Chicago cityscape aerial view

Neighborhood News: On top of the world at the Chicago Loop’s Willis Tower

Chicago cityscape aerial view

Rising 1,730 feet into the air (including the  twin antenna towers), high above the Chicago Loop, the signals from Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker can be seen as far away as Michigan on a clear night. On a clear day, you can see four states when looking through their world-famous Skydeck windows– Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Visibility from the Skydeck is approximately 40-50 miles.

Though there’s no part of recorded history that indicates Sears executives decided to erect the world’s tallest building, Sears Tower opened in 1973 as the world’s tallest building, a title that it held for nearly 25 years. Today, Willis Tower is the third-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the 23rd-tallest building in the world.

It took 2,000 workers three years to build the 110-story structure, designed by Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. 

By comparison, according to their website, it took the Ancient Egyptians 20 years to build the Pyramids at Giza.

How it started: World’s Largest Store builds World’s Largest Building 

In 1969, Sears was the largest retailer in the world, with about 350,000 employees. According to Wikipedia sources, Sears executives determined that a new headquarters in the suburbs was infeasible, since it would require relocating about 7,000 employees. Instead, Sears executives decided to consolidate the thousands of employees in offices distributed throughout the Chicago area into one building on the western edge of Chicago’s Loop.  They chose a two-block area in the Loop, bounded by Franklin Street on the east, Jackson Boulevard on the south, Wacker Drive on the west, and Adams Street on the north. 

The architects envisioned a multipurpose structure where Sears could occupy the larger lower floors, and more conventional office space could be rented out on the upper stories. As the Willis Tower website notes, in August, 1970 ground was broken for the beginning of construction. Taking three years to complete, Sears Tower was finished in May 1973. The builders used enough concrete to make an eight- lane highway five miles long. Within the building, there are 25 miles of plumbing, 1500 miles of electric wiring , 80 miles of elevator cable, 796 restroom faucets, and more than 145,000 light fixtures. The last beam put in place was signed by 12,000 Sears executives, employees and Chicagoans.

In 1988, Sears Roebuck and Company sold and moved out of the building, but the Sears Tower name remained until 2009 when the building was renamed after the Willis Group, a London- based global insurance broker.

Skydeck Chicago: See the world from the Ledge

Opened in 1974, the Skydeck experience delivers stunning views for up to 50 miles and four states. 

For example, to the north, you could see  Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, to the south, Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan, and to the west, Maple Park (near DeKalb). And to the east? Lake Michigan, as far as the eye can see!

Explore this Chicago experience as you make your way up to the 103rd floor and check out the view from the Willis Tower Ledge. On your way up, there’s a new 30-60 minute Chicago experience featuring the city’s rich history. 

At 1,353 feet in the air, the Ledge’s glass boxes extend out 4.3 feet from the Skydeck. 

The Skydeck is open October- February Monday – Friday:  9am to 8pm, and Saturday – Sunday:  9am to 10pm. Last entry is 30-minutes prior to closing. Lots of special ticket packages are available. For tickets and information, click here. 

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago