The 1937 Benson & Rixon Building at 230 S. State Street is an excellent, and rare, example of the Art Moderne style in the Loop, and the only example of the style in the State Street retail district. A six-story specialty store building, it was designed by noted architect Alfred A. Alschuler with Richard N. Friedman and Edward A. Renwick, Associates, and built to house Benson & Rixon men’s clothiers, a family-owned business, established in 1887.
The Benson & Rixon Company, men’s clothiers, was established in 1887 by Paul J. Benson, whose first store was located at 1301 Milwaukee Avenue. Paul’s son, George R. Benson, claimed the distinction of discovering the “world famous” two pants suit idea, according to a 5 April 1931 article in the Chicago Tribune:
“While on a motor trip in 1913 a companion complained that his trousers looked pretty tough. Mr. Benson wisecracked, “We ought to have an extra pair of pants for our suits”—and then realizing his spontaneous comment had pecuniary possibilities, the idea was tried out. It proved a big success and the four piece suit idea was firmly established.”
Over the years, Benson & Rixon expanded to include stores at 4824 Broadway, 1040 Lake Street in Oak Park, and opened their first Loop store in 1913 at the northwest corner of Washington and Dearborn streets. In 1920, the company opened a second downtown store in the upper floors of a building on the southwest corner of State and Quincy streets—the site of their future headquarters. Benson & Rixon maintained this store until April 1931, when they rented 5,000 square feet of space across Quincy in the Consumers Building at 220 S. State Street, concentrating its Loop activities at this new location. Its retail space in the Consumers Building featured window space in the lobby, State Street frontage of 34 feet, and Quincy Street frontage of 144 feet, thus giving it one of the largest window displays in the Loop.
In 1937, Benson & Rixon hired architect Alfred S. Alschuler with R.N. Friedman and Edward A. Renwick, Associates to design a new Loop flagship store at 230 S. State Street. Completed at a reported cost of $375,000, it was the first major structure to be erected on State Street in the Loop since the 1928 Woolworth Building at 20-30 N. State Street. The entire six-story building and basement was intended for the use of Benson & Rixon. Men’s clothing occupied the basement, first and second floors. On the fourth and fifth floors was a Women’s Ready-to-Wear section and offices. A stockroom occupied the top floor.
Following the death of George R. Benson, the company was managed by his son, George R. Benson, Jr., who eventually increased the Benson & Rixon chain to eleven stores. In an attempt to compete with the informal shopping atmosphere of suburban shopping centers, Benson remodeled the State Street store’s ground floor window display area and its main floor in 1958, a project that was also prompted in part by the new lights installed along State Street. New open selling, self-service fixtures were installed on the main floor. Benson & Rixon’s first store at 1301 Milwaukee Avenue closed in 1964, and two years later, the men’s apparel chain was acquired by Eagle Clothes, Inc., and operated as a subsidiary under the same management. George R. Benson, Jr. resigned from the company in 1967. In 1970, the State Street store underwent a second remodeling when its rounded corner storefront was changed to a square one, and the first floor was altered. The Benson & Rixon chain was phased out of business by February 1973 and its stores leased to Jack-Lin Men’s Shop, a chain of five men’s and women’s fashion apparel stores. The first two floors of the building currently (October 2008) house a McDonalds Restaurant, and the upper four floors are vacant.