Marina City Online is a news and information website covering the Loop and River North neighborhoods of downtown Chicago.

By Steven Dahlman

32,873 words • 329 images

TitleTime FrameUpdated
Introduction1. Introduction

The story of Chicago’s Marina City does not end in the 1960s. After it was built, people moved in – and kept the story going through good times and bad. Marina City is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. It may be an important part of Chicago’s past but it is still relevant today. It is not just a Chicago icon. It is Chicago.

A blank slate2. A blank slate

The Great Chicago Fire. To understand how Marina City and all of Chicago’s unique architecture took shape, we have to be familiar with the most significant event in Chicago architecture – the time the city was almost destroyed.

Slowing the suburban exodus3. Slowing the suburban exodus

The post-war exodus to the suburbs was a trend no little plan could fix.

Bertrand Goldberg’s meandering path to Marina City4. Bertrand Goldberg’s meandering path to Marina City

You really have to wonder if Marina City would have existed at all had its architect not very nearly been blown up in 1942.

Planning begins5. Planning begins

They were wrong about the price, number of buildings, number of floors, number of apartments, and number of boats. And there were going to be other complexes just like it in seven other cities. But “Marina City” is announced to the world. The name sticks, despite the architect wanting to call it something else.

A brief history of 300 North State Street6. A brief history of 300 North State Street

The land on which Marina City would be built. Every owner of Chicago’s Block 1, from the king of Cobweb Castle to the railroad that sold it to Marina City.

19th & Early 20th Century8-Jun-14
The shape of things to come7. The shape of things to come

The inspiration for cylindrical towers most likely came from a railroad car.

$2.5 million buys the lot and railroad tracks8. $2.5 million buys the lot and railroad tracks

The 135,000 square foot lot in downtown Chicago came with its own railroad tracks.

A mixed-use laboratory9. A mixed-use laboratory

It is February 29, 1960, and Marina City is coming into focus.

Paying for Marina City10. Paying for Marina City

Two-thirds of Marina City’s income would go to pay back investors. The rest would have to cover operating expenses. This was not going to end well.

Groundbreaking11. Groundbreaking

It must have been fun. Hundreds of people in a circus tent on State Street. A phone call from president-elect Kennedy. Mayor Daley riding on construction equipment. They could have plumb forgot to break ground on a $36 million project to revolutionize urban housing.

Laying the foundation12. Laying the foundation

As complex as Marina City was above ground, it was going to be challenging underneath, too. Fortunately, the foundation consultant was “the godfather of soil mechanics.”

Marina City starts to rise13. Marina City starts to rise

March 1961. With an appetite for concrete and glass, Marina City starts to rise. Crews work in a continuous 48-hour cycle. When they get good at that pace, the construction schedule accelerates. Good thing they had mullions.

$5 million for two garages14. $5 million for two garages

The 18-story spiral parking ramps get its first manager, the first car drives up the east tower ramp, and how to ride a manlift.

43-story plunge15. 43-story plunge

The first fatalities during the construction of Marina City.

The 16-story fence16. The 16-story fence

Bertrand Goldberg described the 16-story office building on the north edge of the site as a fence, separating Marina City from “the slum property to the north.”

Topping out17. Topping out

On Marina City’s one year anniversary, a “topping out” ceremony is held to note the last bucket of concrete making the core of the east tower the tallest concrete structure in the world.

Tower on top of tower18. Tower on top of tower

On December 1, 1961, a 12-foot-tall double-barred cross weighing 600 pounds is hoisted to the 53rd floor of Marina City’s east tower to promote Christmas Seals. It becomes the first in a long history of things that have been built on top of the towers.

Clarence Ekstrom, McHugh Project Manager19. Clarence Ekstrom, McHugh Project Manager

The architectural plans were not quite finished. The forms for the concrete had unusual shapes. There were no barriers to catch anything or anyone who fell. In the morning, he climbed the tower crane to check the wind. By evening, he got a diverse mix of union contractors to agree on a schedule. It was all in a day’s work for Clarence Ekstrom, project manager for McHugh Construction Company on the job building the nation’s tallest apartment building.

