More Than Frangos and Lingerie: Macy’s State Street Store

The Tiffany ceiling at Macy's on State

The Tiffany ceiling at Macy’s on State

Most visitors, and a good number of native Chicagoans, who walk into the Macy’s State Street store probably aren’t aware of the architecturally significant elements there. I was walking through the main floor the other day and looked up. It’s a ceiling like no other: thousands of shiny pieces of Tiffany glass that make up a glittering mosaic.

To find out some of the details, I checked in with the Macy’s folks who inherited the building after buying the Marshall Field company.

By the numbers, the Tiffany ceiling is 6,000 square feet, the largest of its kind. It was installed in 1907, and designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. There are 1,600,000 pieces of Favrile glass that were laid by hand by over 50 men over two years under the supervision of Tiffany.

The best vantage point to see the mosaic is from the 5th floor lingerie department, right next to the camisoles.

The Walnut Room at Macy's on State

The Walnut Room at Macy’s on State

Up a couple of floors is another design marvel, the Walnut Room. The ornate dining room was the first restaurant ever in a department store when it opened in the late 1880s. The most popular menu item today is the same as it was 130 years ago: chicken pot pie. The dish originated when a store employee known as Mrs. Hering brought her homemade pot pies to customers visiting her department.

Walk outside the store at the corner of State and Washington and you’ll see one of the most architecturally significant elements of the building, the great clock. It was installed in 1897, followed 10 years later by another at State and Randolph.

Each clock is made of 7 tons of cast bronze and hung by ornamental ironwork. The great clock was immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting for the November 3, 1945 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The painting is of a repairman setting the landmark by his own pocket watch. The original is on display at the Chicago History Museum. A copy of the cover can be seen in the CTA’s Lake Street Red Line subway station, where the mezzanine joins the Macy’s segment of the pedway.

The great clock still operates and keeps perfect time, but not because of century-old gears. Today it uses satellite technology.

The Great Clock at Macy's on State

The Great Clock at Macy’s on State

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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