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Spirit of the Bee Hive/Chicago Style: Ornament Removed from building attributed to Adler & Sullivan






 -by Lynn Becker

[October 27, 2008] - No Louis harmed in the course of this production.

The Magic of America, by Marion Mahony Griffin


Morganthan, Bauland Building, Chicago
If you took the time to look up the mediocre, decaying storefront at 108-114 South State Street, you would have seen, at the roof line, a burst of ornate terra cotta ornament. If you looked at the history of the building, you would have been tantalized by the fact that it was listed as an 184 work of Adler and Sullivan.

Bauland Morga
And so, when the covering went up - and remained, seemingly forever - for the rehab of the structure into a new flagship for the Ulta cosmetics chain, you could be forgiven for wondering if this would be a restoration that would return the facade to Sullivan's original design. Morgenthau, Bauland and Company building, renovation as Ulta flagship
And you would have been gravely disappointed to find, at Ulta's unveiling, the ornament has disappeared, replaced by a corrugated metal cornice flush with the rest of the facade.
Ulta store, State Street, new cornice
Enter Eric from Urban Remains, who tipped me off to fact that his company had salvaged the ornament after a building inspector had discovered that a load bearing beam that had carried the ornament was in a "severely compromised state . . . one way or another the terra cotta had to be removed to reduce the load. Since the owner gave Ulta carte blanche with the building, they just wanted the newly discovered 'headache' taken away." Urban Remains was given just one week to surgically remove the cornice.

But the bad news is also good news. The large owls should have been a giveaway. The ornament was in no way by Sullivan's hand, but can be traced, instead, to a 1929 remodeling of the building to be the home for Richman Bros., a famous Chicago clothing store, which remained there for nearly sixty years, until the 1980's mass die-off of the great State Street chains. One of the greatest authorities on Louis Sullivan and his work assures me that all visual traces of Adler and Sullivan's work disappeared long ago, and included none of Sullivan's distinctive ornament. He believes the original, rather generic, sheet metal cornice was removed when the building was converted, for a time, into a theatre.

But while it's no Louis Sullivan, the polychrome art deco ornament, which Urban Remains has for sale, is a bit of a wonder. (all images from Urban Remains website.) You can buy the centerpiece for just $4,950
Art Deco center panel of 114 South State, salvaged by Urban Remains, Chicago
. . . and a complete section of the ornamental band for $2,500.00 -Art Deco ornament, salvaged from 114 South State by Urban Remains, Chicago

. . . and for $895.00, you can get one of the individual owls.

But for me, pride of place has to be the pair of birds, one of which anchored each endpoint of the strip of ornament. They don't even have a price on the Urban Remains website, which says they " appear to have combined characteristics of a hawk, "phoenix" bird, and "huxwhukw" (man-eating bird). manufactured by the American Terra Cotta Co. . . . The birds have a pink, green, yellow and black color arrangement." These are beautiful, one-of-a kind pieces that belong in a museum. Art Deco birds from facade of 114 South State, salvaged by Urban Remains, Chicago
And what of Adler & Sullivan's original design? Well, it was an 1884 rehab and expansion of existing structures for the Bee Hive dry goods store, all traces of which, in turn, were effaced by the 1929 remodeling. The Bee Hive has long been forgotten, but according to the great Joseph Siry, in his indispensable book, Carson Pirie Scott: Louis Sullivan and the American Department Store, from which the rendering below is taken, the Bee Hive "began in 1883 as a popular merchandiser devoted to . . . low-priced retailing . . . (and) advertised a wide range of inexpensively acquired inventory sold in high volumes at bargain prices."
The Beehive Department Store, State Street, Chicago
From Carson Pirie Scott: Louis Sullivan and the American Department Store, by Joseph Siry, University of Chicago Press.

According to an 1892 New York Times account of a narrowly avoided panic at the time of an April 24th fire, 250 "saleswomen and cash girls" were employed at the five-story emporium. The fire was reported to have caused $5,000 in damage, also the reported cost of the Adler & Sullivan rehab.

The Beehive structures came to be known as the Morgenthau, Bauland & Company building after the two pairs of brothers who created the Beehive, described by memoirist Theodore Regensteiner - who had found work there for a princely $3.00 a week - as a "combination Dry Goods and Men's Clothing Store," with forty different departments. Regensteiner, originally hired as an office worker, soon rose to the position of "bundle-wrapper", before moving up to salesman, cashier, and advertising manager, and composer of love letters for a boss "whose education had not included writing." In 1894, Regensteiner would go on to invent the four-color lithographic printing process, and established one of the great companies of Chicago's once thriving printing industry.

According to Siry, Adler and Sullivan connected, through a party wall, the interiors of two contiguous post-fire buildings. They extended the cornice that already existed over the northernmost building over the one to the south that now houses Ulta. Sullivan created a continuous strip of shop windows to unite the two structures at street level. Probably the most visually striking component of the design, which Siry kindly suggests may not have been Sullivan's idea, was a huge beehive over the entrance, symbolizing both the bustle on the street, and the humming hive of shoppers finding amazing bargains within. Siry finds in the Beehive rehab an antecedent to the way Sullivan addressed "the same issues of visual effect and signification" in the landmark Schlesinger & Meyer store, just up the street, where his spectacular flowering cast-iron ornament is now undergoing restoration.

In March of 1884, the Chicago Tribune reported on thousands of shoppers attending the renovated store's opening in an article headlined Improvements on State Street. " .  . . the new show-windows and elegant entrance [are] not only improvements in the Bee-Hive itself, but form an ornament to the thoroughfare they adorn. As now constructed this entrance is without doubt the finest store-entrance in the city." The article describes the use of prismatic light, "new to the city", at the base of the display windows "making the basement as bright as daylight." There was a "V-shaped lobby . . . The double doors forming the main entrance are set back ten feet from the sidewalk line, and about five feet from this line are a set of swinging glass doors leading into the tiled lobby. In the centre of the lobby is a large steam coll, handsomely bronzed, and the female customers are not obliged to go from the heated store directly into the cold air of the street."

For the 1884 opening, the Tribune continued, "two live Swiss peasant girls dressed in the national costume of the Canton of Apperenzoll, in Switzerland" were positioned in one of the large display windows, demonstrating "the enormous advantages of the automatic embroidery just introduced into this city by the proprietors of the Bee-Hive." The store was described as so busy "the clerks were hardly allowed to breath . . . The great sale of ladies'underwear going on on the second floor attracted a great deal of attention."

The architectural face of retailing? 1884: a giant Beehive. 2008: a single huge display window inhabited by an orange-hooded, beautiful woman demonstrating the wonders of modern cosmetics.Ulta flagship store, State Street, Chicago, Illinois

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© 2008 photos and text Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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