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Chicago Merchandise Mart
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© Christine Till
Located in the heart of the city, on the north bank of the Chicago River, is the world's largest wholesale design centers and one of Chicago's premier international business locations - the Chicago Merchandise Mart, also called the Mart. When completed in 1931 Merchandise Mart held the title of the world's largest building but was dethroned in 1941 by the Pentagon in Washington, DC. However, even by today's standards Merchandise Mart is an immense office building. With 13.6 km (over 5 miles) of corridors it is still one of the largest commercial buildings in the world.
Construction started in 1923 in art deco / art moderne style for Marshall Field & Company (today e.g. Macy's) as a wholesale warehouse & store. Built OVER the NorthWestern railroad train tracks the Mart is among Chicago's first air rights developments. It is framed in steel and sheathed in a buff-colored Bedford (Indiana) limestone. It has a series of horizontal cornice lines, a central shaft and tower, corner bays capped with turrets, and green and gold accents. The central tower rises 7 stories above the 18-story mass. It is really a modified Art Deco style that was typical of the period. I always think of Carl Sandburg's description of Chicago as the "city of Big Shoulders" when I see the Merchandise Mart. The structure has a trapezoidal shape with a diagonal side on Orleans Street. Within the block it is honeycombed by several light courts. The lobby is decorated with 17 murals by Jules Guerin illustrating commerce around the world.
The building is one of the main investments that comes up when people talk about Joseph P. Kennedy's financial prowess - he purchased the building in 1945 for $12.5 million, and it was sold by the Kennedy family in 1998 for over $550 million in cash and shares of stock.
Home to 15 major trade and consumer shows as well as hundreds of meetings and special events, Merchandise Mart encompasses 4.2 million gross square feet, spans two city blocks and rises 25 stories, features retail shops, boutiques, radio and television studios, 10 floors of office space, and 11 floors of permanent showrooms. It is visited by 38,500 people each business day; in total, nearly 10 million people visit the Mart each year. One of the Mart's most notable customers was the Sultan of Brunei, who dropped $1.6 million here to furnish his entire palace. He claimed that this was the only place in the world where the task could be completed in one week.
The upper floors 4 - 12 are for "the trade" only, but the bottom two floors are open to the public. On a cold Chicago day I can't imagine a better place to get stuck. Try not to gasp when you find a sofa with a $22,000 price tag.
January 25th, 2013
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