Reflecting on Marina City

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(Photo credit: Looper downtown Chicago photoblog).

…or everything you always wanted to know about 300 N. State Street, Chicago, IL but didn’t know whom to ask. Irrespective of the scandals that have plagued this place on and off for the past four decades, Marina City still represents a stunning achievement in mid-century architectural design and urban planning. Although periodic corruption investigations can make it hard to be proud to be a Marina Citizen, a reading of the rich history of the place and its reason for being is more than a sure antidote. I give you a trove of links to the best information sources available on the Net about my curiously corncobbed home.

While a simple Google search will pull up the woefully dated website of Marina City’s resident (and apparently “Not affiliated with the Marina Towers Condominium Association”) realty office, Marina Management, there are much, much better sources of information out there (although points for the useful if crudely hand-drawn and too-small-to-read tower floorplans).

Hands down, the best overall history of the building is given in Architect Bertrand Goldberg’s own words, in an extraordinary and detailed interview transcript available from the website of the Art Institute of Chicago. Here, you’ll learn the architectural import of the buildings as a modernist alternative to boxy Miesianism. You’ll also learn about the initial union scandals that set Marina City on the road to being a development plagued with corruption long before a shovel hit the ground.

The Architech Gallery offers a shorter by highly detailed biography of Bertrand Goldberg, as well as the transcript of a 1959 speech given by Goldberg about the plan for Marina City, and a gallery page about the place, all of which include pre- and post-construction drawings and photos of Marina City and other of Goldeberg’s projects.

This Wikipedia article gives perhaps the most accurate one-pager snapshot of Marina City, great for introducing uninitiated friends and relatives to the concept–and layout–of the corncobs, and for learning the development’s importance to latter-20th Century urban planning. An equally good snapshot article about the towers can be found at Jetset Modern, this one with groovy color photos.

Even groovier, check out these blasts from the past: photos of the old broadcasting antennas atop West Tower from ScottChilders.com.

While I’m on the image bandwagon, for stunning shots taken from the towers, view the twilight shots taken from East Tower’s 61st-floor roofdeck during summer 2005 by Devyn Caldwell, posted in abbreviated format on his Looper website, and in full on this SkycraperCity.com forum posting.

Lesser known are the archives of the Chicago Historical Society. A search on “Marina City” turns up a variety of photographic holdings, mostly Hedrick Blessing images. You can browse their research center for policies on viewing the collection (thanks for the heads up, BM).

But perhaps littlest known are the holdings of the Municipal Reference Desk of the Chicago Public Library, on the 5th floor of the CPL’s main Harold Washington Library Center at State and Van Buren. Two very cool items are available to view in person (sorry, no web images available).

The first item, from 1962, is an original oversized rental prospectus (no call number, but ask for the Marina City Management Corporation records under subject Ch XA.213), including the original rental application form, details of the original rents of each apartment tier and the original building amenities, and floorplans with little carboard cutouts of furniture to prove that any type of furniture can fit in the corncobs’ wedge-shaped apartments.

The other publication available to view is a bound, pre-construction public relations brochure (call number Cz X .2113 B93) published by the Service Employees’ International Union, Marina City’s original developer, which details amenties that, alas, never came to pass (such as the 200-slip underground Marina).

Finally, for the record, a pet peeve. Marina Towers is the name of the condo association, and the unofficial shorthand monicker used to refer to the buildings–even by Goldberg, himself–during construction. It stuck.

It’s wrong.

I live, proudly, in Marina City.

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Read more about Marina City in my Marina City archives.

Read about the Gary S. Kimmel prostitution scandal at Marina City in my Gary Kimmel Scandal archives.

Read more about life in downtown Chicago on my main page.

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