Merchandise Mart in Chicago

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When opened in 1930, the Merchandise Mart or the Merch Mart, located in the Near North Side, Chicago, Illinois, was the largest building in the world with 4000000 sqft of floor space. Previously owned by the Marshall Field family, the Mart centralized Chicago's wholesale goods business by consolidating vendors and trade under a single roof. The Merchandise Mart is so large that it had its own ZIP code until 2008 (60654). In 2010, the building opened up its Design Center showrooms to the public for the first time.


In 1926, a westward extension of double-deck Wacker Drive increased development on the south riverbank. In 1927, Marshall Field and Company announced its plans to build on the north bank opposite Wacker Drive. Owned by Marshall Field & Co., the Merchandise Mart opened on May 5, 1930, just east of Chicago's original trading post, Wolf Point. Bordered by Orleans, Wells and Kinzie Streets, the site was a former Native American trading post and the site of Chicago and North Western Railway's former Wells Street Station, abandoned in 1911 in favor of the Chicago and North Western Passenger Terminal. Removing the train yard supported the Chicago Plan Commission's desire to develop and beautify the riverfront. The building realized Marshall Field’s dream of a single wholesale center for the entire nation and consolidated 13 different warehouses. Later managed by Sargent Shriver, the building was owned for more than 50 years by the Kennedy family through Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. until 1998, when MMPI was acquired by Vornado Realty Trust for $450 million in cash and a $100-million-plus stake in Vornado. In early 2007, the building was valued at $917 million.


The Merchandise Mart was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White to be a "city within a city". and now stands thirty-sixth on the list of largest buildings in the world. Once the largest commercial space in the world, Dubai International Airport Terminal 3 is now recognized by Guinness World Records as holding the record.


James Simpson, president of Marshall Field and Company from 1923 to 1930 and chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission from 1926 to 1935, along with architect Ernest Graham turned the first shovels of dirt at groundbreaking on August 16, 1928. General contractor John W. Griffiths & Sons brought building construction into the machine age through the use of techniques "ordinarily used in the construction of big dams." An estimated 7.5 mi miles of corridors and over 30 elevators were included in the construction.


Designer Alfred Shaw integrated art deco stylings with influences from three building types — the warehouse, the department store and the skyscraper. On the south facade, the drive-through canopy was removed and two smaller doorways aside the main entrance were added. Display windows, painted over during the earlier modernization campaign, were restored with clear glass to showcase merchant's wares. New main and corner entrances were added to the rear facade, and the loading dock that occupied the north portion of the first floor of the river level was removed in order to use the bottom deck of North Bank Drive. Improvements to the lobby included restoration of the original glass curtain wall over the entrance, shop fronts and reception desk using terrazzo floors and wall sconces influenced by the original design.

"To immortalize outstanding American merchants", Joseph Kennedy in 1953 commissioned eight bronze busts, four times life size, which would come to be known as the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame:

The Apparel Center houses the 530 room Chicago Mart Plaza Hotel, the offices of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Art, as well as the Chicago office of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency. American Intercontinental University occupies 93000 sqft on the 5th floor of Merchandise Mart, the Potbelly Sandwich Works' corporate offices are located in the tower.

Trade Fairs

Since 1969, the Merchandise Mart has been home to the annual National Exposition of Contract Furnishings, known as NeoCon. With over 1,000 exhibitors of contract and commercial furnishings, and 50,000 attendees, it is the largest trade show of its kind in North America.

Since 2006 the Merchandise Mart has played host to the Art Chicago international art fair.

The Merchandise Mart also hosts The Chicago Market, a quarterly trade show for the gift & home industry, each January, March, July and September. The Market showcases thousands of gift and home lines in hundreds of showrooms on the 13th and 14th floor who are joined by more than 500 temporary exhibitors in January and July.

Mass media


Before the location even opened, NBC announced plans to build studios in the Mart. When opened on October 20, 1930, the nineteenth floor location covered 65000 sqft and supported a variety of live broadcasts including those requiring orchestras. WENR and WMAQ broadcast from the location. Expanded in 1935, with office space in the previously unoccupied tower, the additional 11500 sqft provided room for an organ chamber, two echo rooms, and a total of 11 studios. A staff of more than 300 produced up to 1,700 programs each month including Amos 'n' Andy.,

Hugh Downs contributed to the Burr Tillstrom children's show Kukla, Fran and Ollie from the NBC studios after the network picked up the program from WBKB. The Captain Midnight radio program was broadcast from the Mart from 1942 until 1945.

WMAQ moved, along with WMAQ-TV, over to the NBC Tower in 1990 - even though WMAQ was sold off to Westinghouse Broadcasting two years earlier. (Today, the former NBC space is being utilized by Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy as a learning site for Film + Broadcast productions.) WMAQ's onetime sister FM station, WKQX, stayed at the Merchandise Mart instead. WKQX's successor, WWWN, still currently occupies space on the west side of the second floor, and recently switched from Alternative rock to an all-news format. Sister station WLUP broadcasts classic hard rock music from the location.

The building was also home to DJ Mancow Muller for eight years, when WKQX served as his show's flagship station.


On January 7, 1949, NBC station WNBQ commercially debuted its television broadcast schedule on channel 5, with a minimum of two hours of programming per day. April 15, 1956, is remembered as "C-Day" at WMAQ-TV, and was described by Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine as "a daring breakthrough the black-and-white curtain." With Mayor Richard J. Daley looking on, NBC President Robert Sarnoff operated the controls as Channel 5 became the world's first all-color TV station as "Wide, Wide World" was broadcast to 110 NBC-TV affiliated stations across the country. The color conversion project cost more than $1,250,000 with advertising costing $175,000. On "C-Day", three skywriting planes flew over the city, trailing streams of red, green and blue smoke.

WMAQ-TV first installed color equipment in late 1953, with the Rose Bowl parade of 1954 as the first major broadcast. Introduced in March 1955, the first local color program was John Ott's "How Does Your Garden Grow?", featuring the use of time-lapse color film.

Although WMAQ-TV has since moved to NBC Tower about a mile away, and for the most part the 19th floor of the Mart has been turned into office space, one former tenant (Bankers Life and Trust Company) maintained a remnant of the original studios as their video and multimedia department. The former WMAQ space is currently being redeveloped by Flashpoint Academy as a full modern soundstage facility as well as a screening room, backlot, and classroom space over the 19th and 20th floors.

Local regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago has their control room, and broadcasts their live studio programming from the Apparel Center expansion; the studios had been home to previous RSNs FSN Chicago and SportsChannel Chicago.

  • Movies and TV shows frequently are filmed on the Wells Street Bridge and underneath the elevated tracks on Franklin.
  • Chicago Marathon routes have taken runners past the structure, typically on Wells Street.
  • The Mart hosts the annual Art Chicago activities.
  • In the opening credits of the 1970s television sitcom Good Times, the building is depicted prior to renovation and revitalization.
  • The 1948 film Call Northside 777, was made in Illinois and the Mart is seen from newspaper offices on Wacker Drive.
  • The lobby appeared in the movie The Hudsucker Proxy as the interior of the Hudsucker Company headquarters.
  • In 1956, the film "The Merchandise Mart" used the Mart's name and was filmed throughout Illinois.


See also

  • Art Deco
  • Chicago architecture
  • List of largest buildings in the world
  • Interior Design
  • New York Merchandise Mart
  • Fulton House, Chicago


  • Chappell, Sally A. Kitt, Architecture and Planning of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1912–1936:Transforming Tradition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 1992

External links