The Biography of Chicago’s Marina City

National Design Center signs lease
September 27, 1962

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Bookshop at National Design Center.

(Above) Bookshop at National Design Center.

Several office buildings were competing for National Design Center but it was announced on September 27, 1962 that a ten-year lease had been signed with Marina Management Corporation.

Based in New York, National Design Center was a showcase, open to the public, of home furnishings and appliances. They would lease 35,000 square feet on the first four floors of the Marina City office building, a deal worth about $3 million. An additional $1.5 million would be spent building an interior designed by the Chicago architecture firm of Brenner Danforth Rockwell and built by Erik A. Borg Company.

A slightly smaller showcase on East 53rd Street in New York had been open for four years and in the past year had attracted 750,000 visitors. It was estimated that 1.5 million people would visit the center at Marina City, scheduled to open in September 1963 with several hundred exhibitors.

(Above) Entrance to National Design Center from This Is Marina City by Portland Cement Association. Click on images to view larger versions. Exhibit area at National Design Center

National Design Center officially opened on March 2, 1964. Hours were 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., seven days a week. Three floors of exhibits appealed to everyone from professional decorators to the do-it-yourself crowd. Exhibits featured home furnishings, fabrics, appliances, decorative items, and building products. Details on each item, like where to buy and how much it cost, were available at an information counter on the first floor that was staffed by 12 people. But you could not actually buy anything at the design center.

There was an auditorium on the fourth floor for lectures, meetings, luncheons, concerts, and art exhibits. Later a bookshop was added to the main floor.

Entrance to National Design Center.

(Above) Entrance to National Design Center near southwest corner of office building.

The general coordinator was Helen Schubert. Her design center would keep track of questions from visitors and send those questions to the product manufacturers, to help them improve existing products and develop new products.

Helen Schubert. University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives (1952).

Schubert was a 1952 University of Wisconsin graduate who directed the National Design Center for many years. After that, she owned Helen Schubert Public Relations and in the early 1980s was honored for professional excellence by the Chicago chapter of Women in Communications.

(Photo) Schubert’s senior yearbook photo from Badger 1952, provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Spiral staircase at National Design Center. Ebony (1964).

(Photo) Photo dated April 4, 1966, by Hedrich Blessing of the spiral staircase at National Design Center. Click on image to view larger version. (Above) Another view of the staircase from the November 1964 issue of Ebony magazine.


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