Dickinson’s building plan didn’t go much farther than Chatfield-Taylor, and in March 1911 architect Benjamin Marshall paid $85,000 for the privilege to maybe, finally, construct something on the prominent site. Marshall however wasn’t interested in building a private home, he purchased the lot as an investment and planned on building a sumptuous, income producing, multi-unit apartment building for tenants willing to pay upwards of $8,000 a year (around $200,000 a year today) to live in one of the 8,000 square foot, 14-room apartments. Marshall had introduced luxury living for a luxury loving clientele in 1900 when he designed the Raymond Apartments at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street, and in 1905 he designed the 8-story, one apartment per floor, Marshall Apartments at the northwest corner of Cedar Street and Lake Shore Drive. That building was one of many in Caleb Howard Marshall’s real estate investment portfolio. Benjamin’s father had made a fortune in the flour milling business, and after consolidating and merging his company into the National Biscuit Company at the turn of the 20th century he retired. After Caleb’s death in April 1910 and with his inheritance in hand, Benjamin would now take on the role of architect, developer and partner/owner of a number of future apartment projects constructed for affluent Chicagoans.
The 12-story building at 1550 N. State at the corner of North Avenue, designed by Marshall in conjunction with his business partner architect Charles Fox, would soon be heralded as the city’s most elegant and elite address. The elaborately detailed exterior teased and tantalized the eye of the passerby as an indication of what one might expect to find inside if one were lucky enough to pass through the doors of the discreet and tasteful entry. The $600+ per month rental (which would translate to roughly $16,700 today) meant that only a select group of the city’s citizenry would be able to afford one of the ten floor-through residences. The idea of giving up your extremely large single family home to live with other people stacked one on top of another seemed like a hard sell. But as the Gilded Age moved further into the 20th century, trading in your 10 or 15,000 square foot mansion for 8,000 square feet on a single floor didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Among the first tenants at 1550 were Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Countiss, the John Mitchells, the Albert Dicks, and Marshall Field’s nephew Stanley and his wife. The 14-room units included staff quarters, and if your apartment flat didn’t provide enough sleeping accommodations for your servants you could always rent additional space in the first two floors of the building which were set aside for such purposes. Among the butlers, maids, chauffers and cooks counted in the 1920 census there were the ten servants each in the William Kelley and David Cummings households, nine serving to the needs of the Albert Dicks, eight for the Edward Moores, and seven for the Frederick Rawsons. Their five other neighbors seemed to do just fine with a service staff of just five or six. Help was required when trying to maintain an opulent lifestyle in an apartment with a 700 square foot “Grand Salon” (or what we would call the living room), a 560 square foot “Chambre” for “Madame,” one for “Monsieur” and five more “Chambre a Coucher.” Then there were meals to be cooked and served in the expansive 625 square foot dining room.
1550 N. State Street, later State Parkway, appeared regularly in the society columns. On May 29, 1932 however, the Chicago Tribune carried a banner headline proclaiming “Finds Swift Death an Accident.” Edward Foster Swift was the 68-year-old former chairman of the Swift meat packing company and had plunged to his death after falling to the ground from his 8th floor apartment window. In the summer of 1920, 1550 made the headlines once again when it was reported that the tenants had obtained 99 year leases on their apartments after buying into a syndicate that purchased the State Parkway building from Marshall for $675,000. Then in the summer of 1943 the Tribune reported that the syndicate sold the building which was being “fashioned into the small suites so much in vogue.” With four apartments per floor rather than one, the building underwent another change in 1977 when the rental property was converted into a condominium. Since then a few of the downsized units have been enlarged, but the ratio of staff to square feet has not reached its former peak population.
See more of Marshall and Fox at: Stewart Apartments – 1200 Lake Shore Drive; Michigan Avenue Lofts – Karpen and Standard Oil of Indiana Building; Blackstone Hotel, Chicago; Uptown Bank Building; and 1201 N. Astor Street Apartments.