Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is Condo Board sabotaging Marina City Landmarking?

Quick poll:
1. Which of the following enjoys the widest public awareness:

a. Chicago's twin-towered Marina City.

b. the Marina Towers Condo Association.

2. Which of the following websites would you say serves as the most comprehensive resource on Marina City, its history and importance:

a. Marina City On-line

b. Marina Towers Condo Association
With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, if you answered anything other than 1b and 2b, straighten up! You may just be the subject of a lawsuit from Ellis Levin.

(Full disclosure: I have been a resident of Marina City for decades. I don't write about Marina City as a great building because I live there. I live there because it's a great building.)

As we've written before, one of the world's finest buildings, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City, is burdened with one of the worst condo boards, one that has repeatedly expressed contempt for the First Amendment, not to mention basic human intelligence, and deployed its lawyer, former progressive legislator Ellis Levin, to harass anyone who doesn't buy into their delusions of grandeur.

In late 2007, the board declared it "holds a common law copyright on the use of the Association name and building image. This means that under Federal and Illinois law, advertisers, movie makers and others cannot use the Association name or image without first obtaining express written permission from the Association . ."

This despite the fact that the "Association name" cited in the board's rules is not "Marina City" but "Marina Towers Condo Association."

This despite the indisputable fact that the association does not own Marina City and, in fact, holds title to NONE of the following
1. The first 20 floors of each twin tower.
2. Marina City's plaza and public spaces.
3. The actual "marina" of Marina City
4. The other structures in the Marina City complex, including the House of Blues and Hotel Sax.

This despite the fact that USCA Title 17, Sec. 120(a) specifically reads:
(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.— The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.
The home page of Steven Dahlman's remarkable Marina City Online website prominently features this statement:
Not sponsored by, endorsed by or affiliated with Marina Towers Condominium Association or Transwestern Commercial Services.
Yet, as a special Christmas gift, MTCA through Ellis Levin on December 23rd sent a letter attempting to shake down Dahlman (and his site's sole advertiser Michael Michalak) for $2,000 in penalties, $50.00 a day and attorney fees for misrepresenting Marina City Online as being MTCA-endorsed.

You can read Levin's absurd letter here, and Steven's rebuttal here. You can read MTCA's hallucinatory regulations on the use of images here.

Despite Levin's bloviated posturing, I have yet to read of him suing anyone to try to enforce MTCA's claim of being able to require payment and prior permission before publishing images of Marina City for commercial use. So why is he going after Dahlman? Could it because Marina City Online regularly exposes the Napoleonic pretensions of the MTCA, including its addiction to closed-door meetings and banning of recording of its sessions? Simply put, Levin is seeking to silence Marina City Online and harass it off the web.

Given the fact that nowhere else, other than Bertrand Goldberg archive's, is there such a wealth of information on Marina City than on Marina City Online's City Within a City: The Biography of Chicago's Marina City, and that we are living, not in Vladimir Putin's Russia, where only one official version of the truth is permitted, but Barack Obama's America, Levin's actions are an outrage.

A large group of Marina City residents are working to have the complex designated an official Chicago landmark. The MTCA, on the other hand, wants to be able to profit from Marina City's notoriety while renouncing responsibility for protecting the qualities that make it world famous. In 2003, it entered into an agreement with the owners of the commercial portions of the complex which, as quoted on Mike Doyle's Chicago Carless website, states:
The MTCA for itself, and for any successor, covenants that it will not initiate, enact, endorse or in any way give support to or voice support for any action which (a) seeks to have the Complex or any portion thereof designated as a landmark . . .
Which makes you wonder whether MTCA's litigious posturings are not just the usual ego trips but its own back door "poison pill" effort to go beyond its own authority to sabotage efforts to landmark Marina City by raising the specter of a flood of lawsuits being filed to shake down any publication or website that publishes, without their permission or compensation, information or images of a newly landmarked complex.

What can be done?

1. You could write Ellis Levin, 542 South Dearborn Street, Suite 1260, Chicago, IL 60605, to point out how far he's fallen from his years as a strong progressive voice, but at this nadir in his career, he's probably beyond shaming. (Full disclosure part II: I once, many, many years ago, made a contribution to one of Ellis's campaigns.)

2. You could write the Marina Towers Condo Association, 300 North State, Chicago, IL 60610. I doubt you can penetrate their ether of overweening self regard, expanding like a gas to overtake whatever space is made available to it, but you can try.

3. If Steven starts a defense fund, you can contribute to it, although Ellis might just see this as an opportunity to build up billings by filing still more litigation.

4. Probably most effectively, you can expose them. The MTCA is the pompous guy in a top hat strutting down the street as if he owned it. He doesn't. And well-considered ridicule is the best snowball.

5. Towards that end, I am declaring ArchitectureChicago Plus "the official newsite of Marina City." If you have a website, I suggest you make a similar pronouncement.

6. I have hundreds of photographs of Marina City and I plan to publish them. I will use the term "Marina City" frequently and at will. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. etc.

The battle over Marina City is like Chicago, itself, where many of the most wonderful things in the world, and many of the most craven, live side by side. Which side are you on?


Anonymous said...

I have lived at Marina City since January 1963, and have seen it through its glorious years as well as its inglorious years

The present Condo Board, for whatever their reason, is trying to sabotage the landmarking of Marina City. Because we unit owners have lost faith in the Board's trustworthiness, their position on this subject deserves our close scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they will sue The Reader for their cover photo this week (1/8/09).

Isaac said...

Looks like you have another kindred poster over here:

Unknown said...

I don't live in Marina City and cannot comment on internal politics, but the photography copyright claim strikes me as ridiculous.

As for landmarking, Marina City well deserves this honor. That said, it obviously will be an uphill battle. Many property owners resist landmarking for fear that restrictions it places on the alteration and use of the property lowers property values. Consent may be particularly hard to acquire where, as here, different parts of the property are owned by different entities. The City can landmark a building without owner consent, but that's an uphill battle.

condo in Philippines said...

I want to live in a place like this. Beautiful design of his condos.

Paula M

manila condominiums said...

What a stunning condo building. So great to live in there.

Angelo H