About This Item
original late 19th or early 20th century museum-quality exterior white glazed terra cotta stringcourse panel or block removed from the schlesinger & mayer department store during extensive renovations of the building’s facade – which included the dramatic return of a newly-created 12th floor colonnade and cornice. the terra cotta block was designed by louis h. sullivan and executed by the northwestern terra cotta company under the direction of master or chief sculptor. the rectangular-shaped block contains curvaceous lines surrounded by bursts of intricate leafage. the terra cotta block contains surface wear, loss of glaze, discoloration – all consistent with age or prolonged exposure to the outdoor elements. the rear cavities or “webbing” have been removed. the schlesinger & mayer building (later known as the carson, pirie, scott and company building) is an extant commercial building designed by architect louis sullivan for the retail firm schlesinger & mayer. in 1898, schlesinger and mayer decided to demolish the original building located on state and madison streets and replace it with a new structure designed by sullivan. the architectural plans drawn up by sullivan consisted of both a nine and twelve-story proposal. they eventually started with a nine-story portion of the building that was made on the madison street side next to the original portion of the adler and sullivan renovations executed years earlier. in 1902 schlesinger and mayer came back to sullivan wanting a twenty-story building on state and madison, eventually settling for the final twelve stories. the madison street portion that was added earlier did not structurally support twelve stories so it was left as is. sullivan came up with a three-stage plan to finish the new building and allow schlesinger and mayer to keep their business running during the christmas season. the building is remarkable for its steel-framed structure, which allowed a dramatic increase in window area created by bay-wide windows, which in turn allowed for the greatest amount of daylight into the building interiors. this provided larger displays of merchandise to outside pedestrian traffic creating the idea of the sidewalk showcase. in between the windows were lavish bands of terra cotta that replaced the earlier plan for white georgia quarries because it was light weight and inexpensive. another reason for the change in what type of marble they would use in construction was that stonecutters were having a strike in 1898 during the time of construction. the lavish bronze-plated cast-iron ornamental work above the rounded tower was also meant to be functional because it was to be as resilient as a sheet of copper. both the use of bronze and terra cotta was important to setting the building apart from others because it was essentially fire resistant. it created a sense of monumentality. sullivan thought the building would be an asset to the city for a long period of time. to ensure this great building would last and be resilient against the threat of fire, there was a 40 ft. water tower installed on the roof to supply the sprinkler system with enough water, after the city of chicago had the great fire. sullivan designed the corner entry to be seen from both state and madison, and that the ornamentation, situated above the entrance, would be literally attractive, which would give the store an elegant unique persona important to the competitiveness of the neighboring stores.the building is one of the classic structures of the chicago school. the ornate decorative panels on the lowest stories of the building are now generally credited to george grant elmslie who was sullivan’s chief draftsman after frank lloyd wright left the firm. these ornamental additions originated from the influence of celtic metalwork. the way this technique was used by elmslie on the lower floors of the building were so elaborate that it used the natural lighting and shadows to seem almost as if it were magically floating above the ground. the top floor of the 1899 and 1904 sections of the building were recessed to create a narrow loggia topped by an intricately detailed cornice that projected beyond the facade of the building. this was removed around 1948 and the 12th floor redesigned to replicate the lower floors. subsequent additions were completed by daniel burnham in 1906 and holabird & root in 1961. the downtown chicago building has been used for retail purposes since 1899, and has been a chicago landmark since 1975. it is part of the loop retail historic district.