Mock-ups and models20. Mock-ups and models

It’s hard to imagine today an 896-unit apartment complex – that isn’t even open yet – receiving 3,500 rental applications. Even tougher to imagine that despite such demand, the rental agent spending $400,000 to show prospective tenants what two of the units will look like.

First fires, and Marina City sinks its first bridge21. First fires, and Marina City sinks its first bridge

Residents of Marina City in 1962-63 have to put up with construction throughout the complex and the occasional small fire.

The world anxiously waits22. The world anxiously waits

In early 1962, news outlets around the world eagerly watched Marina City take shape – Life magazine, Time, even Weekly Reader.

Seven injured in second accident23. Seven injured in second accident

In 1962 it was not safe, not legal, but not uncommon for construction workers to ride hoists intended for lifting materials. At Marina City on June 19, this was costly as seven workers fell ten stories when a gear shaft holding a hoist broke.

Banking on Marina City24. Banking on Marina City

Started with $2 million, Marina City Bank had $12 million in deposits within two years. And it had a Teleview Teller, the 1960s version of an ATM.

Another worker falls25. Another worker falls1962-6330-Jun-14
National Design Center signs lease26. National Design Center signs lease

Before Merchandise Mart became paradise for professional decorators and the do-it-yourself crowd, Marina City was where they went. The National Design Center, where BIN 36 is currently located, offered three floors of home furnishings, fabrics, appliances, decorative items, and building products.

Moving Day27. Moving Day

Daniel and Jo Ann Aguilar thought they were going to be the first residents to move into Marina City on October 14, 1962. They must have been very surprised to arrive and be greeted by their neighbor, Louise Hance, who got there first.

Star map buried28. Star map buried

Two years to the day after the groundbreaking ceremony, on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1962, dignitaries gathered again at Marina City. This time, to bury into the foundation a celestial map showing the position of the stars and planets when ground was broken two years earlier.

The pioneers29. The pioneers

3,500 people wanted a slice of Marina City but only 896 pie-shaped apartments were available. The lucky ones moved in to new apartments between October 14, 1962, and December 23, 1964. They walked across muddy wooden planks, through common areas lit by bare bulbs and heated using butane tanks, to get to their apartments. No laundry room, storage areas, or even mailboxes. The hallways were cold and damp from the concrete that had not yet cured. And then there was the time one of the butane tanks exploded.

Desperate burglars steal doorknobs30. Desperate burglars steal doorknobs

Burglary reached new heights.

Hilton signs on to run the first restaurant31. Hilton signs on to run the first restaurant

Whether you ate at Galley & Grog, which had a bar made of wine barrels, the more formal Parlours with its crystal chandeliers, Viennese Coffee Shop with its red and white striped ice cream parlor chairs, or Pier Too where the servers wore Mandarin dresses, you wanted to be at Ship’s Lounge, a bar built like a ship, at 5:30 p.m. when the bell rang.

Marina City’s theatrical flourish32. Marina City’s theatrical flourish

A fan of the arts, Bertrand Goldberg had high hopes for his theater building on the Dearborn side of Marina City. It would be designed for live, modern theater “for the next generation,” and have a state-of-the-art sound system. He was hoping the Goodman Theatre could be lured to Marina City.

The incredible shrinking marina33. The incredible shrinking marina

All that separated the marina at Marina City from the Chicago River was a 280-foot-long concrete and steel seawall. For a few days in 1963, beginning on November 27, the riverfront was punctuated with blasts from 80 pounds of dynamite used to blow the seawall out of the water.

Closer Look: The Teleview Teller34. Closer Look: The Teleview Teller

P. J. Hoff braves the cold to try the Teleview Teller at Marina City. And 350 North State Street through the years.

Battle for control of Marina City35. Battle for control of Marina City

William McFetridge was ok with not being president of the Building Service Employees International Union. He could get by without a consulting job that paid today’s equivalent of $115,000. He just didn’t want to give up control of Marina City. The deal he offered the union was this – all or nothing.

From Marina City36. From Marina City

Marina City’s first newsletter issues covered the movie that had recently been filmed there, a marina that could launch a boat in five minutes, how many people lived at Marina City and how much money they made.

