History and Future

THE MART has been a Chicago icon since the 1930s. Marshall Field & Co. developed it to create a central marketplace where retailers could come to buy their wares all under one roof.

The two-block building site is bordered by Orleans, Wells, and Kinzie Streets, at the junction of the Chicago River. It is just east of Wolf Point, the site of many Chicago firsts—the first trading post, hotel, church, taverns, and the first bridges across the Chicago River. Previously home to the Chicago and North Western Railroad Wells Street Station complex, THE MART was erected on the railroads air rights, which provided a site big enough to accommodate “the largest building in the world.”

Original designer Alfred Shaw conveyed THE MART’s unique, modern concept with an Art Deco style and integration of elements from three building types: warehouse, department store, and office skyscraper.

Chamfered corners, minimal roofline setbacks, and corner pavilions serve to camouflage the edges of the rectilinear mass, visually reducing its weight and bulk. The building opens up at the pedestrian level, where the two-story base features over scaled display windows typical of a department store. The 25-story central tower projects and rises from the main block to reveal its affinity with the skyscraper.

The lobby of THE MART, in an overall palette of buff, bronze, and warm tones, exemplifies the understated elegance that characterizes Shaw’s later designs. Eight square marble piers, so slightly fluted that they appear merely striped, define the main lobby area. The terrazzo floor was conceived of as a carpet in pale hues of green and orange, with a lively pattern of squares and stripes bordered by over scaled chevrons inlaid with an abstraction of  THE MART’s initials. The chevron motif is continued three-dimensionally in the column sconces that cast their light onto an ornamented cornice situated above. The crowning feature of the lobby is Jules Guerin’s frieze of murals, which complete the iconographic trilogy of the building.

An arcade extends the length of the building to provide the shops and services “normally found on the main street of almost any town.” During the earliest years of the building, this area was home to lunch counters, a restaurant and retail shops for everything from clothing to candy.

THE MART suffered a downturn during the Great Depression and was converted to government offices during World War 2. In 1945, THE MART was purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy and returned to its intended use. Kennedy ushered in a new era of mercantile pride by reviving the original concept of the building and gradually allowing public access.

In the mid-1940s and 1950s, THE MART was the single largest producer of trade shows in the United States. It helped create the foundation of Chicago’s continued leadership in the American convention and tourism industry.

In June 2016, THE MART completed the second phase of a $40M renovation. Renovation elements include The Grand Stair which connects the first and second floors and provides a lively gathering spot, Marshall’s Landing restaurant, café, and lounge, a modernized Food Hall, a 5,000 square-foot River Park along the Chicago River, and a new Reception and Information Desk. This transformative renovation was designed to complement the creative energy and talents of its tenants and visitors, reflecting both the functionality and aesthetic of those who utilize THE MART for offices, retail, showrooms, and events.

The construction of the Merchandise Mart in 1928
A steamer and the site of the future Merchandise Mart building in 1928
Aerial view of the construction of the Merchandise Mart in 1929
A view of the river front during construction of the Merchandise Mart in 1929
A party on the roof of the Merchandise Mart in the 1940s
The Mechandise Mart building lit up and decorated for Christmas in the 1940s
An electrician changes a lightbuld inside the Merchandise Mart in the 1950s
Photo from 1957 of the South Entrance and Clock
Elevated train along the river in front of theMart in the 1960s

THE MART 2.0

THE MART has begun its boldest transformation yet. Vornado and THE MART are pleased to announce dramatic improvements to the amenity offerings for our tenants; a project we have named MART 2.0. An expansive, centralized amenity experience will be created on the second floor. It will include a new fitness center, conference center and an exclusive tenant lounge. Currently underway are the improvements to the South Drive and River Park which include a “front yard”, expanded seating areas and lush landscaping. This project also provides improved common area space for both tenants and their guests. Completion, June 2023.

South Lobby
Amenity Center
Park