Oh Carson’s

carson cornice

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Chicago is beset by losses of its iconic industries of late. It seems Millenium Park has opened the door to the future and that door is slamming the back of the city’s identity. Marshall Field’s is stooping to become Macy’s as we speak, the Berghoff closed in February in a transparent ruse to demolish a landmark building, and now Carson Pirie Scott is leaving its State Street flagship store, designed over a century ago by Louis Sullivan.

The building of course, is one of the city’s first protected landmarks and was just restored to its original glory – its cornice has reappeared. The upper floors are already offices – even our new Architecture Interior Architecture Designed Objects program at SAIC is occupying the 12th floor with its character-defining column capitals – students arrive this week.

So, unlike the Berghoff dodge, Carson’s the building is in good shape, but the store goes. This is tough for me personally, because it is about the only place I shop. I got rid of my Field’s card in ’99 when they stopped making Frangos. Half of my furniture and clothes come from Carson’s.

But I see retail has changed, even as it has returned to State Street, and the Carson’s store interior was dowdy by any standards, and department stores as a type are on the downswing, even the bottom fishers like Wal-Mart.

The most excitiing thing going on in Carson’s is undoubtedly the AIADO’s new space on the 12th floor, which will have a big opening later this fall. Very cool space – made a bit less cool by current code interpretations, but hey – building codes are like medical science – they sway with the winds of fashion and change every few years.

Maybe the store’s move will free up space for the Historic Preservation program, also located in a landmark at 37 S. Wabash.

This will cause many more laments about how Chicago has lost its icons, but that has been going on for 30 years, during the whole transition away from an industrial city and into a boutique city. We don’t make steel and candy and cars and sausages so much (although we do make them) as we make lawyers and artists and IT managers and all that. Students and tourists are the downtown’s number one industry nowadays.

Landmarks are about change, not stasis. What makes something a landmark – especially an architectural landmark – is that it looks good over long, long periods of time. And through different uses.

That is what historic preservation is really about – repurposing the fabric of the past. It is the opposite of fashions that come and go. Carson’s didn’t even start out as Carson’s – Louis Sullivan worked for Schlesinger and Meyer. Now it will be something else, but that will work too.

Plus, I get to get rid of another credit card.


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