Commerce and Industry, Cultural Heritage and Traditions

Christmas at Marshall Field’s Walnut Room

By: CHM Staff
Dec 18 2020

Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at the Marshall Field’s State Street store, Chicago, December 24, 1959. CHM, ICHi-017139; Clarence W. Hines, photographer

The Marshall Field & Co. department store (now Macy’s) has always gone big for the Christmas holiday, with the annual Great Tree, animated holiday windows, and the forty-two trumpets along State Street. Along with the décor, a visit to their Walnut Room is part of a Chicago holiday tradition.  

The Walnut Room is the flagship restaurant of what is now Macy’s in downtown Chicago at State and Washington Streets. The building opened in 1907, and the Walnut Room existed from the start, though it was initially named the South Grill Room. Eventually, the restaurant was renamed for its Circassian walnut paneling, though the exact date of the switch is unclear.

Four pages of menu from the Walnut Room
Menu for the Walnut Room at the Marshall Field’s State Street store, Chicago, December 2, 1948. CHM, ICHi-075639, ICHi-075640, ICHi-075641, ICHi-075642; Gift of Target Stores.

For decades, hungry shoppers have enjoyed favorites such as millinery clerk Mrs. Hering’s chicken pot pie, which she started serving in an earlier Field’s restaurant in 1890. At the turn of the twentieth century, restaurants and other leisure spaces in high-end department stores became acceptable places for middle and upper-class white women to spend time outside of the home and meet and dine with friends and family.

Furthermore, department stores served as “respectable” employment for women, giving them an opportunity to become wage earners, though as the opening chapters of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie point out, employment was still limited to white women with certain clothes and manners. Still, the growing popularity of the Walnut Room and Marshall Field & Co. allowed a degree of economic freedom for certain women and social freedom for others.

The special atmosphere and food have ensured the Walnut Room remains a nostalgic favorite for generations of Chicagoans, especially during the Christmas season.

Trace the city’s evolution from meatpacking capital to foodie paradise through our Google Arts & Culture exhibit Touring Chicago’s Culinary History. 

Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture is an online platform that puts the treasures, stories, and knowledge of more than 2,000 cultural institutions from eighty countries at your fingertips. The Chicago History Museum’s portal includes stories from throughout the city’s history. Peruse the designs of Chicago-born couturier Mainbocher, learn about the work of civil rights leader Reverend J. H. Jackson, and so much more!  


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