How it all began …
In 1928, James Simpson, president of Marshall Field and Company and the chairman of the Chicago Planning Commission conceived the idea of consolidating Field’s wholesale activities into one building. Created as a model of modern, scientific efficiency in wholesale merchandising, The Mart’s purpose was to centralize wholesale goods trade by consolidating its vendors and activities under one roof.
Simpson selected a two-block site just east of Wolf Point, Chicago’s original trading post, to build an aesthetically pleasing development on the waterfront. Graham, Anderson, Probst and White were the chosen architects to build The Mart, in which the dignified design and inherently flexible plan proved adaptable to change from the time of its inception. On August 16, 1928, James Simpson and architect Ernest Graham tossed the first shovelful of and building began.
Sixty thousand tons of steel, 29 million bricks, 40 miles of plumbing, 380 miles of wiring, 3,915,000 cubic yards of concrete, 200,000 cubic feet of stone and 400,000 windows went into the construction of The Mart, employing 2,500 men during the depression. Today, the Merchandise Mart remains as the largest building in Chicago.
In 1945, Joseph P. Kennedy bought The Merchandise Mart from Marshall Field. Kennedy attributed his interest in The Merchandise Mart to his “faith in Chicago and the Middle West” and in Chicago’s “great commercial and industrial future.”
Kennedy ushered in a new era of mercantile pride by reviving the original concept of the building and gradually allowing public access. In responding to a trend of increased consumer interest, his staff opened up The Mart to the public by instituting daily tours given by The Merchandise Mart Guide Service.
The eight bronze busts, four times life size that rise up from the pillars on the river size of the plaza to face the building, are The Merchant’s Hall of Fame. This was established “to immortalize outstanding American merchants”.
Beginning in the 50’s and 60’s other merchandise marts appeared throughout parts of the country. In response to the increased demand, Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI) opened the Washington Design Center and in 1977 opened the Chicago Apparel Center adjacent to The Merchandise Mart.
For various reasons, the Kennedy family sold Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. to Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE: VNO) in 1998. Vornado Realty Trust is a fully integrated real estate company and a 17 billion dollar publicly traded REIT, one of the largest in the nation. Vornado owns and/or manages approximately 87 million square feet of real estate, including office, retail and showroom properties.
Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. is both a property manager and trade show producer, divisionally organized by the industries housed in its buildings and represented at its events. MMPI owns properties in Chicago, New York City, High Point, NC, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Toronto.
MMPI encompasses numerous business industries, including 2.8 million square feet of office space, retail and tradeshows.