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The Merchandise Mart was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. By sheer size, it was the largest building in the world upon completion in 1930. The building is a total of 4.2 million square feet and covers two city blocks. In fact, it was so large that it had its own zip code until 2008.
The Art Deco-style building is 18 stories in the wings and 25 stories high in the tower. The exterior is made from limestone, terracotta, and bronze. Use of vertical windows helps balance out the large horizontal building.
The Merchandise Mart was originally opened by Marshall Field's as a wholesale warehouse where retailers could buy stock. Unfortunately, the Great Depression ended Marshall Field's venture into wholesale. In 1945, the Kennedy family bought the property, and it remained in the family until it was acquired by Vornado Realty in 1998. In 1977, the Mart was expanded to include the Apparel Center to the west. The Apparel Center was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. A glass-enclosed pedestrian walkway, designed by Helmut Jahn in 1988, connects the two buildings.
Once mainly a center for wholesale furnishing showrooms, the Merchandise Mart now hosts a variety of wholesale and retail businesses. In 2012, 1871 (a tech hub founded to support Chicago tech and entrepreneurial innovators) was opened, making the building the home of hundreds of startups today.