Lake Street was the center of Chicago’s business district in the 1850s. Marshall Field and Levy Z. Leiter purchased Potter Palmer’s Lake Street dry goods emporium in 1865. Three years later, they led the move of Chicago’s great department stores to Palmer’s State Street development district. Field and Leiter would become Chicago’s biggest property owners. Leiter (pictured on the right) sold his share to Field. He commissioned architect William Le Baron Jenney to build the Leiter Building in 1879 and the Second Leiter Building in 1891. With these projects and the Home Insurance Building in 1885, Jenney would become known as the Father of the Skyscraper.
Jenney built the Second Leiter using a steel frame construction that allowed the fullest use of unobstructed interior space. The exterior granite curtain walls no longer needed to be load bearing and could feature large windows to illuminate the interior retail space with natural light. It became the model for the modern department store.
The Second Leiter, on State Street between Van Buren and Congress, would eventually house Sears, Roebuck and Company’s flagship store. It anchored a street of great department stores that included Marshall Field, The Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, The Fair Store, Mandel Brothers, and Rothschild’s. All of these retail emporia would be built or rebuilt using the same innovative technology that Jenney applied in his Second Leiter Building. The Second Leiter was both the anchor and the touchstone of that Great Street.
Today the ghost of Marshall Field resides in Macy’s while the other great department stores are gone. In their place are universities and some 38,000 full-time college students that have helped to restore vitality to the Loop. The education corridor extends south of Madison on State to the School of the Art Institute, DePaul, and Second Leiter’s Robert Marshall University.
The narrative of the Second Leiter Building is by Samantha Benduha, Cara Garvey, April Hill, Eleanor Peck and Elizabeth Staszel. The narrative is edited and material has been added.