Bowen Block (Schlesinger & Mayer I)
Life Span: 1873-1898
Location: Southeast Corner of State and Madison streets
Architect: W. W. Boyington
The Land Owner, November, 1872
THE BOWEN BLOCK, SOUTHEAST CORNER STATE AND MADISON STREETS.
This block, which is occupied by Messrs. Clement, Morton & Co., was designed to meet the special requirements of their business. The frontage is 60 feet on State street and 70 feet on Madison street. A high basement, undivided, except by the columns supporting the superstructure, forms a light and commodious wareroom, including the space under the sidewalk, 86 by 78 feet. The store floor has three entrances; one at the extremity of each front, and one at the corner. From the accident of a break in Madison street, which brings this corner into prominent projection from the general line of the street, the corner doorway has a peculiarly commanding position, which has been evidently considered in the design by its accentuation. The general line of the wall front is here depressed and made a quadrant, with a large radius. Two columns, running through two stories, divide the quadrant and flank the entrance. From the column the door is deeply recessed with side windows, thus forming a portico at once imposing from its dimensions, the architectural arrangement and prominent position. The circular corner is continued the whole height of the building, having two orders of disengaged columns running two stories each, and surmounted with a dome. Around the base of the dome are three dormer windows, the accentuation of the centre being still observed by the covering that Dormer with a circular cornice, and broken pediment with a rich urn in the key, supported by two life size Caryatides on moulded and paneled pedestals. The building s divided horizontally by two molded story courses; one at the height of the store ceiling, of slight projection, and one on, the second story, of bold projection, on carved medallions, forming a cornice to the large columns and pilasters. The main cornice of the front is of light proportions, as required by the second course of columns, and to bring into prominence the baluster and pedestal, and the rich dormers above. Behind the dormers is a steep French roof, created with a roll ornament and deep cresting. The ornament is continued round the dome, and a similar cresting at the flat termination forming a deck on the dome summit. We may remark that the view from the top is a most extensive one, and repays the climbing of upwards of ninety feet. The proportion of open and wall space is exceedingly pleasing, the absence of internal divisions giving a good opportunity for the exercise of good taste in this respect. The mouldings and ornaments used are of modern French character, with a good deal of Grecian severity, and the latter are but sparingly used, but when they do occur are unusually rich and well carved.
The Land Owner, November, 1872
The interior finish of the building is fully equal, in its practical appliances to its beautiful exterior. It is heated by steam and furnished with steam elevators. In fact, it combines all the modern improvements of late introduction in the rebuilding of Chicago. Messrs. Bowen Brothers have spared no expense to make this a modern structure, and in the race of rivalry to reach perfection, they certainly can obtain a prominent place. Mr. G. S. Brown has given his personal attention to its construction from the first. This is but one of several builsings that the Bowens are now erecting and have projected.
The contractors on the building have done their work well. They are as follows:
Carpenter, F. H. Avers;
Mason work, Reeves, James & Co.;
Cut Stone, Grant & Price;
Steam & heating machinery, John Davis & Co.
The architect is W. W. Boyington.
CLEMENT, MORTON & CO.1
As above stated, this building will be occupied by Messrs. Clement, Morton & Co., wholesale clothing, established here in 1865. Twice this firm passed through the fiery ordeal, and by that indomitable perseverance and characteristic enterprise which now par excellence distinguishes the Chicago merchant above his brethren of the world, they have, like good metal, passed through it, to come out brighter and more solid. Three weeks after the fire found them in a temporary building on Michigan avenue, filling all orders continuously as demanded., None of their customers experienced the slightest inconvenience. The secret of this success has its foundation. The firm is composed of six members, all of whom have their special departments, and each is equal to his duties, having graduated in the business in all its branches. They thus make a combination unequalled. This firm is prominent among the very few that manufacture all their own goods, giving employment to five hundred hands. Experience has proved to them that clothing can be manufactured as cheaply in Chicago as in any Eastern city, and moreover their patrons can be better suited, inasmuch as they can have their goods manufactured just as they want them and adapted to the district for which they are required. A peculiar feature of their business is their immense home trade, which exceeds that of any other firm in the city. Since the fire their trade has increased fully forty per cent, and with the facilities which their new building will afford, a brilliant future awaits them. The building has been specially adapted to meet a liberal extension, should it be required. The upper floor will be entirely devoted to the cutting department, and the other floors to sales and stock rooms. The world being their market for material, the great Northwest will furnish the demand. This house is to be congratulated upon entering such elegant and comfortable quarters so soon after the fire.
Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1881
The new and very handsome retail dry-goods emporium of Schlesinger & Mayer, corner of State and Madison streets, was opened for business yesterday. For weeks there had been workmen engaged in the remodeling and fitting up the building, which after it had been left by the painters, presented one of the handsomest exteriors of any building on State street; and its appointments inside were found to be thoroughly complete and after the most approved and convenient style, according fully with the attractive appearance presented by the outside.
It was not the regular grand spring opening of the house which occurred yesterday—the doors were simply thrown open for trade,—but those who visited the place must have wondered what the regular opening would be like, if an ordinary occasion could call forth such a gathering as that in which they found themselves yesterday. All day long the place was literally thronged with people, for as fast as they went out there were others to come in, so that through the doorway there was passing a constant stream of people either way. Not a few passers-by were induced to enter simply from being attracted by the crowd. If the West Side cars had been running visitors might have found difficulty in getting in at all.
A reporter chanced in there during the afternoon, and saw what had every characteristic of a regular spring opening. Not only was there a perfect jam of people,—the ladies predominated, of course, and were in gala attire,—but the display of goods was marked by such a new and attractive appearance as to show the work of experienced and tasteful hands in the matter of selection and arrangement. The general pleasing effect, too, was heightened by the very perfect facilities offered in the way of light. The large plate-glass windows occupying the entire State and Madison street fronts gave a splendid light to every nook and corner of the commodious apartment, and this was an advantage which the upper floors were also found to possess equally as well. Thinking that, possibly, the crowd might be evaded by his ascending to the upper floors, the reporter did so, but it was no use. All three floors were crowded alike, it being difficult to make one’s way up-stairs and next to impossible to get a place in the elevator.
Where an apartment of dry goods is complete in every particular, it is a hard task to single out one departments deserving of special mention more than another. Schlesinger & Mayer have a complete assortment of dry goods of every known description and variety, and their prices are so moderate as to be within reach of all. The silk department is one of the largest in the retail trade, embracing the richest Paris brocades ever offered here, some of them selling as high as $25 a yard. The lace and trimming departments are also noticeable for their richness and variety, containing real point band Spanish laces. The cloak and shawl department, too, is stocked with a full and elegant assortment, being remarkable not only for the magnitude, occupying all of one floor, but also for its luxuriant appointments and furnishing. The ladies were continually at a loss yesterday for adjectives to express their admiration and delight. Particularly was this the case when they came to examine one of Worth’s dresses,—a rich brocade of gaslight green, with court train of brocade of Spanish lace trimmings and petticoat of surreh. The price of this was $275. Another lovely dress, made by Pingart, was of cream-colored satin with hand-painted vines and roses in the front, heavily beaded, Watteau court train of satinet and Spanish lace trimmings, and double box plaiting and tuckings on the bottom; there would be an endless task. As an assortment of retail dry goods it is one of the largest and best in the city, reflecting great credit upon the popular gentlemen of the firm.
Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1892
Changes are contemplated by the firm of Schlesinger & Mayer which will materially alter the the appearance of their State street store. They have just taken possession of the store at No. 143 State street and have fitted it up temporarily while alterations are being made on the State street frontage. It is rumored that leaseholds of the property in the rear of their State street holding extending through to Wabash avenue have been secured and that the firm will have a frontage on that thoroughfare of about 100 feet. Adler & Sullivan have made plans for an elegant entrance to be built into the State street front at Nos. 141 and 143. The designs made by them are elaborate and provide for one of the handsomest vestibuled entrances on the street.
It is to be 40 feet in width and will be about 15 or 20 feet deep. The frame will be of iron with massive angles. The doorway through the entrance will be 25 feet wide and will be flanked by two 7½-foot plate-glass windows. A 25-foot plate-glass window will extend the top of the doors, which will be six in number. The floor of the vestibule will be of mosaic, while the interior finish will be in oak. The entire main floor of the building is to be rearranged and thrown into one large store, which will be about 200 feet long.
Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1896
One of the most important real estate transactions of recent days was completed yesterday, and by the deal Schlesinger & Mayer acquire the ground at Nos. 141 and 143 Wabash avenue for a term of ninety-nine years from May 1, 1896, at an annual rental of $12,000.
The property has a frontage in Wabash avenue of 40 feet and extends back 171 feet to the alley. The basis of the rental is 5 per cent of valuation of $240,000 which is at the rate of $6,000 a front foot and $35 a square foot. At present the ground is occupied by a four-stoiry building, in which Sol Wolfe occupies the first floor, Eberhard Faber the second, Schlesinger & Mayer the third, and E. A. Armstrong & Co. the fourth. This structure was erected in 1872.
As soon as the leases of these tenants expire it is the intention of Schlesinger & Mayer to remodel the building and to occupy the space themselves. The firm already has a frontage of 180 feet in State street, extending south from Madison street to Nos. 143 and 145. In the south forty feet of this they occupy at present only the first floors, but having a long time ago secured the lease of the entire building they will possession of all the space as soon as the tenants at present in the upper floors vacate.
Buildings to Be Joined.
Their new acquisition on Wabash avenue is immediately opposite this on the east, being just across the alley, and a connection is to be built between the two. The lease of the new property was made with J. H. Barker and N. P. Rogers, trustees under the will of Cordelia E. Barker. The elevated loop passes the doors of the Wabash avenue property. The terms of the lease furnish a fitting illustration of the increase in the values of frontage on the thoroughfare. The property just north of this, Nos. 133 to 139, is under lease from Michael Burke to Benjamin Allen and the Gorham Manufacturing company for ninety-nine years at a rental of $20,000 a year, which is on a basis of 5 per cent on a valuation of $400,000, or $5,000 a front foot, and this lease was effected but a short time ago.
It is also indicative of a continuance of a desire on the part of State street merchants to extend their territory toward Wabash avenue in consequence of the congestion within narrow limits, which is being more seriously felt day by day as the volume of business increases.
Seek Wabash Avenue Frontage.
Schlesinger & Mayer say that as a great tide of travel is steadily flowing and constantly increasing in Wabash avenue, in order to keep abreast of the times they deem it of the utmost importance to have a frontage there. The increase within the last few years of the importance of Wabash avenue as a thoroughfare as well as the increase in the volume of business transacted yearly by every retail dealer in State street necessitates store frontage in the former street.
Rand McNally’s Bird’s-Eye-Views of Cbicago, 1893
The Schlesinger & Mayer Building, At the southeast corner of State and Madison streets, fronts 200 feet on State and 80 on Madison. It is 75 feet high, with 7 stories and basement, and 2 passenger elevators. Here is one of the popular retail dry-goods stores, with annual sales of $5,000,000. There are 1,000 employes. The building, erected in 1873, has a conspicuous stone front.
Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1897
Schlesinger & Mayer—In 1872 this store contained 2,500 square feet of selling space. In 1881, 32,000 square feet. In 1885, 60,000 square feet. In 1890,
90,000 square feet. In 1892, 120,000 square feet. In 1897-8 this Store will contain 300,000 square feet—with more to follow.
Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1897
Two hundred men plied saw and hammer with haste yesterday at the south end of the elevated platform at Madison street and Wabash avenue, and by night the bridge connecting the loop with Schlesinger & Mayer’s store was completed. Commissioner McGann stopped the work on the bridge at 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon and the workmen suspended operations temporarily. At midnight a big force went on and rushed the work in order to complete it on Sunday before an injunction could be served.
The city has threatened to tear down the structure if it was completed, and Mr. McGann’s action is awaited with interest. Meanwhile Levy Mayer, attorney for Schlesinger & Mayer, has intimated that the compensation clause in the loop ordinance would be used to prevent any attack on the bridge.
Commissioner McGann Is Wroth.
Commissioner McGann, when informed last night of the completion of the store bridge, said he was astonished to hear that Schlesinger & Mayer had finished the work after he had served formal notice on them on Saturday to cease. He said they stopped as ordered and told him they would not proceed with the bridge until further action by the Council.
