How Prefab Homes Built in Maywood and Melrose Park Influenced Chicago’s Marina City

Marina City_Melrose Park Standard Houses

Photos of Standard Houses (insets) built by architect Bertrand Goldberg in Melrose Park. The homes, which were also sold in Maywood and other suburbs across the country, inspired the design of Goldberg’s most famous work — Marina City in Chicago (also below). | Wikipedia || Further below, a Standard House under construction in Maywood. House photos from

Marina City Chicago.JPGFriday, August 26, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The Chicago River has been a trending topic for the last several days, notably because city planners have announced that, among other river improvements, they want to make the notoriously toxic waterway clean enough to swim in by 2030.

That ambition has drawn the attention of local media, including Chicago Magazine’s Whet Mozer who, in an interesting read published online Wednesday, traces the city’s “desire to hurry along the Chicago River’s transformation from an industrial corridor to a recreation hub” back at least to the 1964 completion of Bertrand Goldberg’s iconic corncob on the riverfront.

Marina City is the first building in the country to be made with tower cranes and it represented quite a radical shift in thinking when it came to housing, which was something developers connected primarily to postwar suburbs and “nuclear families with young children,” Mozer writes.

Goldberg, who apprenticed for Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, envisioned Marina City as a housing development that also contained businesses that would support the development’s residents. It would be sort of a self-contained suburb, or a village, within the city.

But the federal government wasn’t going to insure a mortgage for housing constructed downtown and in a high-rise no less. Goldberg, according to Mozer, had to convince the federal powers that be that his transformational idea of urban living could work.

The concept, Mozer writes, “wasn’t alien to Goldberg; after all, much of his work to that point had been prefab housing in places like Melrose Park and Maywood. But he believed that the same principle would work in a city, vertically stacking inexpensive housing into a preplanned community in the midst of downtown.”

Standard House Maywood.jpg

In Melrose Park and Maywood, Goldberg’s Standard Houses, according to the architect’s website, “were simple single story structures with a gabled roof providing attic storage. Each house had two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Standard Houses also manufactured wardrobes and cabinets.”

The mortgages on the homes were insured by the Federal Housing Authority and the small prefabricated structures sold for around $3,000. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, residents in Maywood, Melrose Park and other suburbs bought the homes feverishly.

In a single day in 1939, according to Architectural Forum, 3,000 people toured one of the five homes that were on sale in Melrose Park. And in that day, all five homes were sold. VFP

Read the full Chicago Magazine article here. Read more about Bertrand Goldberg and his Standard Houses here. And write us at if you have stories about living in one of them. 

For more local architectural history, ‘Like’ VFP on Facebook 

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