Madison Street West, Part 1: 4042 W. Madison

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

Madison Street, west of Garfield Park – where to even start?! A grandiose commercial district, with landmark after landmark. Historically, it rose fast and fell hard; today it’s a tattered place, but still busy. Second- and third-tier businesses persist in buildings created for far richer occupants. We’ll take a closer look at some of them in the next few posts, starting with my personal favorite.

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

The building at 4042 W. Madison Street is a genre-defying show stopper. A buff terra cotta facade rises three stories above the street to a magnificent crest. The ornamental style is an impure Art Deco – the line of fins recalls streamlining and the tall, thin masses of New York skyscrapers, while the eagles and floral ornament are more organic, more harmonious with traditional styling.

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

The building was erected by Spiegel’s, a Chicago furniture seller who later morphed into a nationwide catalog house. Architects were B. Leo Steif & Co.; the firm also designed another Spiegel’s location at 64th and S. Cottage Grove at the same time (long since demolished) as well as a variety of apartment buildings around town. Mr. Steif (1894-1953) described the style as Spanish Renaissance and claimed the details were adapted from a town hall on the Spanish island of Majorca, though I don’t see it. Those fins sure didn’t come from Spain! As with most American architecture, it’s a free composition drawing liberally from many sources. The interiors were reported to be ornate and finely furnished as well. A small cable-suspended canopy over the entry has been lost.

The building opened on May 14, 1927, to no small fanfare – radio station WGES broadcast from the new store, an orchestra performed on site, and an airplane dropped cash-redeemable prizes onto the crowd. The roaring 20s indeed!

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

At some subsequent point, the building was expanded to the north, with a concrete-frame addition filling the lot all the way back to the alley.

Spiegel’s furniture business was bought out in 1932 by Hartman’s, a regional chain with over 30 stores.  By 1938, Kennedy Furniture Company was in business there instead. The biggest chapter of the building’s life began in 1939, however, when it was bought by the L. Fish Furniture company. A local chain with four locations around town and more elsewhere, L. Fish was founded in 1858 and was a long-lived Chicago institution. Their faded painted sign remains on the building’s west party wall today, above the ghost outline of a lost three-story building.

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

After a 44-year run on West Madison, L. Fish Furniture was bought out by North Carolina company Heilig-Meyers, Inc. in 1993. Heilig-Meyers closed its Chicago stores in 1999 and went bankrupt in 2000. It seems they’d already sold off this location, however, because in 1992 the current occupant opened: Dream Town Shoes.

Dream Town started in ironic circumstances. Named for the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, it opened in the wake of the riots that followed the Bulls’ 1992 victory. The store’s owners suffered looting and a devastating fire at their older Diana Department shoe store, two doors east, but forged ahead nonetheless. Both stores have thrived and remain in business today, focused on the most trendy shoes. Dream Town even has an indoor basketball court inside the store!

L. Fish Furniture / Dream Town Shoes building

Research log:
1924 – Forrester and Schjoldager Jewelers – Jul 6 1924 ad for Navarre Pearls – either a prior building on the site or a wrong address.
1926 – designed and leased. Tribune article, October 3 1926
1927 – Spiegels opened – May 14 1927 display ad. Dec 11 1927 ad for Clements Jewel Electric Vacuum Cleaners.
1932 – Hartman’s – Apr 26 1932 help wanted ad for furniture salesmen. Open by May 20, per display ad.
1938 – Kennedy Furniture Co. – Mar 27 1938 ad for Stewart-Warner Ice Boxes.
1939 – L. Fish Furniture Company – Oct 1 1939 ad for Congoleum flooring (a Spiegel’s product, ironically.)

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7 thoughts on “Madison Street West, Part 1: 4042 W. Madison

  1. @PK – thanks! Mostly I do a lot of digging in the Chicago Tribune’s digitized archives. They have everything scanned and text searchable, even classified ads – though often imperfectly. I generally start with the street address, which can tell you what businesses were there at what times; sometimes a building’s first appearance in the classifieds gives you a decent idea of when it was built. In this case looking for “Spiegel’s” and “Madison” in the mid-late 1920s led back to a whole article on the construction of the building. If it’s a pre-1909 building there’s a second, earlier street address for it too, so that has to be searched as well.

    Apart from that, basic Google searches – street address, current occupants, original businesses, architects. I’d check Sanborn maps if I had access to them.

  2. There’s also a database site called Chicago News which has original construction dates, though there seems to be some consensus that it’s not the most accurate set of dates. I also used to check the Cook County Assessor’s database, but it stopped working over a year ago – no matter what address you put in, it returns an error message telling you to enter a valid address!

    There’s other resources at the public libraries, Chicago History Museum, Newbury Library, and the local universities, but they all require time and/or access privileges. There’s an old real estate magazine called Building and Realty which is a treasure trove of data on builders and developers, but it’s not digitized or indexed anywhere.

  3. Great photos!

    The Cottage Grove Spiegel later became a department store called Stotland’s. By odd coincidence, Stotland’s ran ads on WGES in the ’60s. I believe the building came down in the ’80s.

    Speaking of the Roaring ’20s – that Spiegel is photographed in the background of a night-time parade given for Amelia Earhart, who then attended the wedding of a friend at the Trianon Ballroom a couple of blocks north.

  4. “I also used to check the Cook County Assessor’s database, but it stopped working over a year ago – no matter what address you put in, it returns an error message telling you to enter a valid address!”

    Which website is that?

  5. Pingback: Madison Street West, Part 2: The Gothic Block | A Chicago Sojourn

  6. Pingback: Design News / Madison Street West, Part 1: 4042 W. Madison

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