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> Upon its completion in 1930, it was the largest building in the world. It even had its own zip code for several years.
> The building is over two blocks long and currently hosts various retail and wholesale businesses.
> The building was part of the Kennedy Family real estate portfolio until it sold in 1998.
> It was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & Wright for Marshall Field's.
Merchandise Mart was built by Alfred P. Shaw of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White in 1930 for retail magnate Marshall Field. The building is a whopping 4.2 million square feet and it spans two city blocks. It once served as the warehouse for Marshall Field's wholesale operation.
The building blends elements from three sources: warehouses, skyscrapers, and department stores. The wings of the buildings have 18 stories and the center has 25. It's done entirely in the Art Deco style with an exterior of limestone, terra cotta, and bronze. The 1920s was an era of optimism in Chicago, which reflects in the architectural choices of the time. Although Shaw's designs were done in the Art Deco style, his particular designs were known for a more subtle type of elegance. Aside from its size, the Mart fits this description. The lobby of the Mart has eight square marble piers, a terrazzo floor, and columns featuring a chevron motif. There is an arcade throughout the building that resembles a modern street rather than the interior of a building. It's fully outfitted with various shops and services.
Some of the building's distinctive exterior moldings, Indian Chief stone head carvings as an example, were replaced in the 1950s. The Indian Chiefs were removed and replaced with concrete plates. Some of the carvings were later found in a suburban backyard and auctioned off in 2014. The interior is classic Art Deco style, with murals by Jules Guerin. As the Merchandise Mart has historically been a center for commerce, its fitting that Guerin's murals depict scenes of international commerce. Today, the Mart is one of the leading centers for tech innovation in Chicago.
Like the Civic Opera House, the building was splendid when it opened, but it didn't have ideal timing. After the stock market crash and the Great Depression, it wasn't long before Marshall Field's was out of the wholesale business. It was sold to the Kennedy family in 1945. In 1953, Joseph Kennedy commissioned eight bronze busts of outstanding American merchants to be constructed, and they now rest on pedestals outside the building, lining the Chicago River. The Kennedys held onto the property until 1998 when it was sold to Vornado Realty Trust, and today the building home to much of Chicago's tech innovation. It is still the world's largest commercial building and the largest wholesale design center.
In September of 2018, this building became the backdrop for Chicago's Art on the Mart installation. The large scale digital art piece uses 32 projectors to mount a series of ongoing pieces of art on the building's facade. Art will be displayed 5 days a week from March to December for two hours each night.
Cover image source: Phil Roeder, CC BY 2.0, No changes made