One of the most important complex of buildings in Chicago's history, Marina City, best known for the iconic, 578-feet-tall twin "corncob" towers that have become an icon of the city throughout the world. One of the first true mixed-use develoments, it included an office building that is now the 367 room House of Blues Hotel. The House of Blues, itself, occupies the complex's theater. Marina City was the starting point of the back to the city movement that has revitalized Chicago's North Loop. The original skating rink is now a Smith and Wollensky steakhouse, but the complex still includes shops, restaurants, a health club a bowling alley, and a marina on the Chicago River. In October, recreating a stunt from Steve McQueen's last film, The Hunter, a car was driven off the 17th floor and crashed into the river below for an upcoming commercial for Allstate Insurance.
This past February, all of Marina City except for the 40 floors of condos was acquired for $114,500,000 by LaSalle Hotel Properties of Bethesda, Maryland. The deal included 896 parking spaces over 17 lower floors, plus 115,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. The new owner has big plans for the complex, but its first step, has been an unfortunate repainting of the lower floors of the HOB Hotel in dark colors of the kind usually associated with back alley loading docks.
Marina City is one of a large number of essential Chicago buildings, including Bertrand Goldberg's cloverleaf-towered Prentice Hospital (which will close when a new hospital opens next year) that have no landmark protection. It clearly meets all seven of the criteria required for landmark designation:
1. Critical Part of City's Heritage - first mixed use complex, the keystone to revitalization of the city's North Loop.If Marina City isn't a landmark, no building is.
2. Significant Historic Event - As if Steve McQueen driving a car off it weren't enough, it has also been home to WCFL, which battled WLS in the 1960's to define rock radio.
3. Significant Person - Marina City was the result of the teamwork of Richard J. Daley, union leader William McFetridge, and Lewis Hill to reinvigorate the city and keep good union jobs in existence.
4. Important Architecture - Marina City is one of the most iconic, instantly recognized buildings in the world.
5. Important Architect - Bertrand Goldberg
6. Distinctive Theme as a District - the original focus of the back to the city movement, and unique reinvention of Miesian principles with the freer forms of Le Corbusier, as expressed through Goldberg's own unique genius.
7. Unique Visual Feature - see picture accompanying this posting.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has three new members, and how they respond to this effort to begin to protect the city's modernist heritage will tell us a lot about the Commissions future direction and effectiveness. It will also be interesting to see what kind of stand will be taken by Alderman Burton Natarus, whose 42nd ward includes Marina City. In the past, he's been a vocal opponent of forcing landmark designation on reluctant owners, but whatever stand he takes will inevitably become an issue in his campaign for re-election early next year.
The 11:00 A.M. session on Thursday, December 7th is designed to received input for possible Chicago landmark designations. It will take place in Room 1600 at 33 N. LaSalle and is open to the public.