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|rendering of entrance lobby renovation|
The irony of all this, of course, is none of these bulldozing power brokers who profess such love for Marina City have lifted a finger to give it landmark protection, allowing the indignities foisted upon this global symbol of the greatness of Chicago to continue unabated. (Disclosure: I am a long-time Marina City resident.)
Making it a bit more complicated is that Marina City is among a number of huge multi-use developments under split ownership. In the case of an extreme example, the John Hancock Center, the office, retail, observation deck and condo portions all have different owners, and last November the rooftop and antenna were sold off to still another entity for $70 million.
The basic split at Marina City came in the 1970's, when the rental building was converted to condominiums The office building, theater, and lower 20 parking floors of the twin towers were spun off to a separate owner who oversaw a downward spiral that soon landed those holdings in housing court as, essentially, an abandoned building. When new ownership revived the commercial part of Marina City, in came Smith and Wollensky and the House of Blues. As the complex's office building was converted to the House of Blues of hotel, the concrete of the structure was lovingly cleaned and restored. It looked beautiful.
(Read: Slumming Up Marina City.)
You'd think that those who actually thought enough of Marina City to buy a condo there would be more protective of the architectural legacy of Goldberg's design. No doubt many are. They just usually don't have the votes. The towers themselves have remained under the control of a condo board kept in office in no small part through the proxy votes of non-resident owners who rent out their units. Their most fervent statement on the building's importance was when they tried to monetize it, through a surreal 2007 campaign engineered by former State Representative and failed judicial candidate Ellis Levin, which tried to shake down photographers with the claim that the condo association, which controlled only the 40 residential floors of the 60-story towers, was mandating that no pictures could be published of Marina City without its written permission. (Read: Stop Taking Pictures of Marina City!)
Now a new controversy has erupted around the rehab of the residential lobbies. According to a report by Steven Dahlman on the indispensable Marina City Online website, 250 owners have signed a petition demanding a special meeting be called. Dahlman quotes Marina Towers Condo Association secretary Ellen Chessick citing "lack of input from owners . . . inappropriate and unsatisfactory design and choice of materials, and loss of the travertine stone that is in the lobbies and on every residential floor." One other resident estimated the value of that stone to be $250,000. MTCA design committee co-chair and interior designer Marc Straits resigned in protest over what was perceived as the lack of professional oversight for the project.
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Actually paying for good design - oh, the horror! If these were the people Bertrand Goldberg had to answer to when he originally designed Marina City, they wouldn't be living in a world-class masterpiece, but an upscale version of Cabrini Green.
Like the owners of the commercial property, the actions of the MTCA board would indicate that they don't place much value in the architectural value of the building they inhabit. Melichar Architects, which Abell lists on his Linkedin page as his current employer, appears to be a firm as yet untouched by the 20th - much less 21st - century, with pictures galore of projects steeped in “Italian Renaissance”, “Mediterranean Inspiration”, and “Gothic Authenticity.” Goldberg's son Geoffrey, also an architect, has never been consulted on the redesign. God forbid, he might actually charge for his services and do a little historic research.
|rendering of entrance lobby renovation|
No one likes spending money, but, on the other hand, no one likes losing it, either. What remains a mystery is why the Marina City condo board continues to insist on damaging the value of their investment through cheap, generic alterations that destroy the integrity of the historic, world-class design that makes Marina City one of Chicago's most distinctive properties. Lobby spaces - especially entrance lobbies - are how private buildings define their public character. To visitors and prospective owners alike, it takes only one quick glance. Does it read engagement or indifference?
If you want an example of how to really maximize property values, you have only to look at Mies van der Rohes 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Instead of cutting corners, management there didn't just ask for volunteers. They turned to people who actually have blue chip, internationally recognized credentials in working with world-class buildings: architects Gunny Harboe and Krueck and Sexton. Together they successfully executed a renovation/restoration plan that has not just won awards, but secured 860-880's status as one of Chicago's premiere addresses.