Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Merry Christmas

From Christmas 1971, a beautiful night view of a Chicago department store legend – the Carson Pirie Scott & Co. flagship, a familiar sight on the corner of State and Madison Streets since 1899. (The store closed last year and is now being renovated for other uses.) The Louis Sullivan masterpiece, with its magnificent iron scrollwork façade, is a lily that certainly doesn’t need gilding. In my opinion however, the multi-colored Dickensian false façade Carsons installed that season, dubbed “The Village of Lights”, took Christmas window design to an entirely different plane.

For years, a semi-friendly rivalry existed between Carsons and their State Street neighbors, Marshall Field & Company and Goldblatt’s (Thanks to commenter Randy for pointing that Wieboldt's was a key player in the contest also. They purchased the former Mandel Bros. store, directly across Madison Street from Carsons, in 1961. Their suburban locations usually had Christmas windows as well.), to win the hearts of holiday shoppers and their kids with elaborate dioramas in their store windows. These usually involved a storyline sequence that unfolded as one walked along the sidewalk, straining with the rest of the crowd to get the best view of each successive window. A dwindling number of stores in Chicago and elsewhere carry on this tradition today. Our family usually felt that Field’s won the contest, but not every time. Unfortunately, I don’t remember this 1971 edition personally. We went downtown occasionally at that time, but it was a few years before we made it a regular “day after Thanksgiving” tradition. Nonetheless, I feel safe in saying that Carsons probably won the rivalry that year.

A couple of other interesting aspects shown in the photo are the classic 50’s-70’s Carsons logo and the futuristic, fluorescent State Street lighting of the same era. Years later, these light towers would be replaced with 1920’s-style fixtures to emulate an earlier era.

In 1979, following what looked at the time to be an emerging national trend, the City of Chicago closed off State Street to automobile traffic to create State Street Mall, allowing only pedestrian and bus access, and replacing a wide portion of the street with huge sidewalks, planters and the like. Slowing sales of State Street merchants and the flight of many shoppers to nearby Michigan Avenue's “Magnificent Mile” proved this to be a mistake within just a few years, but the problem wasn’t corrected until 1997, when State Street was “de-malled” and once again traffic flowed, to the relief of retailers up and down the strip. By then, of course, the retail world had dramatically changed.

Once again, I want to take this time to let everyone know how deeply I appreciate your support of this website, and to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, spent with family and close friends. I especially want to thank you who have commented on the site, and who have sent me such warm, heartfelt emails with your own treasured memories. It means more than I can say. Thanks so much.

May the True Joy and the real meaning of Christmas be yours, and may you and your families enjoy a happy and healthy New Year. See you then!



  1. I love these Christmas themed posts, Dave, especially those set in Chicago.

    A funny story is a year or so after we moved to Chicago in 1989, my dad drove downtown to pick up a relative. He didn't realize no cars were allowed on State Street. He got a ticket. Years later I would read about what a flop that was.

  2. Don't forget Wieboldt's in terms of local Chicagoland department store rivalry with Carson's, Field's, and Goldblatt's. Wieboldt's was located right across Carson's from Madison Street. State and Madison is the central location for the geographical directions in addresses. Madison is the boundary for North-South and State is the boundary for East-West. Carson's address was 1 South State, and Wieboldt's (orginally Mandel Bros.) was 1 North State.

  3. Didi - Thanks! And it defintiely was a flop - the city should pay your dad back!

    Randy - Apologies for my glaring omission of Wieboldt's! Not only did they do downtown Christmas windows, but their suburban stores had them as well. I'll make a correction to the post.