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Louis, Louis, Oh No, We Gotta Go

By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 25, 2006 4:24PM

Carsons.jpgGeez. We’re sitting here on what turns out to be a nice, pretty Friday morning. We have a night to ourselves, a brand new “Laguna Beach” all cued up on the TiVo, and we’re daydreaming about which toppings to get on our pizza. Things are good, life is good.

And then we’re bombarded; bombarded with the news that the Carson Pirie Scott store is closing after the 2006 holiday season. According to Bon-Ton’s CEO Bud Bergren, “this facility is over 100 years old and no longer supports our efforts to provide quality customer service by giving our customers a modern, fresh shopping experience.”

Huh. Who would have thought that shopping in one of the most architecturally beautiful, historical and significant buildings in the world wouldn’t have been enough for “our customers”?

Now, we know Carson’s is safe as far as demolition. They just spent 5$ million of $60 million renovation dollars to recreate the cornice (it’s so pretty); and we personally would lie down in front of it screaming “FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION” at anyone who even thought of tearing it down.

But what is truly worrisome to us, is what they’re going to do with the building. Right now the top floors house some state offices and School of the Art Institute stuff, but the point of the building is that it’s meant to be a DEPARTMENT STORE. Sullivan’s form followed the function with wide, horizontal spandrels that accentuate the Chicago windows; the ornate cast-iron work at the base meant to frame the windows and draw the eye; the open, easy floor plan with no wasted space (unlike Burnham’s Marshall Fields), and the vertical tower on the corner, letting us all know that this building is still a skyscraper, emphasizing the vertical while accentuating the buildings’ corner entrance.

We’re just sad that it won’t be what it was meant to be, that was Sullivan’s whole philosophy; organically, the building couldn’t be anything else. It’s a department store. And it’s not even that its Carson’s, originally the building was the Schlesinger & Mayer department store. So we’re not upset Carson’s is leaving, we’re upset that it won’t be what it was meant to be in the first place.

So they’ll make it some fancy condo-conversion and its form won’t follow its function anymore. And again, poor Louis Sullivan will be screwed, on his 150th birthday no less.