Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Field blog.

Yesterday I visited Marshall Field's penthouse. Well, to be more precise -- though it doesn't make as good a lead -- I found myself in space that formerly constituted one of the top-floor dwellings of Marshall Field III, long since converted into other uses, just as Mr. Field has long since departed the ranks of the living.

I'm not as versed on the life of Mr. Field as I might be, but I do know that he was the grandson of the dry goods merchant who became wildly successful in 19th-century Chicago, that he ran the Sun-Times for years, that he was what Ted Turner aspires to be, a big-ticket philanthropist with liberal sympathies. He probably cut a dandy figure as a wealthy youth, and grayed into moneyed eminence. Also, he built the Field Building, 135 S. LaSalle, now largely occupied by LaSalle Bank, the North American presence of an enormous Dutch bank, ABM-AMRO (you'd think they could buy a better Dutch name, something like Dem Grossenguilder Bancshares).

135 S. LaSalle started construction at the end of the '20s and wasn't finished until the pit of the Depression. It has a striking art deco lobby and arcade, and I've been in the building many times. But on Monday I was there to oversee a photo shoot of some LaSalle Bank real estate lending execs we're putting on the cover of the magazine. When I got there, I asked LaSalle's PR man where the photographer had picked as a backdrop, and he took me to the 42nd (43rd?) floor, where I'd never been. The floor features a number of well-appointed meeting rooms, and on the west side -- with a fine view of the Board of Trade and its statue of Ceres -- the bank's executive dining room.

It was morning, and the dining room staff were scurrying around getting ready for lunch, and the photographer took his shots using a gilded, circular staircase outside the dining room as the background. As I was talking to one of the executives, he told me a little about the history of this floor.

"This used to be Marshall Field's penthouse, you know."

"No, I didn't know. Where?"

"The whole floor."

Formerly for one wealthy man, now for a coterie of men running a wealthy corporation. Many things are like that, I suppose. The bank hasn't done badly with the space -- there's some interesting photography on the walls, among other things -- but there's nothing to indicate what it used to look like. I wonder if the shade of Marshall Field III ever knocks about at night.


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