The Sullivan Center, originally designed by Louis Sullivan as the Schlesinger and Mayer Store, was constructed between 1899 and 1904. The property was the last major structure designed by Sullivan and has long been considered a pivotal work in the history of modern architecture. As one of a number of department stores built along this commercial street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Sullivan Center was at the center of a transformation of urban life. Rapid change in the scale and character of commercial architecture on State Street was linked to changes in retailing practice, building technology, and transportation.
In 1892, Leopold Schlesinger and David Mayer relocated their dry-goods store into the Bowen Building at the corner of State and Madison following the Chicago Great Fire of 1871. In 1890, Schlesinger and Mayer retained the architecture firm Adler & Sullivan, to prepare plans to renovate and expand the existing Bowen Building and after several rounds of remodels and expansions, Sullivan was retained to design a twelve story building to replace the existing structure.
The building’s steel-framed structure, one of the first of its kind for a department store, allowed for 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. For Schlesinger and Mayer, this created larger displays of merchandise for outside pedestrian traffic. In between the windows were lavish bands of terra cotta. 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.
Beginning in 1904, the Carson Pirie Scott store occupied the building until 2007. During its nearly 100 years in occupancy, Carson conducted several renovations of the property which resulted in the removal of several originally designed features including the building cornice. Much of Sullivan’s elaborate interior and exterior ornamental details were removed over the years. However, beginning in 1978 with the preservation movement in full swing, Carson began a restoration of the façade that lasted until 1980. Additionally, between 2002 and 2006, Gunny Harboe restored the cornice of the building.
Sullivan accomplished an equilibrium of the horizontal and vertical. The corner pavilion and tower, which unite the two horizontal facades like a giant hinge, actually produce the soaring skyscraper effect. The interaction of vertical and horizontal elements meeting at the magnificent towered corner, not only bringing both planes together and uniting State and Madison streets, but bear both the profusion of ornament and the streamlined banding.
Sullivan Center is Wired Certified Gold through WiredScore. The building is verified and recognized for its best-in-class internet infrastructure and superior internet connectivity.
Sullivan Center is LEED EB Certified through the U.S. Green Building Council. The goal of LEED EB is to maximize operational efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts.