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Marshall Holleb

He may be the most influential Chicagoan you've never heard of. Marshall Holleb helped shape the landscape of modern Chicago. As an attorney and real estate developer, he is credited with saving the Chicago Theater, the Arts Club, and Montgomery Ward's first warehouse. He was also instrumental in founding the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in the development of Illinois Center, an innovative project that occupies air space over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks.

One of Marshall Holleb's great skills has been to surround himself with like-minded and influential people who could help bring his dreams to reality. He started his own first law practice with brother-in-law Sidney Yates; by working behind the scenes in Chicago and national politics, he has forged alliances that have supported projects in development and in historic preservation. And through it all, by his side has been his life partner of 57 years, his wife Doris Holleb.

Read on, and follow the links, for the stories of some of Marshall Holleb's greatest projects, and for a bio of his equally fascinating and effective life partner, Doris Holleb.

Chicago Theater Story
One of Marshall Holleb's most significant preservation projects was to help save the landmark Chicago Theater on State Street in the Chicago Loop.

The great Chicago Theater opened in 1921. It was the first Loop theater built by the Balaban & Katz Company, a major regional theater chain. The construction costs were nearly double those of nearby State-Lake, built at about the same time. Graced with marble columns, glass chandeliers, and a red-carpeted stairway, the theater seated 5,000, for moving pictures as well as live stage events. The magnificent entertainment palace enjoyed a decades-long heyday before falling into disrepair by the 1960s.

In the 1950s, lawsuits by competing theaters brought an end a practice that benefited the Chicago and other Loop theaters - that of releasing new movies in Loop theaters first, then neighborhood theaters a few weeks later. Television also began to cut into entertainment revenues. But "white flight" to the suburbs, and the general decline of the Loop's popularity, very nearly sounded the death knell for the once-elegant theater.

Hoping to stave off the threatening failure of the theater, Balaban and Katz remodeled the Chicago in the 1950s, replacing or covering up its more ornate architectural features with new lighting fixtures and false ceilings. Their efforts to save the business didn't work, and the theater was sold.

During the 1970s, under the ownership of Plitt Theaters, the Chicago gradually adapted to the city's changing demographics. More and more African-American and Latino residents began to frequent Loop retail and entertainment establishments. Eager to keep their theaters open and profitable, Plitt willingly catered to their newfound patrons in their movie offerings. However, the city eventually had much of the downtown theater district, including the Chicago, designated a "blighted" area subject to government-backed redevelopment. According to plans, the city would buy the theater from Plitt, bulldoze it and several other nearby theaters and retail establishments, and subsidize the construction of new office towers on the cleared land. The last movie at the Chicago was shown on September 10, 1985.

Marshall Holleb was instrumental in the move to preserve the theater, rescuing it only weeks before its scheduled demolition. In 1986, with the financial assistance of the city, Plitt sold the Chicago to Holleb's group of preservationists, who oversaw a nine-month, multi-million restoration of the historic theater. Since its restoration, the theater has hosted Broadway musicals, concerts, comedians, and other live performances. The familiar vertical sign is once again the beacon of great entertainment in a setting of style and elegance.

The Museum of Contemporary Art
Another of Marshall Holleb's many projects involving city arts and architecture was his role in the establishment of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Established in 1967, the MCA opens its doors to the public in a newly renovated one-story building on Ontario Street that had originally been built as a bakery. In 1977, on its tenth anniversary, the MCA began raising funds to purchase the adjacent three-story townhouse to expand the museum.

In 1993, ground was broken for the new museum building, on the former site of the National Guard Armory. The Ontario Street building closed in February of 1996. In June, the MCA's new building and sculpture garden opened with a celebration attended by 25,000 visitors.

The Museum has brought the brightest lights of contemporary arts to Chicago. In the vast array of media ranging from performance art to painting to music to sculpture to photography, the Museum has featured the work of new discoveries and world-famous artists. The list is impressive. To name but a few: Christo, Claes Oldenburg, Frida Kahlo, Nancy Spero, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Heinecken.

And if you are tantalized by the list, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art website for more!

Holleb Behind the Scenes in Politics
Marshall Holleb's career brought him into contact with many a well-known politician, as his scrapbooks attest. One of his great behind-the-scenes roles involved the 1952 presidential candidacy of Adlai Stevenson. Holleb and others who supported the candidate convinced him to run in an uphill race against Dwight Eisenhower.

Despite his failure to reach the White House, Stevenson was a brilliant and influential politician. His biography provides an inspiring read.

Marshall Holleb the Jock
At 84 and in vibrant health, Marshall Holleb sets an example in more ways than one for those of us who aspire to a long and healthy life. He was an active athlete in high school and college, and has been a lifelong self-proclaimed jock. Among Holleb's public service works, he has been active with the Illinois Council on Aging.

Marshall Holleb the Family Man
Along with forming close friendships and working relationships with prominent Chicagoans, Marshall Holleb has made a life-long commitment to one of the most influential Chicago women, his wife, Doris Holleb. Doris Holleb, a University of Chicago professor, economist and urban planner was one of the first women to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Economics. Read more in her brief biography.

And now for something completely different
Marshall Holleb's involvement with the art world took an interesting twist in his professional encounter with the famed art forger known as Elmyr De Hory. This audacious artist collaborated with Orson Welles to make a film called F for Fake (1973).

For more of the story, visit the website! But is it the authentic website, or the fake?

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