicago, and would like to see this building, you can find it here: 1 South State Street at the corner of East Madison Street

If any of you have an architectural wonder in your area, or have run across one in your travels, I'd love to hear about it! 


  1. I love work like that. You should check out Seattle's Smith Tower. Similarly beautiful, currently used as office spaces, and still uses a human elevator operator. My favorite spot in the city- we even got married there.

  2. Great post Justine! I was down in Chicago the Sunday of the same weekend:-) I don't remember seeing this building though and I was on State street at one time. I must have missed it:-( It's a beautiful building.

    Some fun facts for you. Bon-ton company owns both Boston Store and Carson Pirie Scott. They are both sub-names of Bon-ton! I know they run other stores, including Younker's.

  3. Chicago is one of my favorite cities. The architecture there is legendary. They have great Devil in the White City tours there if you are ever there for longer than a day. They'll take you by all the architecture from the book. They also have brilliant architecture tours.

  4. Next time I am in chicago i will be sure to look for this beautiful building. it does have a very Gothic feel to it. Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures.

  5. I grew up going downtown to look at the window decorations at Carson's (as we locals called it), and Marshal Field's (which is now a Macy's to the Chagrin of most Chicagoans. Don't even get me going on the Sear's (Willis) Tower. I remember buying a pair of really long socks the last time I was at Carson's.

  6. Beautifully ornate Front to this structure.... Cool !! Hope that you and yours had a great Christmas...
    ....the Doctor

  7. Pensive ~ I looked up the Smith Tower and found a lovely picture of it:

    It's kind of a soft, peaceful picture. Yeah, you must have liked the building a lot to get married there! Were you up at the very top? I saw some photos people took out of the top windows. It looks like the building provides a great view of the city. I saw some closer details of the architecture too. There are some almost Greek elements around the windows. I can't believe the building still has a human elevator operator. How cool is that! Thanks for sharing this. :)

    Stacey ~ Thanks! Well, beautiful as this building is, I can see how you might miss it. The huge, tightly packed crowds made us move quickly. We didn't want to get stepped on! So in a crowd like that, you can miss a few things.

    Yeah, Bon-Ton owns a lot. What's funny is that we had a Younkers in Southridge years ago (in the place where the Macy's is going) but we've had a Boston Store forever. Monopoly, anyone? It's weird, but Younkers didn't last too long. Everything that goes into that spot, leaves after a few yaers. It's like the cursed section of the mall. We'll see how Macy's does!

    Jessica ~ I agree! Chicago has some beautiful buildings. When I was in college, we took a field trip to Chicago to take an architecture tour. It was the best tour I've ever been on. I'm really into the ornate, decorative designs from the late 1800s/early 1900s. There's a lot of that to be found in Chicago. So, you've been on one of the Devil in the White City tours? I might have to ask you a few questions about that, because I've always wanted to go on one. Have you read the Devil in the White City?

    Vivienne ~ Glad you liked this one! Yeah, I'd say it's definitely worth searching out. I wish we'd had a chance to check out the interior too. The black color with the curving, almost crawling design gives it a Gothic feeling. Strangely, the building came off as more bronze in my pictures. In real life, you see the black coating.

    GoneferalinID ~ I don't know about Carson's, so I'll have to look that one up. Oh yeah, I was really sad when Macy's replaced Marshall Field's. I'm mad at Macy's for taking over a favorite store in our local mall too. I like some of their beauty products, but otherwise they seem kind of greedy. Oh? What would you say if I got you started on the Sear's Tower? Speaking of Chicago things that are changing, Filene's Basement is going out! I got to scoop up some of the last deals there.

    Dr. Theda ~ I did have a great Christmas! Thanks for the holiday wishes. :) A belated Merry Christmas to you too! Yes, ornate is the word to describe this building. I wish that the curving design would have continued all the way up the building. Although, I'm not sure if that would be too much. It would either be kind of scary or gorgeous!

  8. Stunning! What a wonderful building to stumble upon. That video was gorgeous, and I particularly adored that first black and white image from the link for the restoration details.

  9. Sorry but just a quick chime in. Bon-Ton no longer owns the company. But it is thanks to the poor management of Bon-Ton that Carson's lost its flag ship building in 2007. Just after Saks 5th ave sold to them. The closing of that building sent ripples through the company. No body could believe that they closed that store. It was huge! My wife has been with the company for 20 years now and has seen many changes but this to her was a dark time. But I agree one of the best looking buildings in the area.

  10. * Another note to GoneferalinID ~ I must have been seriously tired last night to not realize you meant Carson Pirie Scott when you said "Carson's" :) Gotcha. I'm trying to imagine what that place would look like with Christmas window displays. Maybe I can find some photos online.

    Little Gothic Horrors ~ Yeah! It really was a cool surprise. I can't believe I never noticed the building before. According to my Mom, I was in there at one point. I was probably like two years old at that time, so I wouldn't remember. I'm glad you watched the video. I could understand what one of the people said in that, about how if you like Sullivan's work, it's more like a passion for you. I do get really passionate about some architects' work. Either I'm really into a style of building or I'm really not. Oh, I know! That first black and white image was outstanding. It really gave an idea of the details. With the finished ornaments being black and high over my head, it was difficult to catch everything in person!

    It Came From The Man Cave ~ Thanks for the input! I'm surprised to see a comment from someone with such a personal connection to the store. Well, I just chalked the 2007 closing up to all the other recession store closings. We have lost so many stores in Milwaukee since 2007, that it's depressing. I'm not even surprised when one goes out anymore. It sounds like there was much more to the story, in this case.

    So your wife is involved with the Bon-Ton company or Carson's in particular? I figured you could be in the Chicago area, because you're a Svengoolie fan. :) As far as I know, you guys were the only ones getting the show for some time. Except for those of us in the Milwaukee area, who were suffering through the poor reception for years. His show comes through clearly on ME TV now (sort of an oldies TV station) so that's nice.

  11. Gothic is cool! The past always seems so interesting!

  12. Matt-o-Lantern ~ Yes, isn't it interesting to learn the history behind old buildings? It seems like there's always something new to learn. Every time I see a beautiful piece of architecture, I have to go home and google the building to learn more about it. There's never been a time that I haven't learned something interesting doing that.