A recent trend has breathed vitality into many overlooked historic buildings in Chicago. In recent years, drug stores have taken advantage of the prime location and wide open spaces of a few historic buildings, such as CVS, Walgreens and Target, in places you just might find yourself walking past every day.
The City Target on State Street is one of these classy places to pick up your drugs. To enter the City Target, located within Louis Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott Department Store Building, you walk through doorways surrounded by a swirling tangle of cast-iron ornamentation. Inside are high ceilings with white-painted columns, also with Sullivan's signature organic ornamentation at the top. When you pick up your prescription here, you get to appreciate a National Historic Landmark.
Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood has two spectacular pharmacies located inside historic bank buildings. Many corners of Chicago neighborhoods are populated with empty bank buildings for a few reasons. One is that corners are busier, and banks always had the money to pay for prime location. And also Illinois was one of the last states to get rid of branch banking laws. To not get too technical, it meant that you had to go to a bank's central location to do your banking versus the many branches of Chase and Bank of America that clutter our corners today. This restriction kept banks from getting too powerful, which proved to be a fright during the Great Depression.
Today small and mid-size banks don't really survive, so what is one to do with their beautiful architecture? Why not put a drug store in there? They, too, have the money for the prime location and a Walgreens can certainly fill up the space.
On Ashland and Division you'll find the CVS. The stone facade of this bank building was to denote a sense of permanency, though the bank that originally built it in 1925 did go belly up during the Depression. Walk into this surprisingly beautiful drug store and look up. You'll see grand arches in the plaster and an unusual pattern of stained glass in the ceiling above. Also in the basement is the Bedford Restaurant and Bar, where you can have a cocktail among the little copper boxes of the banks vault.
More recently Walgreens opened a flagship store in the old Noel Bank Building at Wicker Parks' "six corners" on Damen and Milwaukee. The honeycomb, hexagonal plaster design in the ceiling echoes the triangular shape of the store, since it's located at this diagonal intersection. For vitamins, you step through the circular entrance of the "Vitamin Vault."
These are all examples of drug stores that have recently entered into historic buildings, but what about historic pharmacies in Chicago? They change and update so quickly that architectural features of drugstore past are virtually nonexistent in Chicago, other than the replication of the historic Walgreens storefront inside the Museum of Science & Industry.