The Sullivan Center complex consists of nine buildings previously occupied by the Carson Pirie Scott Department Store. The complex is anchored by the twelve-story State Street building designed by Louis Sullivan for the Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store. A National Historic Landmark and City of Chicago Landmark, this building was constructed between 1898 and 1904 and is considered to be one of Sullivan’s most important works and one of the best examples of the Chicago School skyscraper. After the Carson, Pirie, Scott Department Store took over the building in 1904, they added an addition designed by D.H. Burnham and Co (1906) and later an addition designed by Holabird and Root (1961). All three buildings have a façade of white terra cotta with the unique organic ornament used by Sullivan. The buildings are perhaps best known for the highly ornate cast iron storefronts and a curved rotunda at the corner of State and Madison. The Sullivan portion of the complex also included a dramatic overhanging cornice that projected from a recessed window wall at the top floor.
In 1927, Carson’s built a fifteen-story building at Wabash and Monroe to serve as its Men’s Store with speculative offices above. This building, designed by the firm Burnham Brothers, was in the same general style as the State Street buildings. The store also incorporated the Thomas Church Building, a slender skyscraper clad in white terra cotta. This building was built in 1903 just to the north on Wabash. Sometime after 1927, the store also incorporated three post-Chicago Fire masonry buildings: the Haskell, Barker and Atwater Buildings. Those three buildings were built in the 1870s and are City of Chicago Landmarks. The buildings along Wabash and Monroe are also contributing buildings within the National Register Chicago Loop Retail Historic District and the City of Chicago Jewelers Row Historic District.
While Carson’s maintained the complex relatively well, over the years the exteriors suffered some deterioration and alterations. The most significant alteration was the removal of the cornice on the Sullivan-design building in 1948. The terra cotta facades were in need of repairs and cleaning, the cast iron storefront, though painted in 1981, was also deteriorated. The building facades along Wabash were even more deteriorated than those on State Street. The upper floors in the complex were vacated by the store after several corporate buy-outs and changes in merchandise distribution in the 1980s and ‘90s.
In 2001, the entire complex was purchased by developer Joseph Freed and Associates. The new owner began work to transform the vacant upper floors into speculative office space while restoring the exteriors. Harboe Architects was retained as Preservation Architect for all exterior restoration, Federal Tax Credit Program consulting, and City of Chicago façade examinations. Over the next few years, the terra cotta facades were inspected, rehabilitated and cleaned. The missing cornice was reconstructed and an original entry on State Street restored for use as the office tenant entry. A severely deteriorated glazed brick and terra cotta water tower on the roof was also rebuilt.
When Carson’s vacated the remainder of the complex in 2007, the owner began efforts to restore the cast iron storefront and transform the lower floors into new uses. Harboe Architects continued its relationship as Preservation Architect with the owner to restore the storefronts and consult on the interior renovations, which included some Sullivan-designed spaces and features. The restoration of the cast iron storefronts were completed in November of 2010. Harboe Architects continues to act as tax credit consultant for the owner.