CIJ 2023 Christmas Through the Decades: The Walnut Room at Marshall Field's, Chicago

Join our amazing community
Share what you know, learn something new!
register

PamelaG

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Premiere Member
May 27, 2011
4,639
5,775
113
Washington, the Evergreen State
We lived just north of Chicago for four years and I'd never heard of the Walnut Room. Vic was a very junior enlisted sailor and money was tight so our trips to the Windy City were limited to a couple of bus trips from the base that didn't really give us a chance to explore. I'm not even sure we saw the famous Marshall Field's department store windows.

Having lunch in the Walnut Room beneath the Great Tree at Marshall Field's is a Chicago holiday tradition that continues today even though Marshall Field's became Macy's in 2005. You can imagine the elegance of years gone by and many people have memories of the Walnut Room and the Marshall Field's era.

While not the first restaurant ever opened in a department store, because initially Marshall Field believed firmly that merchandisers should not get in the business of feeding customers, a Mrs. Hering and Harry Selfridge changed his mind in 1890. Mrs. Hering was a saleswoman in the millinery department who heard her customers complain that there was "not a decent place to eat on State Street", not that a lady would dine unescorted. Mrs. Hering set a table and shared her homemade, family-recipe chicken pot pies with her grateful customers who began bringing their friends for a little lunch in the millinery department.

Harry Selfridge recognized a profitable opportunity and convinced his boss to give it a try. Marshall Field's opened its first tea room in 1890 with five tables. In 1893, the tea room was expanded to the entire fourth floor. The tea room then served 1500 people a day. It was the first elegant, full-service dining establishment in a department store.

The building that houses the Walnut Room today opened in 1907. What became the Walnut Room also opened that year and was the largest restaurant on the seventh floor. It was originally called the South Grill Room but it was later renamed the Walnut Room for the warm wood paneling of Circassian walnut. In December of that year, the first Great Tree was delivered at night when the store was closed. For over five decades, the tree was a 45-foot real tree but in the early 1960, the store made the switch to an artificial tree.

Generations have made annual holiday visits to the Walnut Room to have lunch under the Great Tree and the nostalgic experience continues today.

Photos here (and text borrowed liberally from the same article): https://wendycitychicago.com/the-walnut-room-the-great-tree-at-marshall-fields/
Celebrating the Holidays in Chicago at the Historic Walnut Room: https://www.forbes.com/sites/judyko...-at-the-historic-walnut-room/?sh=62b592360043
Walnut Room Menus (including Mrs. Hering's Original Chicken Pot Pie): https://macysrestaurants.com/walnut-room/

Who are our Illinoisans/Chicagoans? Have you ever visited the Walnut Room?
 

jampss

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Oct 24, 2007
4,961
5,523
113
61
FL
Oh, how interesting and fun! Thanks for sharing. Loved looking at the tree pics through the years. It's a fun story ... one person can make a difference! :)
 

Lori K

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Nov 13, 2018
2,476
6,503
113
Illinois
I lived in Chicago (proper**) from 1979 to 2016 and worked downtown for 35 years, walking past Marshall Fields daily from 2003 to 2015. During the holidays, we'd always make a trip downtown to see the lights and Marshall Field windows. But, we were never able to secure a reservation to the Walnut Room. Weekends booked up months in advance, we both worked full time, and DD was in school until the week before Christmas. We always made it a point to spend a day downtown to view all of the windows and go inside to look at the big tree and do a little shopping, and perhaps pick out some candy from the confectionary on the lower level and a box of Frango mints to share on the ride home. The Macy's windows do not compare to Fields.

A Marshall Field memory -- We always celebrated Christmas Eve at DH's brother's home. His wife had 2 nieces close in age to my DD, so the kids always received a game or movie to watch, along with a gift of clothing. Mind you, the kids were growing fast, so clothing often came from today's equivlent of Target or WalMart When DD was 5 or 6, and we were opening packages, we all of the sudden hear her exclaim, "Look Mom, Marshall Fields!!!!" wide-eyed and holding up the lid to the gift box. My DSisIL had re-used some gift boxes, not realizing that my DD would recognize the logo at that young age. We all laughed and laughed, and we still talk about DD's love for Marshall Fields boxes,thanks to her DAunt. Several years ago, Macy's put out an anniversary collection of Marshall Fields-themed merchandise. DD got a coffee mug for herself, gifted one to me, and mailed one to her DAunt, now living in AZ (divorced from DBIL).