Meet Mike Kobluk: Former Marina City resident and voice of a generation37. Meet Mike Kobluk: Former Marina City resident and voice of a generation

Meet Mike Kobluk. When he lived at Marina City from 1963 to 1967, he captured some quality images of not just Marina City in the skating rink days but a surrounding neighborhood long before its skyscrapers. As a photographer, he was quite competent and perhaps he should have pursued that further. But no, he was probably too busy singing as a founding member of Chad Mitchell Trio.

The executive board decides38. The executive board decides

William McFetridge. The union that built Marina City gets out of the real estate business, selling to Charles Swibel for today’s equivalent of $20 million. Peanuts compared to what his company still owes on the mortgage, $136 million in 2014 dollars.

Marina City Promenade39. Marina City Promenade

A benefit during which the public could tour Marina City.

‘Downtown at Marina City, it’s 30 degrees at WCFL’40. ‘Downtown at Marina City, it’s 30 degrees at WCFL’

Bob Dearborn, Dick Biondi, Dick Orkin, Larry Lujack, Wolfman Jack. These radio legends all worked at Marina City at one time. From 1964 to 1987, through four music formats, WCFL fought Chicago radio ratings wars from the top floor of what is now Hotel Chicago.

Life In The Round41. Life In The Round

The November 1964 issue of Ebony included articles on jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and Marina City, where its ultra-modern housing was a “radical departure from conventional apartment living.” Life In The Round followed six African-Americans living at Marina City, including real estate broker Albert Gaskin and grade school teacher Geraldine Johnson.

Dinner this Evening at Marina City Restaurants42. Dinner this Evening at Marina City Restaurants

Marina City restaurant wedding dinner menu presented to Larry and Carolyn Lorren, married on November 28, 1964.

Bertrand Goldberg on the architect, in his own voice43. Bertrand Goldberg on the architect, in his own voice

What did Bertrand Goldberg sound like?

Marina City strikes deal for bowling alley44. Marina City strikes deal for bowling alley

William Spencer signs $1 million lease for 38 lanes.

Marina City stars in its first movie45. Marina City stars in its first movie

Goldstein was Philip (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry & June) Kaufman’s first film and it included scenes at Marina City.

Mickey One46. Mickey One

Marina City’s second movie. The film starred Warren Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the Detroit Mob for Chicago. (Yes, you read that correctly.) It is considered a cult classic today.

Station of Tomorrow47. Station of Tomorrow

WFLD, one of Chicago’s five UHF channels and located at Marina City.

“Things to see and do at Marina City”48. “Things to see and do at Marina City”Late 19647-Dec-14
Explosion of The Unbearables49. Explosion of The Unbearables

A 35-foot cabin cruiser explodes and burns in Marina City’s marina.

Polyphony II50. Polyphony II

12-foot sculpture on the plaza.

Richard Hauff, Marina City resident and a ‘friend of ours’51. Richard Hauff, Marina City resident and a ‘friend of ours’

Richard Hauff. Marina City’s first mobster.

Murray The Camel52. Murray The Camel

The sad story of Murray “The Camel” Humphreys, mobster and high-rolling apartment dweller. His run from justice ended on the 51st floor of Marina City’s east tower, on the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner.

Ten-year-old boat thief foiled before reaching Cleveland53. Ten-year-old boat thief foiled before reaching Cleveland

William Blasio steals a boat after school but does not get far.

You Live Better Electrically54. You Live Better Electrically19658-Dec-14
Marina City: The Brochure55. Marina City: The Brochure196620-Dec-14
Skating around Marina City56. Skating around Marina City

In the 1960s, shopping malls were becoming not just retail centers, but places of recreation. Ice skating rinks were the latest thing and so, naturally, Marina City had to have one.

Flying down with the garbage57. Flying down with the garbage

Michael Leonard, garbage wrangler.. Think your job is tough? We found a guy who used to climb into garbage at Marina City to free stuck refuse. It was dirty, dangerous work and made his job later on NBC’s The Today Show seem almost easy.


Number of pages: 57