I always think of Michigan Avenue as the great street in Chicago. Downtown you find beautiful buildings on one side of the street and green Grant Park with the Art Institute of Chicago on the other. Follow it north over the Chicago River and you pass the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building into high end shopping. For author Robert P. Ledermann, however, State Street has always been the heart of the city, the street for Christmas parades and shopping in department stores. He recounts the past, some of which he has witnessed, in State Street: One Brick at a Time.
If your first thought about State Street is Marshall Field's Department Store, then you are in Mr. Ledermann's camp. Slightly over half of the book is about this famous department store which covered an entire Chicago city block. The author fully describes the building and recounts many stories about the introduction of new customer services by the innovative retailer. He includes an entire chapter on Christmas at Marshall Field's. In doing so, he carefully never says anything against Macy's, the New York company that killed the Marshall Field's name, but as a reader you can sense that he'd like to turn back the hands on the famous clocks. I'd help him.
After all the attention that the author gives Marshall Field's, I expected a bit more detail on the other well-known department stores that once lined the street - Carson Pire Scott & Company gets a chapter and all the others are lumped into one chapter. A consistent theme throughout these two chapters is that most of the store owners learned their trade working for Marshall Field and that their stores sat on land owned by Marshall Field.
State Street: One Brick at a Time is an entertaining read - you learn why not to decorate a Christmas tree with candy - but it is just an introduction to a street with much history told in other books. Still, all Chicago area public libraries should have it for its great collection of photographs.
Ledermann, Robert P. State Street: One Brick at a Time. History Press, 2011. 157p. ISBN 9781609492946.