** DH worked for the City of Chicago for most of his career, so we had to live within the City boundaries and have a Chicago street address -- no PO boxes allowed.. We lived in the Beverly-Morgan Park neighborhood on the far southwest side. I've since moved to a suburban Chicago area. For just over 10 years, my office was on Michigan Avenue, one block south of the Chicago River.
 

AuntJamelle

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Oct 22, 2007
4,320
2,643
113
South Bend, IN
I've always heard about Marshall Field's but I had forgotten the stories about the Walnut Room! I do remember a Marshall Field's in our mall when I was very young and how fascinated I was by the restaurant they had there. It just seemed magical to me to find a place like that in the middle of shopping for clothes, etc.! I just have a vague memory of white tablecloths, dark wood and a low murmur of women talking...

It would be a great girls trip to visit the Walnut Room at Christmas time - will have to add that to my to do list!!!

Does anyone know how close you can get to Macy's with the South Shore train?
 

halimer

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Aug 30, 2008
6,986
8,047
113
Long Island, NY
When I was 6 my mother and I went to California by train to spend Christmas with mom's sister in LA. We had a 6 hour layover in Chicago and it was freezing cold.

My mom and I had lunch at Marshall Field's and then she took me to the movies and we saw Gentlemen Prefer Blonds with Marilyn Monroe.
 

Lori K

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Nov 13, 2018
2,476
6,503
113
Illinois
I've always heard about Marshall Field's but I had forgotten the stories about the Walnut Room! I do remember a Marshall Field's in our mall when I was very young and how fascinated I was by the restaurant they had there. It just seemed magical to me to find a place like that in the middle of shopping for clothes, etc.! I just have a vague memory of white tablecloths, dark wood and a low murmur of women talking...

It would be a great girls trip to visit the Walnut Room at Christmas time - will have to add that to my to do list!!!

Does anyone know how close you can get to Macy's with the South Shore train?
It's about a 4-block walk from the Millenium Park station. Keep in mind that the South Shore is under construction and bussing from Michigan City to Gary. Installing double-track in places where it was single-track only. So, if you come in, check the South Shore site.
 

MinnieCo

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Apr 10, 2008
3,677
1,342
113
54
I've never been to the Walnut room, but it does remind me of the Cafe I would go to with my grandmother on shopping days. My grandmother never learned to drive so once a week one of the employee interns at the family business would come and pick up my grandmother to run errands and get her hair done. As a kid having someone "chauffeur" us around made me feel so special!!! She'd get her hair done, go grocery shopping and stop at any other stores she found necessary that week. That also meant lunch out and on numerous occasions we'd stop at the cafe in one of the department stores. I can't remember if it was Marshall Fields or Neiman Marcus in Houston, but it was fancy....and my favorite was getting soft serve frozen yogurt with fresh fruit.
 

AuntJamelle

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Oct 22, 2007
4,320
2,643
113
South Bend, IN
It's about a 4-block walk from the Millenium Park station. Keep in mind that the South Shore is under construction and bussing from Michigan City to Gary. Installing double-track in places where it was single-track only. So, if you come in, check the South Shore site.
THANK you for this info!!!
 
  • Like
Reactions: PamelaG

sweetpumkinpye

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Apr 23, 2008
16,957
20,935
113
59
Canberra, Australia
What a wonderful article. It would be an amazing treat to be able to have a meal there
 
  • Like
Reactions: jampss and PamelaG

missjane

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Oct 13, 2007
8,838
6,323
113
Louisiana
I've always know of Marshall Fields, but never heard of the Walnut Room. Thank you, Pamela.

My great-aunt (my mom's aunt) used to work at a department store in downtown Monroe with a restaurant. As many of you said, it always felt so special to get to eat there. Good memories.
 

Holiday_Mom

Well-Known Member
Premiere Member
Sep 12, 2009
3,808
6,160
113
Thank you, Pamela. This was a new information for me. :)
 
  • Like
Reactions: jampss