Willis Tower, formerly named
Sears Tower, is a 108-story
skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois.
time of its completion in 1973 it was the tallest
building in the world, surpassing the World Trade
Center towers in New York.
Currently, Willis Tower
is the tallest building
in the United States
and the fifth-tallest
freestanding structure in the world
' naming rights
expired in 2003, the building
continued to be called Sears Tower for several years. However, in
March 2009 London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd.
, agreed to
lease a portion of the building and obtained the building's naming
rights as part of the agreement. On July 16, 2009, at 10:00 am
building was officially renamed Willis Tower.
Planning and construction
In 1969, Sears, Roebuck & Co.
largest retailer in the world, with approximately 350,000
employees. 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.
With immediate space demands of 3 million
square feet (279,000 m²), and predictions and plans for future
growth necessitating even more space, Sears commissioned architects
Skidmore, Owings and
to produce a structure that would be one of the largest
office buildings in the world. Their team of architect Bruce Graham
and structural engineer Fazlur Khan
designed the building as nine square
"tubes"—each essentially a separate building—clustered in a 3x3
matrix. All nine tubes would rise up to the 50th floor of the
building. At the 50th floor, the northwest and southeast tubes end,
and the remaining seven continue up. At the 66th floor, the
northeast and the southwest tubes end. At the 90th floor, the
north, east, and south tubes end. The remaining west and center
tubes continue up to the 108th floor.
Sears executives decided early on that the space they would
immediately occupy should be efficiently designed to house the
small army that was their Merchandise Group. But floor space for
future growth would be rented out to smaller firms and businesses
until Sears could retake it. Therefore, the floor sizes would need
to be smaller, and to have a high window-space to floor-space
ratio, to be attractive and marketable to these prospective
lessees. Smaller floor sizes necessitated a taller structure.
Skidmore architects proposed a tower which would have large
55,000-square-foot (5,000 m²) floors in the lower part of the
building, and would gradually taper the area of the floors down in
a series of setbacks, which would give the Sears Tower its
distinctive, husky-shouldered look.
As Sears continued to offer optimistic projections for growth, the
tower's proposed height soared into the low hundreds of floors and
surpassed the height of New York's unfinished World Trade Center to
become the world's tallest building. Restricted in height not by
physical limitation or imagination but rather by a limit imposed by
the Federal Aviation Administration to protect air traffic, the
Sears Tower was financed completely out of Sears' deep pockets and
topped with two antennas to permit local television and radio
broadcasts. Sears and the City of Chicago approved the design, and
the first steel was put in place in April 1971. The structure was
completed in May 1973. Construction costs totaled approximately
$150 million USD at the time, which would be equivalent to roughly
$950 million USD in 2005. For comparison, Taipei's Taipei 101, built in 2004, cost around the equivalent of
US$1.76 billion in 2005 dollars.
Black bands appear on the tower around the 29th–32nd, 64th–65th,
88th–89th, and 104th–109th floors. These are louvers which allow ventilation
for service equipment and obscure the structure's belt trusses which Sears Roebuck did not want to be
visible as on the John Hancock Center.
In February 1982, two television antennas were added to the
structure, increasing its total height to . The western antenna
was later extended to on June 5, 2000 to improve reception of local
NBC station WMAQ-TV.
Sears' optimistic growth projections never came to pass.
Competition from its traditional rivals (like
Montgomery Ward) continued, only to
be surpassed in strength by other retailing giants like Kmart, Kohl's, and Wal-Mart.
fortunes of Sears & Roebuck declined in the 1970s as the
company lost market share and its management grew ever more
cautious. The Sears Tower itself was not the draw Sears hoped it
would be. The tower stood half-vacant for a decade as more office
space was erected in Chicago in the 1980s. The company was
eventually obliged to take out a mortgage on its signature
Keck, Mahin & Cate, a law
firm, considered moving out of its space in the Sears Tower and
moving into a potential new development, which would become
77 West Wacker
Brokers who were familiar with the lease
negotiations stated that Sears was trying to keep Keck, Mahin &
Cate in the building. Keck, Mahin & Cate decided to move into
77 West Wacker, and the Prime Group, developer of 77 West Wacker,
finalized the development of the facility. During the time that
Keck, Mahin & Cate was scheduled to move out of the Sears
Tower, Sears planned to move its offices to its merchandise group
facilities in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Sears began moving its offices out of the
Sears Tower in 1992.
In 1994 Sears sold the building to Boston-based AEW Capital
Management with financing from MetLife. At the time it was one
third vacant. By 1995 Sears had completely vacated the building,
moving to a new office campus in Hoffman Estates.
Toronto-based TrizecHahn Corp (the
owner at the time of the CN
Tower) purchased the building for $110 million, and
assumption of $4 million in liabilities, and a $734 million
In 2003 Trizec surrendered the building to lender MetLife
In 2004 Metlife sold it to a group of investors that includes New
York investors Joseph Chetrit, Joseph Moinian, Lloyd Goldman,
Joseph Cayre and Jeffrey Feil and Skokie-based American Landmark
Properties. The quoted price was $840 million with $825 million
held in a mortgage.
In February 2009 the owners announced they are considering a plan
to paint the structure silver
paint would "rebrand" the building and highlight its advances in
energy efficiency. The estimated cost is $50 million.
Since 2007 the building owners have been considering building a
hotel adjacent to the building on the north side of Jackson between
Wacker and Franklin on the site of a plaza that is the entrance to
tower's observation deck. The tower's parking garage is beneath the
plaza. Building owners say the second building was considered in
the original design. City zoning does not permit construction of
such a tall tower there.
In 2006, seven men were arrested by US authorities and charged with
plotting to destroy the tower. The case originally went to court in
October of 2007; after three trials, five of the suspects were
convicted and two were acquitted. The alleged leader of the group,
Narseal Batiste, was sentenced to 13 1/2 years in prison in
Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower opened as The Sears Tower Skydeck
observation deck on June 22, 1974. It is located on the 103rd floor
of the tower. It is 1,353 feet (412 m) above ground and
is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Chicago. Tourists
can experience how the building sways on a windy day. They can see
far over the plains of Illinois and across Lake Michigan to
Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin on a clear day. It takes about 60
seconds to soar to the top in either of two special, Schindler Group
elevators. The Skydeck competes
with the John Hancock
Center's observation floor a mile and a half away, which
is 323 feet (98 m) lower.
1.3 million tourists
visit the Skydeck annually.
In January 2009, the Skydeck began a major renovation including the
installation of glass balconies extending approximately four feet
over Wacker Drive from the 103rd floor. The all-glass boxes allow
visitors to look through the floor to the street below. The boxes,
which can bear five tons of weight (about 4.5 metric tonnes
), opened to the public on July
A second Skydeck on the 99th floor is used when the 103rd floor is
closed. The tourist entrance can be found on the south side of the
building along Jackson Boulevard.
In August 1999 French urban climber Alain
, using only his bare hands and feet, scaled
the building's exterior glass and steel wall all the way to the
top. A thick fog settled in near the end of his climb, making the
last 20 floors of the building's glass and steel slippery.
building's official address is 233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60606.
Willis Tower remains the tallest building in the Americas
. With a pinnacle height of 1730 feet (527 m),
it is the second tallest freestanding
structure in the Americas, as it is 86 feet (26 m) shorter than
Tower, and is the only other freestanding structure in
the Americas to exceed 1640 feet (500 m) in
height. As of August 2009, Willis Tower is the fifth
structure in the world (by pinnacle height), after the Burj Dubai, the Guangzhou TV
& Sightseeing Tower, the CN
Tower and the Ostankino Tower.
1,482.6 feet (451.9 m) tall, including decorative spires,
Twin Towers in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, laid claim to replacing the Sears Tower as the
tallest building in the world in 1998.
