The Biography of Chicago’s Marina City

$5 million for two garages
August 1961

“The original concept of Marina City having been the convenience of living in the heart of the city and within walking distance of offices, shops, and restaurants, we did not expect all of the residents would be car owners.”
– Jerome Bernstein, Marina City Garage & Parking Corporation, 1964

Photo by Mike Chunko (2008).

In August 1961, Charles R. Swibel negotiated a 25-year lease of the 18-story spiral parking ramps for $200,000 per year (the equivalent of nearly $1.6 million in 2014). Managing the 900-car garages would be Marina City Garage & Parking Corporation. The president of this newly formed company was Samuel Burke, a partner in the law firm of Burke, Russ & Rawson. Company officials also included Russell Bernstein and Jerome Bernstein, who operated the Washburn-Monroe Garage & Parking Corporation.

Swibel said the lease would allow him to review financial records of the garage each year and make sure parking rates charged to the public were held at moderate levels.

Attendants, who would use manlifts to get quickly to the various floors, would do all of the parking. Holding areas at the base of each ramp would accommodate as many as 100 cars awaiting parking during peak periods.

(Above) Mike Chunko captured the complementing lines of the towers in 2008.

(Left) Close view of signs on the east tower ramp in June 1963. The top sign reads, “WCFL, The Voice of Labor, 1000 on the dial.” The middle sign reads, “A Daley Reminder, Keep Chicago Clean.” Photo by Mike Kobluk.

(Click on images to view larger versions.)

Manlift demonstration image 1 of 3. Photo by Steven Dahlman (September 12, 2007). Manlift demonstration image 2 of 3. Photo by Steven Dahlman (September 12, 2007). Manlift demonstration image 3 of 3. Photo by Steven Dahlman (September 12, 2007).
(Above) The belt manlift at Marina City in 2007. (Left) On the plaza level of the east tower, System Parking manager David Amponsah waits for a footboard to appear on the belt manlift. (Center) Amponsah steps onto the footboard and (right) rides the belt manlift upward.

On February 11, 1963, the first passenger car made it to the 19th floor of the spiral parking ramp “without incident,” mused Chicago Daily Tribune reporter James M. Gavin.

“The ramp grade is a bit steeper through the first four floor levels,” Gavin noted. “From the fifth floor level the grade is five percent and a driver feels a little safer accelerating in low gear at 10 to 15 miles an hour. However, as the higher floors are reached and the city’s skyline begins to flash into view, the driver has a tendency to hug the core of the building.”

The monthly rate would be $30 when the garage officially opened a month later.

By July 1964, Jerome Bernstein had become part owner of Marina City Garage & Parking Corporation. He announced a deal with Hertz to offer rental cars to Marina City residents with just 15-minutes notice. At the time, only 25 percent of residents had a car parked at Marina City.

The garage was open 24 hours a day and provided gas, oil, lube, and washing. Leonard Goldin was the manager during the day. Ben Martin was the night manager.

(Left) The parking ramps at Marina City in July 2009 from the plaza at AMA Plaza. Smith & Wollensky in lower left corner. (Center) Photo by Bob Segal in 2009. (Right) With AMA Plaza in the background, Olafur Palsson caught the east tower parking ramp at Marina City on a quiet day in 2009.

(Left) The parking deck plan fits 32 parking spaces along the circumference of each level. Vehicles going up stay closer to the core than vehicles going down the ramp. (Right) End of parking ramp on 19th floor of east tower at Marina City in 2009.

Last updated 23-Jun-14

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