“I am not disposed to show the firm any mercy,” he said. “They were properly served with notice to stop work and they deliberately violated my orders.”
“Will you tear down the bridge?” was asked.
“I most certainly shall, if the city law department thinks under the circumstances, considering the Council’s order and the fact that I gave the firm positive instructions not to go on with the work, I can legally do so. I shall go to the law department the first thing in the morning.”
Mr. Mayer holds that under the ordinance the bridge into Schlesinger & Mayer’s was properly built, and that any attempt to remove it would be the abrogation of a contract, freeing the loop company from its obligation to pay compensation to the city.
Levy Mayer’s Views.
“The Council granted the company the desired ordinance,” Mr. Mayer said. “It is too late to undo the work, now that the chickens have come home to roost. The ordinance either constitutes a contract or it does not. If it does, then its obligations are inviolable and terms unbreakable as the federal constitution itself. The United States Supreme Court and the higher tribunals of this and other States have uniformly held that an ordinance, when once accepted, cannot be altered, changed, or modified by the City Council without the consent of the company to which it was granted. The ordinance expressly gives the company the right, with the consent of the abutting property occupants to build stations, bridges, and passageways. Take away any part of that right and the fabric upon whic h the company’s obligation to the city rests crumbles.”
David Mayer Is Told.
David Mayer was not in the city yesterday, but gave his views over the long-distance telephone from Milwaukee. President D. H. Louderback of the Union Loop company talked to him over the telephone at 5 o’clock. Mr. Louderback said he could say nothing more than had been said by Levy Mayer.
The fight against the new bridge, the first one to be completed along the line of the loop, promises to be exceedingly lively. Almost all property-owners in the vicinity have joined in a petition to have the structure removed.
Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1897
Report on Loop Bridges.
The report of the Judiciary committee recommending the taking out of all bridges connecting stores with the stations of the union loop was sent in to the Council, and, under the rules, deferred and published. With it was an opinion of the Corporation Council to the effect that such bridges were illegally put in. The order will undoubtedly be passed at the next meeting.
Speaking of the completion of the Schlesinger & Mayer bridge on Sunday in the face of his order to stop the work Commissioner McGann said yesterday afternoon he would not use any forcible means to take the bridge out until he had been instructed by the Council. “And were I to go at it that way,” continued the commissioner, “I would simply run up against an injunction suit. S, the matter must be settled in the courts anyhow.”
Consequently, nothing is now likely to be done in the way of removing this bridge until the Council passes the order for its removal. No permits for others will be issued, however.
Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1898
Plans for the $1,000,000 marble building, which as announced yesterday, in The Tribune yesterday, will be constructed by Schlesinger & Mayer at State and Madison streets, have been completed by Architect Louis H. Sullivan.
The lower two stories will consist of two-story bay window show rooms, making a display of plate-glass, framed in statuary bronze work, of unique and beautiful design. From this to the top of the cornice the material will be of pure white marble from the Georgia quarries, the same as that used in the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington and the Rhode Island Statehouse at Providence. This material will be treated with a smooth surface, combined with simplicity of line and molding. All the windows will be large and fitted with broad panes of plate-glass set in statuary bronze frames and mahogany sash. The main frieze under the solid marble cornice will be enriched by flowing lines in the carving.
On the Madison street front will be installed a spacious port cochère and carriage court, so arranged that patrons may drive directly to special elevators. All parts of the interior will be finished in bronze and San Domingo mahogany. The store will be equipped with twenty-four elevators.
The construction will be thoroughly fire-proof, with spacious arrangement of the columns in the in the interior. The frame will be entirely of steel, surrounded by a non-combustible covering. It will be the effort of Schlesinger & Mayer and Architect Sullivan to make the building the most complete of its class in the world.
Southeast Corner State and Madison Streets
Robinson Fire Map, 1886
Volume 1, Plate 7
1 New York Times, January 4, 1878—The firm of Clement, Morton Co., manufacturers of clothing, corner of Wabash-avenue and Madison-street, resolved to suspend business today. The reason assigned is the failure, during the past few weeks, to make collections in the country. The house has bills outstanding to the amount of $350,000, while the stock is valued at $150,000, and bills receivable, $300,000.