Marina City Hamstrung


(Photo: Could you make it upstairs at Marina City without elevators? This week, 1,500 residents almost found out for themselves. Credit: Steven Dahlman.)

Judging by early-April wind squeak in the walls of my Marina City high-rise home, spring has sprung. And as regular readers are well aware, with the change of any season generally comes yet another fire, flood, or legal controversy here at the corncobs.

The latest episode of Marina City Stupid is a real head-scratcher, though. Last weekend, the management company, Draper and Kramer, slipped a memo under all 900 apartment doors in Chicago’s most notorious twin towers. Our three-years-late annual elevator inspections were coming. And according to the memo, so were 16 hours without elevator service from the top of the 60-story residential towers right on down to the river level.

Starting at 7:30 a.m.–before most residents would leave for work. Ending eight hours later. Over two consecutive days. With no provision for apartment-floor access or egress other than walking down the stairs. Potentially all 60 flights of them.

I know what you may be thinking, “That can’t be right! They can’t cut all elevator service to a 550-foot tall apartment building and tell people to take the stairs!”And if you’re thinking that, you’ve obviously never lived at Marina City.

Last August, I and my colleagues at Marina City Online bemoaned the management company’s longstanding inability to write a coherent public memo to residents.  This week’s memos about the elevator shutoff–and there was a flurry of them–were no different. I give you, verbatim, the (as-usual) undated first memo slipped under our collective doors (emphasis in original):

Thursday April 9th and Friday April 10th

The City of Chicago and Thyssen Krupp Elevator Co. will be inspecting the elevators.

They start at 7:30am and will continue until 3:30pm. When the City performs their tests ALL elevators (both high-rise and low-rise) in a tower will be simultaneously sent to the guard level as each floor’s smoke detector is triggered.

Anticipate a 20 minute delay for the elevator to come to your floor.

During the middle of the afternoon, personnel from the City will inform residents when it is good to take an elevator up from the guard level.

Specifically, during this test, if an elevator stops to pick you up on your floor (to go down), you can expect that at some point the elevator will tell you it is “in fire service” and take you directly to the guard level, open the doors and rest there. You can get out and go about your business.

Also, if you get on an “Up Elevator” without authorization and start the climb – the elevator may go in to [sic] “fire service” and return you back to the guard level and open the doors and rest there.

Hence it could be frustrating to try to do laundry on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. And it would be inadvisable to use the bridge level (plaza level) for entry. Signs will be posted to enter via the guard level.

The front stairwell can be utilized for exit. But remember, rest every ten floors. Your hamstring muscles are not normally used to long downhill climbs.

Here’s what came immediately to my mind after reading the above verbally diarrheal description of what appears to be a train-wreck of an idea:

  • You’re kidding, right? How do you expect about 1,000 people to leave for work in the morning?
  • Will the elevators be out for the entire eight hours each day or in spits and spurts?
  • Why do all elevators (including the service elevator) need to be taken out of service simultaneously?
  • Do Chicago building and fire/life safety codes even allow the purposeful, total shutoff of elevator service in residential high-rises?
  • Points for almost threatening use of the adjectives frustrating and inadvisable. Bonus points for spelling them correctly.
  • Rest our hamstrings?! OMFG. Not only are you people serious, but you’re obviously out of your freaking minds. You’re telling a building with dozens of elderly residents to walk down 60 flights of stairs? You’re seriously telling anyone that?
  • I wonder what Marina City Online will say about this memo?
  • Wait, is this suckiness happening Thursday and Friday? Or Wednesday and Thursday? Your as-always lack of proofreading means some unlucky maintenance staffer will have to pass a revised memo under another 900 unit doors once you correct your glaring chronological typo.

Which, no surprise, is exactly what happened later in the day, followed by a third, reminder memo yesterday morning. What I did in response to the memo swarm, however, was a bit more unexpected.

I did nothing. For once, I decided not to complain (although Marina City Online actually had a grammar teacher grade the memo–see the marked-up memo here). After four years of condo board controversy and management company unprofessionalism, I’m tired of the constant battle. Instead, I’m considering leaving Marina City after this year.

I’m not the only unhappy resident, either. I know many other corncobbers–renters and owners both–who question their decision to move into a condo building beset by such ongoing, unending controversy. As far as I’m concerned, the longtime-coming answer to the question I hear over and over from my readers seems increasingly clear.

You frequently ask me, “Should I move to Marina City?” Given my experience here, no, in my opinion I really don’t think you should. Not unless a.) you think nothing I’ve ever written about the place is true, or b.) you’re a masochist. (And really, if your answer’s b., you’re better off heading to your nearest leather bar and going home to a less-controversial condo tower).

Ultimately, the elevator shutoffs never came to pass. Though I sat silently, apparently many of my neighbors did not. According to building staffers I spoke with late Wednesday, Draper and Kramer called off the inspections after a multitude of residents came or called downstairs to complain, argue, or otherwise (and for once) say, “No!”

The cancellation memo posted throughout Marina City last night–curiously not on Draper and Kramer letterhead–was somewhat more disingenuous:


The City cancelled [sic] the elevator inspection scheduled Thursday and Friday of this week. Management will advise when the date is rescheduled.

We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

The Management Office

That cancellation by the city probably comes as a shock to those building staffers who told me the kibbosh came from elsewhere. And I really got a kick out of an official apology for not cutting off our elevator service. Seems to me, what 900 apartments of people are really owed is an apology for floating such a bone-headed idea in the first place.

As I headed up to my apartment Wednesday night, a neighbor stopped me in the lobby to complain about our latest homegrown controversy. “No elevators at all?” he groused. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. Have you?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I know a place where it happens all the time.”

It’s called Cabrini.

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