Height comparison with other tall
Not everyone agreed,
and in the ensuing controversy four different categories of "tallest building"
were created. Of these, Petronas was the tallest in one category
(height to top of architectural elements, meaning spires but not
Taipei 101 in Taiwan claimed the record in three of the four categories
in 2004 to become generally recognized as the tallest building in
Taipei 101 surpassed the Petronas Twin Towers in
spire height and the Sears Tower in roof height; it also claimed
the record for highest occupied floor. The Sears Tower retained one
record: its antenna exceeded the Taipei 101's spire in height.
the Shanghai World Financial
Center claimed the records of tallest building by roof and
highest occupied floor.
12, 2007, the Burj
Dubai in Dubai, United Arab
Emirates was reported by its developers to have surpassed
the Sears Tower in all height categories.
completed, 1 World
Trade Center in New York
City is expected to surpass Willis Tower through its
structural and pinnacle heights, but not by roof or highest
occupied floor. Burj
Dubai, currently topped out but still under construction
in Dubai, has laid claim (by a significant margin) to all height
records, surpassing the Sears Tower, the CN Tower, 1 World Trade Center, Taipei
101 and Shanghai World Financial
Center in every category. The Chicago Spire, which has a planned height of 610 m
(2,000 ft) is expected to lay claim to all categories of
height records in the Americas upon completion, but its
construction is currently on hold due to financial
Until 2000, the Sears Tower did not hold the record for the tallest
building by pinnacle height. From 1969-1978, this record was held by the
Center, whose antenna reached a height of 1,500 ft
(457.2 m), or 49 ft (14.8 m) taller than the Sears Tower's
original height of 1,451 ft (442 m).
In 1978, One World
Trade Center became taller by pinnacle height due to the addition
of a 359 ft (109.3 m) antenna, which brought its total height
to 1,727 ft (526.8 m). In 1982, two antennas were installed on
top of the Sears Tower which brought its total height to
1,707 ft (520.3 m), making it taller than the John Hancock
Center but not One World Trade Center. However, the extension of
the Sears Tower's western antenna in June 2000 to 1,730 feet (527
m) allowed it to just barely claim the title of tallest building by
West facade and entrance.
Although Sears sold the Tower in 1994 and had completely vacated it
by 1995, Sears retained the naming rights to the building through
2003. The new owners were rebuffed in renaming deals with CDW Corp
in 2005 and the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2008. London-based
insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd. leased more than
140,000 square feet of space on three floors in 2009. A Willis
spokesman said the naming rights were obtained as part of the
negotiations at no cost to Willis.
The building was renamed Willis Tower on July 16, 2009. The naming rights are valid for 15 years so it is possible that the building’s name could change again in 2024. The Chicago Tribune joked that the building’s new name reminds them of the oft-repeated "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" catchphrase from the 1980s American television sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. According to a July 16, 2009 CNN article, some Chicago area residents were reluctant to accept the Willis Tower name.
Film and television
The building has appeared in numerous films and television shows
set in Chicago such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off
where Ferris and company watch the streets of Chicago from the
observation deck. The television show Late Night with Conan
introduced a character called The Sears Tower
Dressed In Sears Clothing when the show visited Chicago in 2006.
The building is also featured in History Channel's Life After People
, in which it and
other human-made land marks suffer from neglect without humans
around, and it collapses two hundred years after people are gone.
In an episode of the television series, Monk
, Adrian Monk tries to conquer his
fear of heights by imagining that he is on top of the Sears Tower.
Also, in an episode of Kenan and
, Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble decide to climb to the
top of the Sears Tower, so that Kenan can declare his love for a
On May 25, 1981, Dan Goodwin
, wearing a
suit while using
suction cups, camming devices, and sky hooks, and despite several
attempts by the Chicago Fire
to stop him, made the first successful outside
ascent of Sears Tower. Goodwin was arrested at the top after the
seven hour climb and charged with trespassing. Goodwin stated the
reason he made the climb was to call attention to shortcomings in
high-rise rescue and firefighting techniques. After a lengthy
interrogation by Chicago's District Attorney and Fire Commissioner,
Goodwin was released.
