Saturday, May 3, 2014

Marina City Takes New York City -- May 3, 1960

Marina City Changes the Game (JWB Photo)
Something interesting was happening In New York City on this date, May 3, of 1960.  The President of the Building Services Employees International union, William McFetridge, was in town to address the delegates of the union’s twelfth annual convention.  Standing next to a scale model of the project that would become Marina City, Mr. Mcfetridge said, “We have every reason to believe we will make a go of this venture even though all the details haven’t been ironed out.”  [Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1960]

The day before Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had invited Mr. McFetridge and the union to bring their bucks to New York City in order to undertake a project similar to the twin towers that would make up the Chicago project.  “And I wouldn’t mind at all if it proved to be bigger than Rockefeller center,” the governor said.  [Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1960]

Plans for Marina City had begun in the late 1950’s and were revealed in September of 1959 when Mr. McFetridge said that the project in Chicago would “be a pilot project in a national program of using union reserve funds to help insure the future of the downtown areas in major cities.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1959]  

Spurred by a twofold impetus, the fact that most of the 250,000 members of the Service Employees’ union depended on work in the cores of major cities and in Chicago, specifically, the beginning of a year-old plan for downtown redevelopment totaling $1,500,000,000, the Marina City project was hyped from the beginning.  

Marina City seen from the penthouse of its taller neighbor, Trump Tower (JWB Photo)
Back in 1959 the towers were projected to rise 40 stories, contain 1,500 apartments, provide space for 1,000 motor boats, 400 cars and have an auditorium that would seat 1,000 people.  Rent for an efficiency apartment was to be $125 a month with one-bedroom apartments going for $165 and two-bedroom units renting for $210.  The city’s Commissioner of Planning, Ira Bach, said at the announcement of the plans in 1959, “This building complex will serve as a strong anchor and stimulant to the redevelopment program for the central area.”

Two days later a Tribune editorial echoed Mr. Bach’s comments, “Marina City should be welcomed, not only because its 40 story towers will be a spectacular addition to the Chicago skyline, but because it should encourage similar developments on the near north side.  Downtown Chicago carries so much of the city’s tax load that its economic health is of great importance.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 17, 1959]

Plans begin to fall into place in December of 1959 as the Chicago Title and Trust company issued its five millionth title insurance policy for the block of real estate that the Building Service Employees International union had purchased from the Chicago and North Western railroad on the north bank of the river between State and Dearborn streets, most of “Block 1” in the original plat for the city.  [Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1959]

Just in front of the billboard in this 1944
photo is where Marina City would end up (the collection of Charles W. Cushman)
The railroad had owned the property for a century, and it was on this site that the log cabin of Dr. Alexander Wolcott, a government Indian agent, built  near the cabin of John Kinzie.  The price for the land on which Marina City stands today was pegged at three million dollars when the railroad unloaded it.

As plans were refined the original design for the project changed.  It grew taller – from 40 to 60 stories – making it the tallest housing structure in the world and the fourth highest building in Chicago.  The first five floors would be used for entrances, service facilities, and stores with the next 14 floors providing space for 900 cars.  There would be 256 efficiency units, 576 one- bedroom units, and 64 two-bedroom units.  There would be space available for 700 small pleasure boats.

These plans would also change as the design was refined.

In July of 1960 the financing for the project was in place.  In case of default he Federal Housing Administration committed to insuring the $17,819,100 mortgage for the residential portion of the 36 million dollar project.  This was the largest commitment issued by the F.H.A. up to that time.  Dovenmuehle Inc. issued a mortgage loan with a 39 years term at 5.25 percent interest.  A separate mortgage was secured on the commercial section of the project and the other half of the cost of the residential towers came from private sources, principally the Building Service Employees union.  [marinacityonline.com]

Mayor Daley exchanges a handshake with Cardinal Bernard Sheil at
the groundbreaking ceremony.  Bertrand Goldberg is the man with the big smile.
(marinacityonline.com)
The Groundbreaking ceremony took place on November 22, 1960 and included a phone call from the newly elected President of the United State, John F. Kennedy, who probably figured he owed Mayor Daley the courtesy of a chat after the closely contested election.

And the distinctive towers began to rise.  The construction was not without trouble.  Three workers were killed in September of 1961 in a 43-story fall in the collapse of part of a form that they were helping to raise.  In June of that year seven workers were injured when a construction hoist fell ten floors.  There were several small fires, including one in which butane tanks being used to dry new concrete exploded in the west tower stairwell.  Even the home of the building’s developer, Charles r. Sweibel, was robbed while the family was off boating.

Less than two years after the groundbreaking ceremony the first tenant moved into Apartment 2135 in the east tower.  Daniel Aguilar, 28-years-old, and his wife, Jo, were the first tenants in the highest residential building in the world, a building that began to redefine the way Chicagoans looked at the core of their city.   [Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1962]

In an essay that was published by the Museum of Science and Industry Marina City’s architect, Bertrand Goldberg, said, “in the Marina City forms. I made it possible for people to participate in community formation. Both in the use of space and in the form of space I discovered that behavior can be influenced by the shape of space. The faceless anonymity of the corporate box which we had used for the buildings for our government, our health, our education, our business and our living, I discovered could be replaced more effectively by a new development of architectural structure and forms that supported its use by people.”  [Goldberg, Bertrand.  “Rich is Right.”  March 4, 1986]


I like to think that Chicago is a people place, and Marina City is, if it is anything else, first and foremost a place for people, a place that provides those people with one of the most breath-taking views of the city that can be found.

Still impressive trend-setters (JWB Photo)

No comments: