Monday, February 23, 2015

Merchandise Mart, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger
 [Merchandise Mart, Chicago (1930) Alfred Shaw, Graham Anderson Probst & White, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Imagine lining-up 70 American football fields from end to end, then walking the entire five mile length from one end zone to the other, and you'd have some idea of the massive 4 million square feet of floor space that makes-up Chicago's Merchandise Mart. It was once the largest commercial building in the world, and came with its own U.S. postal zip code.
  [Merchandise Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1925 James Simpson, the president of Marshall Field & Co., began looking for a large piece of property in the city to build a warehouse and showroom facility. The Field company was not only a retailer, but a manufacturer and wholesaler. The company produced many of the items they sold in their retail operations as well as selling that product wholesale to other merchants around the country. By the mid-20s the enterprise had 13 warehouses and factories scattered around the city, including one designed in 1887 by famed Boston architect H.H. Richardson. Simpson's idea was that consolidating all the operations into one building made good business sense, plus renting-out space to other like-minded businesses would bring in additional income. So he called on his friend architect Ernest Graham to come up with a site and a building.
  [Chicago's Merchandise Mart /Image & Artwork: chicagodesignslinger]

The firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White was one of the country's premiere architectural firms. Ernest Graham had been dynamo architect Daniel Burnham's right-hand-man, and when Burnham died in 1912 Graham, along with other members of Burnham's team, formed the successor firm. Daniel Burnham and department store founder Marshall Field had first teamed-up in 1892 when Burnham built the first piece of what would eventually become the enormous Marshall Field & Co. store on State Street. The relationship didn't end with Field's death in 1906, or Burnham's, so when Simpson turned to Graham it was the continuation of a long standing relationship. At first the architect began looking at large chunks of land south and west of the Loop business district, but Simpson felt the site needed to be closer to the city center and Graham came up with the idea of locating the building on the site of the old Chicago & Northwestern Railroad passenger depot and its rail yard. The train line was still using the site for freight, and what better place to build a warehouse than over a network of railroad tracks with the potential to directly deliver goods to-and-from the site.
 [Merchandise Mart, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
There was a problem however. No one had ever used air rights to build so extensively above an operating rail line, and some of the members of the Illinois Commerce Commission weren't sure that this was such a great idea. But after months of hearings, studies and multiple votes, and perhaps the selection of a Chicago law firm with close ties to the city's notorious mayor "Big Bill" Thompson representing the Field interests, the Commission's commissioners voted in favor of air rights being given to the river adjacent site. And so it was that on a hot August day in 1928, construction began on the building that would eventually consume 3.8 million cubic yards of concrete and 380 miles of electric wiring, literally sucked through the conduit via a vacuum system. Art Deco was nearing the end of its popularity, but architect Alfred Shaw the lead designer on the project, used the genre's sleek characteristics to decorate the building, as well as use its slimming geometry to try and visually reduce the bulkiness of the mammoth structure.
Just five years after the building was completed the Field organization, under the management of its new president James D. McKinsey, decided it was time to get out of the wholesale business and began leasing more and more of the Mart's floor space to outside tenants. By the mid-1940s the company was looking to retire some outstanding debt and finally buy-out the last of the long-term land leases under their State Street store, which were about to expire. So to raise the cash, Field's sold the nearly 100% occupied building to Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future president. The Kennedy family held on to their capital producing investment until 1998 when they sold the property to a large real estate investment trust for cash and stock. So although they no longer own the Mart outright, they still maintain a financial interest in the building through their stock ownership in the trust company.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.