FASHION FLASHBACK: SAKS FIFTH AVENUE CHICAGO…THE STORE

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imagePine Street and Erie early 1900’s, courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia Collegte Chicago,.

imagePhoto courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

Michigan Avenue looking North from Ohio Street (Lake Shore National Bank now Chase!) after 1924.  The tall building is the Allerton Hotel which was built in 1924 (now the Warwick Allerton Hotel) and was one of the first high-rises in Chicago and built as a Men’s Club.  For more information on this Hotel please go to www.warwickhotels.com/allerton-hotel-chicago/history. In 1923 the City passed its first zoning ordinance and North Michigan Avenue became a commercial use district.  It still maintained brownstones and vacant lots…a Nena’s note, when I started with the Company there were still brownstones and vacant lots…this was in 1956.

imageThe entrance to Saks Fifth Avenue on Fifth Avenue in New York City in the 1920’s the company opened it’s doors on September 15, 1924.  The first out of town store was in Palm Beach, Florida which was a seasonal store opened to accommodate the store’s “carriage trade” clientele when they were vacationing in Florida.  The second “full line” store (out of New York) was opened in Chicago in the Spring of 1929.

imageOh, my goodness, Nena did you put this photo in by accident….you are after all an AT&T gal and you are showing the facade of the Verizon flagship store on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Chestnut Street! No dear readers, this is the first location of  Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago.  It was a five-story building (it has had many, many different looks over the years) and is now into the technological age we live in.  No one can explain why after occupying this space for about 5-6 years the decision was made to relocate to 669 North Michigan Avenue in 1935 when an addition was added to the original Blackstone Shop Building. In 1929 this building had been leased to Stanley Korshak, the architect was Philip B. Maher who also designed the landmarked Woman’s Athletic Club building on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street.

imageCourtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

The image on the left is the original building and its addition.  The image on the right is the building where I started my career.  If you look directly to the east, next to the Saks logo on the top of the 5 story building, you see windows, those two sets of three windows looked South on Michigan Avenue and were at the end of my department, Debutante Sportswear.  The one story building, by Holabird & Root, was erected in 1944.  Since it was built during WWII it couldn’t be a substantial structure and was built using surplus bricks due to the War effort.  When I started in May 1956 that short building housed the children’s departments from Layette to teens both girls and boys, we did a huge children’s business.  Each building opened into the other and several floors in the St. Clair building (the building where the Corner Bakery is now) were part of Saks, housing the general offices including mine when I moved into the fashion office in 1957.  This building was accessed via a bridge over the alley.  The bridge also by Holabird & Root was erected in 1937. The nine-story addition was added in 1966 and was also Holabird & Root.  Each floor, through the fifth floor, was expanded and the Executive Offices etc. moved from the St. Clair building to the top three floors, the ninth floor housed electrical equipment, air conditioning, etc.

imageArchitects rendering of the final 669 North Michigan Avenue building.  Courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

You may have heard an Urban Myth about apartments hidden away behind the Store (the building that Cole Haan occupied until recently)…guess what it isn’t a myth, they do exist!  They are now in total disrepair.  Malabry Court consists of 6 apartments or pied à terre surrounding a courtyard.

imageTaken from Lynn Becker’s article from November 2009 you are looking down on the elegant courtyard.  Ms. Becker’s article is absolutely fascinating  I advise you to read the entire piece, please GOOGLE…Michigan Avenue’s forgotten secret: What’s lies behind this innocuous facade?

Let me tell you a little about them since I saw the apartments through the years. When I was in my early teens a couple of the apartments became available.  My parents had friends who lived in one of the apartments and told my Father about the upcoming openings…there was usually a waiting list of about 5 years.  We had visited their friends and had fallen in love with the European charm of them.  They were very French, very small and each had wood burning fireplaces.  Needless to say we all fell in love with the idea but quickly realized that three adults wouldn’t work in what really added up to a studio apartment in square feet.  When I started at the Store they were still occupied and I really longed to live in one, alas it wasn’t to be.  In the mid-1980’s we came up with a plan to cover the courtyard with a glass skylight and do the indiviual apartments as shops to feature our gift assortments and use the courtyard as a restaurant.  They had a separate entrance on Michigan Avenue with an elevator so we could have done dinner as well.  Obviously, this didn’t happen.

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Time moves on, space is no longer available for expansion so what do you do, you move.  The idea of another vertical mall was appealing and so that was the decision to work with a developer and create Chicago Place.  If you stand across from the building you will see three different facades, the center arched building houses the main mall with glass elevators, escalators, elegant columns and at least 20 types of marble for the main floor and other areas.  The stylized motif is based on the Native American word for wild or smelly onion and was used throughout the Mall in the railings etc.  The food court at its beginning was quite wonderful huge live trees, interesting colorful birds (real) flying around and appealing food vendors…this unfortunately didn’t last long and it became a run of the mill food court, oh well.  In addition you would find unique stores but unless you were going to the food court you probably didn’t even know the rest of the Mall was outside the Saks door.

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The architects rendering of the building courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

imageA good look at the main floor of Chicago Place Mall with the mezzanine.  You can clearly see the different marbles use in the interior.  Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

imageThe free standing Men’s Store across the street from Chicago Place.  The Men’s Store is once again housed in the main building.

The fashion industry is built on obsolescence and MUST always reinvent itself, retail is no different…it is where fashion is shown.  Saying that it is very important not to lose your idenity, your brand.  What is the Saks Fifth Avenue brand, it is service without peer, it is giving it’s clients the best the world has to offer and the newest most exciting brands available without losing its panache!  Has the Store changed over the years, of course it has…you can see that the company believed in the strength of Chicago…just another Nena’s note, Saks Fifth Avenue is the only retailer (other than Sears!) who has been in Chicago since its beginning here in 1929.  It isn’t going any where.  Do stop by and see all the news and you can now even have a bite to eat, and I must add a delicious bite to eat at Sophie’s the 7th floor restaurant with a view like no other in the City. (By the way this, as always, is my opinion and not a paid indorsement, just saying!!!!)

imageSophie’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago with Executive Chef Ron Aleman.  You will often find me there enjoying Chef Ron’s ever changing menu, he is fantastic!  It is one of my top 10 restaurants in the City.

imageThe view from Sophie’s window looking North…what was there when I began in 1956, in view only “Palmolive Building” and the iconic Water Tower, I think a hint of The Drake Hotel, no Hancock, no Water Tower Place, etc. etc. etc. amazing, isn’t it!!!  Photo Courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.