What’s That Building? The Marshall Field & Company Annex

33 E Washington
Part of the Annex has been turned into a public gallery and artist studios for students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Jason Marck / WBEZ
33 E Washington
Part of the Annex has been turned into a public gallery and artist studios for students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Jason Marck / WBEZ

What’s That Building? The Marshall Field & Company Annex

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Annex building in a photo.

The mammoth Marshall Field & Company building in downtown Chicago — which now houses Macy’s State Street — was once so popular that a second store was needed to house the men’s department.

In 1914, the Marshall Field’s store had grown so big the company opened the Annex at Washington and Wabash.

The building was 20 stories high above ground, with three floors below. The men’s section was nine floors alone. The building was designed to be mixed-use — a first for a Chicago department store — with 14 floors to be rented out as offices or other shops.

The Annex was commissioned by John G. Shedd, who ran the department stores after the 1906 death of the original Marshall Field’s. The building was designed by the famous D.H. Burnham & Co., the same firm that designed the main store at 111 N. State St., which was built in stages over 22 years.

This Annex building went up the same year as the last piece of the main Macy’s block. You can see the family resemblance with that block, located at Randolph and Wabash: There’s the same spacing of square concrete pillars on the first two floors of both buildings, topped by one floor of articulated stone, and then smooth stone the rest of the way up to the top, two-floor colonnade.

Above ground, the Annex and the main store were divided by a street. But shoppers could also walk from one building’s basement to the other via an underground retail display area.

This unusual use of subterranean space sparked a lawsuit when businessman Stephen Mather, who would go on to be the first director of the National Parks Service, sued the City of Chicago over what he claimed to be the city giving away public space. It’s unclear what exactly happened with the lawsuit — although Marshall Field’s continued to use the underground space for decades after.

Marshall Field’s owned the Annex building until 1981, selling it for $12 million and moving the men’s store into its main building nearby. The buyers, who still own the building, were The Trump Group — but not that Trump. New York-based Jules and Edmund Trump, from South Africa, first started investing in real estate on State Street in 1974.

Today, most of the Annex building is used as offices. But the School of the Art Institute of Chicago also has an exhibition space and artist studios in about 60,000 square feet that was formerly a gym. The galleries face the street, and the public can descend to the basement levels to see students’ work.

Art Institute Student Art Gallery
Part of the Annex has been turned into a public gallery and artist studios for students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. WBEZ

Eastlake Studio architects designed the new space, which includes a handsome central atrium and a monumental staircase, wrapped in black steel and circulating around a tall, slender central wall clad in a concrete veneer.

Tom Buechele, the school’s vice president for campus operations, said the sleek new space was primarily paid for by the building’s owners, who spent more than $10 million. The school spent about $800,000.

Part of the gallery’s new design includes a monumental staircase, left, and remnants of an old coal-car line that used to service this building and others in the Loop. Jason Marck/WBEZ

Nearly everything is new, but remnants of the old coal-car line that used to service this building and others nearby in the Loop was preserved. On the lowest level, see narrow-gauge rails in the concrete floor and a hefty iron door that used to close the tunnels off when needed.