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The Merchandise Mart in River North

Merchandise Mart

The Merchandise Mart in River North

Completed in 1930, the stately Merchandise Mart has been one of the most iconic structures along the Chicago River, covering over 4 million square feet (about 372,000 square meters), which is roughly the equivalent of 2 ½ city blocks.

Once considered the largest building in the world, the Merchandise Mart served as the wholesale warehouse of Marshall Fields, where retailers could purchase various stock. Located in what is now the River North neighborhood, it is surrounded by some of the city’s most luxurious condos buildings


Back when the Merchandise Mart was utilized as Marshall Fields’ wholesale warehouse store, it included rental space for use by other wholesalers. These spaces were integrated so that items such as fabric, furniture, and other decorative materials can be sold under one roof.

During the Great Depression however, Field & Company had no other choice but to abandon the wholesale market. The building was then sold in 1945 to a group led by Joseph P. Kennedy, selling for about one-third of its original cost.

The property belonged to the Kennedy family for over three decades, and was eventually sold to Vornado Realty Trust in 1998. To keep up with present-day standards, it was retrofitted with enhancements designed to implement energy efficiency measures as well as upgrades that allow for real-time data for use with operations.

Today, the Merchandise Mart still stands as a designer showcase venue. Over one quarter of the entire building is leased to several art galleries and offices, as well as some of today’s top tech companies such as 1871 and Motorola Mobility.

One of Chicago’s most brilliant examples of the Art Deco style

Merchandise Mart was designed by Alfred P. Shaw of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White (GAP&W), one of Chicago’s top architectural firms. It is considered one of the city’s finest examples of Art Deco style, reflecting the optimism of the 1920s era.

Merchandise Mart’s elegant structure is composed of a steel frame clad in various materials such as limestone, bronze, and terracotta. Its ornamentation is said to showcase the most popular motifs of the Art Deco movement.

The structure is embellished by recessed vertical windows highlighted by dark spandrels, which serve to emphasize the building’s impressive verticality while acting as a counterbalance to its horizontal mass.

At every corner of the building are rows made of decorative chevron and diagonal towers, which are signature motifs used during the Art Deco era.

Giant multimedia projection screen in 2018

According to the Chicago Tribune, here are plans to turn the iconic building’s three-acre southern façade into a gigantic multimedia art screen by 2018.

This idea was revealed back in 2014, and was part of a joint study conducted by the Chicago Mayor’s Office and Choose Chicago, in an effort to add more light to the Chicago River to boost the city’s tourism. It was labeled as the Lighting Framework Plan (LFP) initiative, which also contained several creative ways to illuminate some of Chicago’s other waterfront structures, including the Civic Opera House, Lower Wacker Drive, and a few of the city’s bridges.

Lighting options for the 25-story façade are currently being evaluated by architecture firm A+I and Obscura Digital, their creative partner.

River North Real Estate

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