THE BIOGRAPHY OF CHICAGO’S MARINA CITY
Written by Steven Dahlman

Who built Marina City?

Wayne State University

William McFetridge (left) in 1962 with SEIU officer Albert Hearn. Courtesy of the Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

The Investor

William L. McFetridge (1893-1969) was president of Building Service Employees Union (BSEU) from 1940 to 1960. His union, made up of janitors, elevator operators, and window washers, financed the development of Marina City.

Born in Chicago, McFetridge quit school at age 13 to work as an office boy for Milwaukee Road railway. He eventually graduated from high school and earned a law degree.

McFetridge was a nephew of the founding president of BSEU, who hired him as an investigator for Flat Janitors Local 1. He was elected president of the local in 1923. He was elected Third Vice President of BSEU in 1927, and First Vice President in 1930.

In 1937, McFetridge was the most senior local union president and considered a front-runner for the presidency of BSEU. He lost, however, to another local union president, George Scalise, who allegedly had connections to the Chicago Mob. Scalise was eventually convicted of bribery, embezzlement, and labor racketeering. McFetridge was elected to replace him in 1940.

McFetridge helped modernize the finances at the international union’s headquarters. As the BSEU expanded from apartments and office buildings to airports, nuclear power plants, hospitals, and schools, membership grew from 70,000 to 275,000.

In 1944, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He was a close friend of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

In 1950, McFetridge was elected a vice president of the American Federation of Labor. When the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1955, he was elected a vice president of that organization.

When he retired as president of BSEU in 1960, he returned to Local 1 and was elected president. He continued to have influence over BSEU and got the union to invest pension funds into the development of Marina City. After retiring as Local 1 president, he served on the AFL-CIO executive council until 1965.

In 1968, the Building Service Employees Union became the Service Employees International Union. Its affiliation with the AFL-CIO lasted many years.

To Howard Swibel, the son of Charles Swibel, McFetridge was known as “Uncle Bill.” Howard describes McFetridge as “the quiet type.” His wife, Barbara, “was a little more outgoing.”

“I was like their godson. He had a beautiful home on the ocean in Boca Ratan, Florida. We spent time down there. My father sort of said to me, ‘You’ve got to be very nice to this man because he’s lonely and he doesn’t have his own grandchildren and you’ve got to be like his grandchild.’ So I played the role of his grandson. And he was a nice man. I remember how close my father was to him. Almost like a father-son relationship.”

Charles Swibel

Three portraits of Charles Swibel at approximate ages 30, 40, and 50.

The Developer

Charles R. Swibel (1927-1990) was a real estate developer and president of Marina City Building Corporation when the complex was built. He was later president of Marina Management Corporation, the property manager.

According to his son, Charles Swibel did not know the actual date of his birth until he went back many years later to his hometown in Poland, a town called Wolvron. He found a copy of a school report card and the year of his birth was one year later than what he had thought it was.

Charles Swibel, who was Jewish, met William McFetridge, who was Catholic, probably in the early 1950s while promoting State of Israel Bonds, which are securities issued by the government of Israel. Swibel was chairman of their Chicago office and one year, State of Israel Bonds honored Auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop Bernard J. Sheil (1888-1969). “He met a lot of these people,” says Howard, “through that outreach in trying to coalesce the non-Jewish community by the state of Israel.”

Swibel and McFetridge would become better acquainted through Swibel’s work with the unions. “My father played an unusual role in the city,” Howard recalls. “One of the things he did was he was sort of the interface between Mayor Daley and the unions. He settled a lot of the strikes [like] the Teachers Stike. He was always dealing with Bill Lee, who was head of the [Chicago Federation of Labor], which was the umbrella organization of all of the labor unions. So he got to know these guys.”

Swibel is probably better known as chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority from 1963 to 1982. He was appointed a commissioner of the CHA in 1956 by Mayor Richard J. Daley. He resigned after a federal study found the CHA to be “operating in a state of profound confusion and disarray.”

Photograph by Torkel Korling

Bertrand Goldberg in 1952.

The Architect

Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) was the architect who designed Marina City. His company, Bertrand Goldberg Associates, relocated to Marina City after it was built, at one point occupying the entire sixth floor of the office building.

Goldberg’s career was modest before Marina City. “He had work but nothing of this scale,” recalls his son, Geoffrey.

He was hired by Charles Swibel and one of the reasons why, according to Swibel’s son, is because Goldberg was Jewish. “My father had a very strong sense of Jewish identity. He did not consider himself an artist. And he heard there was a young architect who was Jewish, and he was going to give an opportunity to a Jewish kid.”

