I walked past the 19th century facades and jewelry showroom windows that line Wabash Avenue. Chicago's iconic El trains rumbled by on the tracks overhead. The small green heads of tulips peaked above the earth in the beds which edge the sidewalks hinting at the colorful blooms to come.
Entering the State Street Macy's is a history lesson in small victories. Marshall Field's was a name virtually synonymous with Chicago. When Macy's bought Marshall Field it was requested that, due to it's long association with the city, the Marshall Field name be, at least in part, retained. One suggestion was that for the Chicago area they could call it Marshall Field by Macy's. Macy's was unyielding. Their attitude was, we bought the store, it will be called Macy's, end of discussion. This caused bad blood among old line Chicagoans, some of which persists to this day.
The State Street store building is landmarked. It's exterior cannot be altered in any way. Hence, the bronze plaques on each corner bearing the name Marshall Field and Company remain unmolested. The massive clocks, made famous by Norman Rockwell in an often reproduced Saturday Evening Post cover still keep passersby appraised of the time of day as they have for decades. Inside, the elevator doors retain the molded metal image of sheaves of hay, a Marshall Field trademark. Likewise the Walnut Room, the in store restaurant where during the holidays as many as 4 generations of one family can be seen at the same table sharing a meal, a cherished Christmas season tradition for some, remains unchanged in appearance. The towering Christmas tree in it's center has however become less interesting than it's predecessor's were during the Field's days.
So too has the annual Spring Flower Show changed. In years past, during Marshall Field's tenure, the tops of the fixtures on the first floor were filled with fresh flowers. The scent as one entered was wonderful and heady, demanding that the shopper deeply breath in their strong perfume. Today the show is confined to an exhibition space on the uppermost floor. This years theme was "The Secret Garden", a vague description which allowed designers a great deal of leeway when it came to the displays. A maypole was set among topiaries shaped as animals and chessmen. A floral portrait of Salvador Dali resting on a base created from shards of pottery dishes, with a pair of blue manikin legs upturned, feet in the air, left me scratching my head. So too did the upright piano surrounded by blooms. The centerpiece of the exhibition, though lovely and impressive, made even less sense. A tall white manikin wearing a gown fashioned from dried leaves spray painted bright red kept watch over the various displays. The gown's bustle and train were created using a number of various type of dried flowers, also painted red. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship which seemed, however, to have little to do with a "Secret Garden". I left the exhibition seriously underwhelmed.
As I left the store I gazed up at the venerable Tiffany designed mosaic dome which graces the interior of the landmark building. One of Chicago's hidden civic treasures it reassured me that, no matter who owns what, some things remain the same.