Position in Chicago's skyline
Figures and statistics
Willis Tower viewed from the Chicago
- The top of Willis Tower is the highest point in Illinois. The
tip of its highest antenna is 1,730 feet (527.3 m) above
street level or 2,325 feet (708 m) above sea level, its
roof is 1,450 feet and 7 inches (442.1 m) above street
level or 2,046 feet (623 m) above sea level, the 103rd
floor observation deck (The Sky deck) is 1,353 feet
(412 m) above street level or 1,948 feet (593 m)
above sea level, the Wacker Drive main entrance is 595 feet
(181 m) above sea level. (The highest natural point in Illinois is
Mound, at 1,235 feet (376 m) above sea
- The building leans about 4 inches (10 cm) from
vertical due to its slightly asymmetrical design, placing unequal
loads on its foundation.
- The design for Willis Tower incorporates nine steel-unit square
tubes in a 3 tube by 3 tube arrangement, with each tube having the
footprint of 75 x 75 feet (22 x 22 m). Willis Tower was the
first building for which this design was used. The design allows
future growth of extra height to the tower if wanted or
restrooms on the 103rd floor 1,353 feet
(412 meters) above street level are the highest in the western
hemisphere and only surpassed in the world by the August 30, 2008
opening of the Shanghai World Financial
Center which has restrooms at the 1,388 foot (423 meter)
level observation deck.
Many broadcast station
transmitters are located at the top of Willis Tower. Each list is
ranked by height
from the top down. Stations at
the same height on the same mast indicate the use of a diplexer
into the same shared antenna
. Due to its extreme height, FM
stations (all class
) are very limited in power output.
- East mast:
- 480m: WJMK FM 104.3 main, 4.1 kW,
- 476m: WTMX FM 101.9 main, 4.2 kW,
- 474m: WBBM FM 96.3 main, 4.2 kW,
- WKSC FM 103.5 main, 4.3 kW,
- WGCI FM 107.5 main, 3.7 kW,
- 470m: WFMT FM 98.7, 6.0 kW
- 468m: WLS FM 94.7 main, 4.4 kW
- FCC query
- West mast:
(aka. NOAA Weather Radio
off the top of the Willis Tower on frequency 162.550 MHz
(Channel 7) known as KWO39
. Also equipped with
SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) for text alerts and hazardous
weather alarm on weather radios. For weather radio station listing,
please visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/ for more
- East mast:
- WLS-TV 7 analog,
55 kW, WLS TV (Analog Broadcast discontinued as of June 12,
2009. Now broadcasting only in digital.)
- WLS-TV 7 permanent
digital, 4.75 kW, WLS TV
- WCPX TV 43
digital, 200 kW, Paxson
- WCPX TV 38
analog, 3630 kW, Paxson (Analog Broadcast discontinued as of
June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only in digital.)
- WJYS TV 36
digital, 145 kW, Jovon Broadcasting
- WCIU-TV 27 digital, 15.1 kW, WCIU-TV
- WXFT-TV 59 temporary digital, 200 kW, TeleFutura
- WXFT-TV 50 permanent digital, 230 kW, TeleFutura
- WTTW TV 11
analog, 60.3 kW,Window To the World Comm. (Analog
Broadcast discontinued as of June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only
- WBBM-TV 12 digital, 8 kW, CBS
- WFLD TV 31
digital backup, 475 kW, Fox TV
- WPWR-TV 51 digital backup, 508 kW, Fox TV
WGN-TV 19 digital
backup, 310/229 kW, Continental
- WTTW TV 47 digital backup, 150 kW, Window To the World
- WLS-TV 52 digital backup, 220 kW, WLS TV
- unknown: W40BY 40 analog,
37.2 kW, Trinity
- FCC query
- West mast:
WPWR-TV 51 digital, 1000 kW, Fox TV
WLS-TV 52 temporary
digital, 153.6 kW, WLS
WMAQ-TV 29 digital,
350 kW, NBC/Telemundo
- WMAQ-TV 5 analog, 20 kW (Analog Broadcast discontinued as
of June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only in digital.)