Goldberg may have been long on talent, but recalls Howard Swibel, he was “not the best businessman. There were cost overruns and there were a lot of inefficiencies. The project ended up costing more than they anticipated. And my father used to blame [Goldberg] for that because the design and the estimates were not reliable.”

Copyright 1986 Thomas Yanul

(Above) Photograph by Thomas Yanul of Bertrand Goldberg Associates on December 19, 1986, their last day at Marina City. According to Yanul, the office moved the next day to the River City project. Bertrand Goldberg is in the center of the front row. His son, Geoffrey, is in the front row, third from left.

At the core of BGA were Ed Center (not in above photo because he had left the firm by then), Al Goers (still with BGA but absent when photo was taken), Richard Binfield (front row, fourth from left), and Ben Honda (front row at far right). Click on image to view larger version.

BGA operated from 1954 to 1997. During the design and construction of Marina City, the company expanded from ten people to more than 30, including ten architects and a full-time industrial model maker. By 1970, BGA had 50 employees and offices in Boston and, briefly, Palo Alto, California. During the 1970s, BGA grew to more than 100 people.

In 1985, the company started to downsize. Its last major work – that was built – was Wilbur Wright College, a city college in Chicago completed in 1992. After that, there were numerous proposals but none were constructed. BGA closed soon after Goldberg died in 1997.

(Below) Another view of Bertrand Goldberg Associates, circa 1965.

Bertrand Goldberg Associates

Ben Honda

Ben Honda from above photograph.

Ben Honda (1918-2005) was a noted architect with Bertrand Goldberg Associates. He spent 36 years with the firm (1961-1997) after graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology. Starting as chief draftsman, Honda’s first project with BGA was Marina City.

Before BGA, Honda worked at PACE Associates for nine years, on the 16th floor of the Monadnock building. Just before he was laid off, PACE was working on drawings for Marina City. Although he says he was fascinated by the design, Honda at that time did not believe Marina City would actually be built. “Too complicated,” he told interviewer Betty Blum in 1999.

His projects also include the renovation for the Japanese American Citizens League. He was born in California.

Ralph B. Peck

Ralph Peck

Dr. Ralph B. Peck (1911-2008) was the foundation consultant. He was professor emeritus of chemical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology and inventor of a process for removing air pollutants from coal. Peck worked on the Chicago subway project when he was 28 years old. He would eventually be known as “the godfather of soil mechanics.”

Other key people at BGA...

  • Although mainly a site planner for BGA, Al Goers was an architect and former student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as was Goldberg.
  • Richard Ayliffe Binfield (1915-1992) was the primary designer. He worked for BGA from 1959 to 1990. In addition to Marina City, he helped design River City, Astor Tower Hotel, Prentice Hospital, Raymond Hilliard Center, and several buildings at Harvard University Medical School.
  • Ed Center was an administrator, working with contractors to manage building materials, costs, construction methods, etc.

Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers were foundation engineers. Founded in New York in 1910, MRCE was the first firm in the United States to, according to its web site, “combine a geotechnical specialty with structural foundation design engineering.”

Severud Associates were the structural engineers. They were founded in New York in 1928. One of their other projects was Gateway Memorial Arch in St. Louis.

The general contractor was James McHugh Construction Company, founded in Chicago in 1897. McHugh also built the Arlington Park racetrack, Goodman Theatre, and Hotel Monaco.

Chicago-based Case Foundation Company was in charge of the caissons. Case started as a local drilled shaft contractor and is now a full-service deep foundation specialist.

Ryerson provided reinforcing steel. Founded in 1842 as Joseph T. Ryerson & Son, Inc., the company is a leading distributor and processor of metals in North America.

Marina City site plan

Also...

  • Electric Elevators: Otis Elevator Company
  • Electrical Equipment & Appliances: General Electric Company
  • Electrical: Fischbach, Moore & Morrissey Inc., Gerson Electric Construction Company
  • General work: Brighton Construction Co.
  • Heating & Refrigeration: Economy Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc., National Heat & Power Co. Inc.
  • Hydraulic Elevators: Gallagher & Speck, Inc.
  • Landscape architect: Alfred Caldwell
  • Plumbing & Fire Protection: Thos. H. Litvin Plumbing Company
  • Ready Mixed Concrete: Material Service
  • Seawall demolition: Precision Blasting
  • Ventilation: Climatemp Inc., H.S. Kaiser Company

(Left) Marina City site plan by Bertrand Goldberg Associates, obtained from The Archive of Bertrand Goldberg. View site plan as Adobe Acrobat Document.

Last updated 15-Oct-11