A huge complex spanning two city blocks, the Merchandise Mart is the largest wholesale design center in the world. The brainchild of James Simpson of Marshall Field & Company, it was planned to house Field's huge wholesale division and prop up sagging sales.
Executed by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White--of Opera House and Field Museum fame--the Mart was the world's most complex mixed-use structure: a warehouse, a department store, and a commercial office tower. All this was presented in a successful blend of elements from the Chicago School, classicism, and Art Deco, built on former Chicago & North Western Railway property and air space over the tracks. Unfortunately, Field's suffered from the Great Depression, and so the Mart stood almost empty during World War II. In 1946 Joseph P. Kennedy purchased the Merchandise Mart for $16 million (it had cost $32 million to build). Under Kennedy's managerial flair; the Mart thrived. Renovations between 1986 and 1991 injected new life into the building and today the Marchandise Mart is an enduring monument to the brash, inventive, and successful Chicago spirit.