- WPWR-TV 50 analog, 5000 kW (Analog Broadcast discontinued
as of June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only in digital.)
- WXFT-TV 60 analog, 5000 kW, TeleFutura (Analog Broadcast discontinued as of
June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only in digital.)
WFLD TV 31 digital, 690/1000 kW, Fox TV
WCIU-TV 26 analog, 5000 kW (Analog Broadcast
discontinued as of June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting only in
- WCIU-TV 27 digital, 590 kW, WCIU-TV
- WSNS-TV 44 analog 5000 kW, NBC Telemundo (Analog
Broadcast discontinued as of June 12, 2009. Now broadcasting
only in digital.)
- WSNS-TV 45 digital 467/665 kW, NBC Telemundo
WTTW TV 47 digital, 300 kW, Window To the World
WJYS TV 36 digital, 50 kW, Jovon
WGN-TV 19 digital,
645 kW, Continental
- WWME-LD 39 digital, 4.4 kW, Ch. 23
- WEDE-CA 34 analog, 50 kW, First
- WMEU-CA 48 analog STA, 150 kW, Weigel
- WMEU-LD 49 digital, 15 kW
- FCC query
Image:Sears Tower from Hancock Observation
Deck - daytime.jpg|Willis Tower as seen from John Hancock
Center observation deckImage:North View from
the skydeck of Sears Tower.JPG|900 North Michigan, Park Tower,
the John Hancock
Center, the Trump Tower, and Aon Center (L-R) as seen from the Willis Tower
Image:Vecerne Chicago.jpg|Westward view from Willis
- Kerch, Steve (October 20, 1991). "This job is a tall order
Sears Tower project is the height of redevelopment."
- The Tallest Skyscraper, TIME, June 11,
- Databank: Sears Tower. Wonders of the
World Databank. Retrieved November 19, 2007.
- SkyscraperPage - Sears Tower. Federal
Communications Commission, CTBUH
- For information on this transformation, see Donald R. Katz
The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears,
New York (Viking), 1987.
- " 77 W. Wacker ready to go." Chicago
Sun-Times. March 12, 1990. Retrieved on November 12,
- Cliff Edwards, Associated Press. "TrizecHahn buys control of
Chicago's Sears Tower World's 2d-tallest building sold for $110m."
The Boston Globe. December 4, 1997. Retrieved February 25, 2009
from HighBeam Research:
- Sears Tower may be for sale - Crains Chicago Business -
October 31, 1997
- Trizec to sell its last local asset - Crain's Chicago
Business - September 27, 2006
- "[ BIZ BRIEFS ]." Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Sun Times. May 1,
2004. Retrieved February 25, 2009 from HighBeam Research:
- "MetLife to Complete Sale of Chicago's Sears Tower." Chicago
Tribune (Chicago, IL). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
April 30, 2004. Retrieved February 25, 2009 from HighBeam Research:
- Sears Tower in silver? - Chicago Sun-Times -
February 25, 2009
- David Roeder. "Tall order for Tower?; Sears Tower owners to
press city for zoning change, subsidy to add 2nd building as part
of mega-million-dollar project next to landmark." Chicago
Sun-Times. Chicago Sun Times. October 12, 2007. Retrieved February
25, 2009 from HighBeam Research:
- "Seven charged over 'Chicago plot'". BBC
News, 23 June 2006.
- "Sears Tower 'plot trial' begins". BBC
News, 3 October 2007.
- "Five guilty in Chicago bomb plot". BBC
News, 12 May 2009.
- "Sears Tower bomb plot leader Narseal Batiste
jailed". BBC News, 20 November 2009.
- Sears Tower unveils 103rd floor glass
- Burj Dubai surpasses the height of Sears Tower in
- Chicago Spire, Chicago -
- Willis could get Sears Tower naming rights -
Chicago Real Estate Daily - March 11, 2009
- The Sears Tower Dressed In Sears Clothing
- Sears Tower in Chicago Is Scaled by Stunt Man
Published: May 26, 1981 New York Times