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|Location||South Wells Street, Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Design and construction|
|Developer||David Epstein, Sheldon Baskin|
River City is a residential/commercial building complex at 800 South Wells Street in Chicago, Illinois. It lies on the east bank of the south branch of the Chicago River, south of Chicago's Loop district. The building consists of several floors of commercial space, including a grocery store, a day care, medical offices, and a Bally Total Fitness complex. There is an enclosed garage below the building. The 446 residential units are situated above the commercial space. The building is 17 stories total (some of the penthouse units sit above the 15th-story roof deck). The building also features a year-round marina.
The River City building was designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1985 at a cost of $60 million financed to a large extent by the union of building janitors and elevator operators, who sought to reverse the pattern of white flight from the city's downtown area. When finished, the two towers were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world. Like its sister complex Marina City, River City was designed according to Goldberg's "city within a city" aesthetic, featuring on-site amenities such as shopping, a gym, doctors' offices and a marina. As a proponent of urbanism, Goldberg's intention was to create an "instant community." Page text. [source: Geyer]
There are seven layouts. [source: Moore]
It's on a former railyard. [source: Newman]
20 acres [source: Busk]
Local interior designers were invited to apply for a chance to design one of five models to show prospective residents. Designers were evaluated based on their ability to work work with the unique unit shapes and appeal to different demographics. [source: Moore]
The second phase of the development was intended to sit north of the current structure, in the 8.2-acre lot bordered on the north by Harrison Street. This lot is currently vacant and for sale. These plans would have increased building capacity to about 5000 residents, and included a festival/market-style riverwalk and a skywalk to the financial district. [source: Busk]
Upon completion, it was one of the earliest large residential complexes in the South Loop neighborhood. 25 percent of the units rented before completion [source: Busk] and as of October 1986, more than 75 percent of River City's apartments had been leased. Bertrand Goldberg himself lived in River City in 1986. [source: Newman]
River City was sold to investment and property management company American Invsco for about $40 million in 1998. American Invsco listed it for $79 million in 2000 despite its profitability. [source: Roeder] However, due to River City's partial achievement of the original vision, the project was declared a "failure" in a 2000 Chicago Sun-Times article. [source: Roeder] In 2001, the complex converted to condominiums.
The complex is a scaled-down version of the original vision of architect Bertrand Goldberg, but but is well regarded for its use of concrete, form and unique interior space with a long winding atrium winding through the building, some 14 stories high, with seventeen stories in total. The fifth floor common area, referred to as River Road, is the first residential floor of the building. River Road has access to the elevators, laundry room, park and the building's two-story townhouse-style units. Though River Road was designed to accentuate the concrete forms of the building's archways and curved elevator towers, the atmosphere is warmed by furniture, kite-like cloth forms suspended between the hallways, and a number of large sculptures. It is lit by the roof skylight, tall windows at either end of the S-curve, streetlights, and hall lights outside each unit's door. From River Road, the atrium level extends upward and is visible from the galley-style hallway of each residential floor. Although much of the building's accents are nautical-themed (such as the porthole windows on the units that face River Road) Bertrand Goldberg said that River Road was intended to emulate the look and feel of a Parisian marketplace. The width of River Road was designed to resemble a street in Paris' Left Bank, whereas the entire complex was intended to resemble public spaces in Copenhagen. [source: Busk] River Road features large tree-filled planters, streetlights, sculptures and a window overlooking the Chicago River.
One of Bertrand Goldberg's original sketches of the complex from 1979 is featured in the architecture exhibit of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago and is available as a postcard from the museum shop. The Art Institute also displays other Goldberg works. The building features a nautical-themed 15th-story roof deck accessible by elevator from the residential floors. There is a one-acre green park adjacent to the 5th-floor River Road atrium level, built atop the commercial space. As of spring 2010, both the roof deck and park are under repair. The building features variations on seven different unit floor plans and a total of 446 units. The front door of each unit faces the "galley" or hallway. A glass window runs above the front door and across the front wall of each unit, letting in light from the atrium. Residents of River City are encouraged to display decorative items in this space or leave it empty to maintain a homogenous atmosphere; association bylaws prohibit using the space for storage.
The building is noted for its round-cornered hexagonal windows. In standard one-bedroom units, the window is bisected by the wall and sliding door that divide the living area from the bedroom.
The building features 24-hour security and a downtown area shuttle bus for residents. Commercial tenants include a dry cleaner, a convenience store, It Takes A Village Day Care, medical offices and a car wash in the lower level garage. A large portion of the lower level is occupied by a Bally Total Fitness location. Bally Total Fitness features full amenities, including a pool, hot tub, sauna, and racquetball courts. Some of the cardio area overlooks the marina and river.
The marina has 64 privately owned slips with easy access to the Chicago River and allows boats to dock year round. The building's waste heat is expelled into the marina to prevent the water from freezing. Some marina residents live on their boats year round and the building will provide mailboxes to marina residents.
To the north, the complex faces the Chicago River, Chicago Loop and Willis (Sears) Tower. To the west, the building overlooks the south branch of the Chicago River, the former and current post office complexes, the beginning of I-290 and the retail area adjacent to Roosevelt Avenue. To the east, the building faces the Printers Row area, the Roosevelt Collection complex that is currently under construction, and the Clark Street/Columbia College area. The view to the south is Roosevelt Avenue and the vacant area that sits north of Chinatown. From the 15th-story roof deck, there is a nearly 360-degree view of the South Loop/Loop skyline and beyond.
River City interior and exterior shots are featured extensively in the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction. The protagonist, portrayed by Will Ferrell, moves into an upper-story unit with a balcony overlooking the river, although the river is mostly obscured from the film. The film and closing credits show several interior shots of the unit, focusing on the unique window shape, as well as the elevator towers in the atrium. Also visible in the film is the 700 block of South Wells Street adjacent to River City.
- Link text, additional text.
▪ "River City is gem in S. Loop." Chicago Sun-Times. Cunniff, Bill. ▪ "Inside River City - Dress designs suit residents' needs." Chicago Sun-Times. March 14, 1986. Moore, Judy. ▪ "Sensational River City / Space-age design gives South Loop a futuristic look." Chicago Sun-Times. Busk, Celeste. March 14, 1986. ▪ "River City: symbol of urban rebirth." Chicago Sun-Times. June 10, 1986. Geyer, Georgie Anne. ▪ "River City not the answer." Chicago Sun-Times. Rockwell, Matthew. June 30, 1986. ▪ "River City nears full occupancy." Chicago Sun-Times. October 3, 1986. ▪ "Yuppies flocking downtown to live." Chicago Sun-Times. October 26, 1986. Newman, M.W. ▪ "River City makes good use of space." Chicago Sun-Times. August 22, 1986. Moore, Judy. ▪ "A broken 'dream' in South Loop." Chicago Sun-Times. Brown, Mark. Neubauer, Chuck. September 25, 1989. ▪ "River City on the block." Chicago Sun-Times. May 18, 2000. Roeder, David. ▪ "City living at River City." Chicago Sun-Times. Busk, Celeste. December 2, 2001.
- Cityscapes blog article at Chicago Tribune
- Starting over - Part 2: Getting off the ground at Chicago Tribune