The front of the Mars Factory in the Austin community. Credit: Chicago Department of Planning and Development

AUSTIN — A factory that produces Snickers, M&Ms, Milky Way bars, Twix and Skittles will soon close and could potentially become an official city landmark.

The Mars Wrigley factory in Austin’s Galewood area, 2019 N. Oak Park Ave., received a preliminary landmark recommendation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in early October.

The commission is run by the city’s Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation division.

Buildings must meet at least two of the commission’s seven criteria to be considered for landmarking status.

City staff said the 20-acre factory site fits the criteria of being a landmark based on its architectural design and for its heritage to the city’s history of candy making, being once dubbed “the candy capital of the world.

It’s the first step in a lengthy process toward keeping the 94-year-old Spanish Revival style factory intact for the community’s benefit after the factory ceases operations next year. Following a series of approvals, the landmark proposal would be reviewed by the City Council’s zoning committee and then go to a full City Council vote. 

“Chicago has an extensive candy history that rivals any city in the world,” Preservation Chicago executive director Ward Miller said. “This is a true West Side landmark and something to be honored.”

The factory was once the headquarters of the now $45 billion Mars Wrigley company when operations moved to the city in 1929, city staffer Kandalyn Hahn said. The company and many other candy makers used Chicago as a staging ground for its operations due to the city’s railroad operations, Hahn said.

Candy makers ranging from Greek immigrants to large conglomerates began to ply their trade in the city during the 20th century, Hahn said. Alongside Mars Wrigley, other candy companies that became synonymous with Chicago include Fannie May, Brach and Tootsie Roll.

The building’s “exemplary” architecture style influenced the design of other factory buildings nationwide, Hahn said.

“During the mid-20th century, Chicago produced about a third of all candy manufactured in the country,” Hahn said. “This is one of the last surviving candy manufacturing cities in Chicago. Next year will mark nearly a century of candy making history.”

Mars announced in 2022 it would close the Austin factory in 2024. The company has said it is willing to cede the factory and garden to the neighborhood for a new use, which could include housing, a museum, a library and more.

Miller said he is sad the factory will shut down and take roughly 300 jobs with it, but he is happy to see the city preserve the city’s West Side and candy history.

“There’s something critically lost in a closing like this. It truly feels bittersweet,” he said. “Overall, everyone is happy that they’re leaving on a high note and giving this land to the community.”

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