A city within a city in downtown Chicago

A city within a city in downtown Chicago

Marina City is one of those Chicago landmarks that is just sort of there. Nobody really knows a ton about it, and I don’t think I’ve ever even met anyone who has lived there. Or who knows anyone who has lived there for that matter. It always seemed kind of shady to me, but apparently back in the day it was THE place to be.

Marina City was designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1959 and opened in 1962. It was the tallest residential building and tallest concrete structure in the world.

Who paid for it to be built? The project was financed largely by the Building Service Employees Union, a union made up of janitors, elevator operators and window washers. These workers feared losing their jobs due to urban flight, so they decided to build a “city within a city” to entice people to stay.

Marina City gets its name from the marina at the base of the building. In addition to the marina, the buildings offered restaurants, stores, a pool, a gym, a bowling alley, an ice skating rink and a cinema.

Marina Cinemas opened at Marina City in 1970 and with three theaters it claimed to be Chicago’s first mini-cinema. The theater only operated until 1977 and stood empty for many years after it closed. Today it’s the  House of Blues.

The first 19 floors of the two buildings are giant parking garages built in an upwards spiral. The  garages were made famous in the high speed chase scene in the 1979 Steve McQueen The Hunter. McQueen loses control and flies out of the building into the Chicago River. Allstate re-created this scene in a commercial in 2006.

I always thought a Marina City condo would be crazy expensive, but for the neighborhood its in the price is fairly reasonable. Two-bedroom/two-bath units are around $500,000. There’s a listing on the Marina City website for a 1-bedroom condo for rent for $1795 a month. Not too bad considering every unit comes with a balcony and an amazing view.

There’s a ton more interesting facts about Marina City that I found on the building’s website. Check it out to learn more.

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