Sears Tower: Historic News Headlines

Historic News Headlines

Welcome to the Historic News Headlines page, a digital archive of noteworthy articles pertaining to Sears Tower published prior to 1995.

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Today's the day--
Sears Tower becomes tallest of the tall

(c) Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1973

With its topping out today, Chicago's Sears Tower will become the world's tallest building towering above other famous skyscrapers around the world. Ironworkers will bolt the last steel girder into place atop the 100-story, 1,454-foot structure today. More than 1,500 men have worked on the building since construction began in 1970. The building which is scheduled for completion next year, will provide more more than 4.4 million square feet of office space and will have cost more than $150 million.

Girder tops Sears 'Rock'
By Rovert Enstad
(c) Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1973

A FINAL 2,500-pound girder was lifted a quarter mile into the sky yesterday to make the Sears Tower the world's tallest building. It almost didn't come about.

Strong winds threatened to delay the topping off of the building. It was feared the heavy beam would break some windows on its way to the top.

But the strong, cold winds seemed to die down just long enough for the lifting as dignitaries below stretched their necks upward and a chorus of hard hat electrical workers sang these lyrics:

"She towers so high
"Just scraping the sky
"She's The Tallest Rock."

She is indeed the tallest rock as she pierces the clouds 1,454 feet [nowadays over 1,700 feet] above Wacker Drive at Jackson Boulevard. A frame of 76,000 tons of steel encloses 4.5 million feet of floor space.

Richard Sears could never have dreamed of such an edifice bearing his name when he brought his fledgling mail-order business to Chicago in 1887.

YET THERE she stood in the clear but cold sky yesterday as a monument to what is now the world's largest retailer--Sears Roebuck & Co.--and man's ability to reach higher and higher in search of a place to work and live.

"I want to thank them [Sears] for staying in Chicago when so many are leaving said Mayor Daley. "Sears Roebuck, a name that means everything to the people of America, has no equal in the business world of Chicago."

"We ask that each time we look at this tower, may we be reminded of our unity," said Cardinal Cody.

Gordon Metcalf, retired chairman of the board of Sears, told the dignitaries who sat shivering in 42-degree temperatures fanned by strong north winds that Sears Tower almost wasn't the biggest. He said twin towers, which would not have been as high as the new tower, were considered for the three-acre site.

"Being the largest retailer in the world, we thought we should have the largest headquarters in the world," said Metcalf.

A FEW minutes later a group calling themselves the Tower Bums started singing "The Tallest Rock," a sort of folk-rock composition, and the white beam with 12,000 signatures on it began its final journey to the 110th floor.

It was a great moment for both Sears and the Tower Bums, a group consisting of Bob Rameke, John Meyer, Jack Gallagher, and Howard Nowotarski. All have been electrical workers at Sears Tower. Rameke composed "The Tallest Rock" for yesterday's occasion.

As the last beam went into place workmen already were putting in carpeting and installing cabinets in the lower floors of the Tower, whose present stage of maturity depends on what floor you are on. The beams are now all in place. The concrete flooring is completed to the 101st floor, and aluminum and glass windows are in up to the 88th floor.

Occupancy of the building will begin late this year. Completion is not expected until next year.

At that time Chicagons (sic) will have a chance to see how Chicago looks from a public observatory on the 103rd floor.

Planks fall 108 floors
(c) Chicago Tribune, Apr 6, 1973

Large scaffolding planks broke loose from the 108th floor of the Sears Tower yesterday and fell into Adams Street injuring two women. A window in the Fashion Trades building, 318 W. Adams St., was broken by a piece of the falling lumber.

Janet Jaegers, 22, of 2711 N. Magnolia St., was hit by fragments of the planks and treated in Henrotin Hospital. She was later admitted to Grant Hospital in satisfactory condition. Louise Hogan, 61, of Rt. 4, Antioch, was treated at Henrotin Hospital and released after she, too, was hit by fragments. Both women were also struck by pieces of glass from windows broken by the falling planks.

A spokesman for Sears, Roebuck and Company said the scaffolding was being used for interior construction work. he said it had somehow blown through a space where windows are to be inserted. The Sears tower is being constructed at Adams and Franklin Streets.

The Sears Tower
By Paul Gapp
Architecture Critic
(c) Chicago Tribune, Feb 9, 1974

Any plea to call a halt to gigantism is futile. We are stuck with it and we are going to get more of it. We can only hope that those colossal urban growths are created with at least as much skill and sensitivity as that which resulted in Sears Tower. . . .

In the end, what we have here is a building whose exterior profiles are a bold, vital, and exciting departure from orthodox mediocrity; in sum, a finely engineered piece of sculpture, even if its interior is largely nondescript. . . .

Let us give thanks that Sears' request for 4.5 million square feet of space was not fulfilled by someone who decided the solution was to build the world's largest cracker box.

Original cast returning for Sears Tower renovation
By Bill Barnhart and Sally Saville Hodge
(c) Chicago Tribune, Nov 14, 1983

Sears, Roebuck & Co. has awarded two contracts for a $20 million-to-$30 million renovation of all the lower-level public space in Sears Tower--150,000 to 200,000-square-feet.

The contracts for the job went to the same companies that did the original design and structural work on Sears Tower: architects and designers Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and contractor Morse-Diesel Inc.

Sears Tower, which opened in 1974 with its 110 stories and 4.5 million total square feet, is renowned as the tallest and one of the two largest buildings in the world. Its lower-level space, however, has earned the more dubious distinction of being confusing to people who frequent the building as well as to the uninitiated pedestrian.

Skidmore referred questions about the project to Sears. Morse-Diesel Assistant Vice President William Lyons informed his firm had won the contract, but he said Sears would have to fill in the details.

Sears Spokesman Ernie Arms said, "We're several weeks away from an announcement. No details are available yet."

Sources say Skidmore beat out architects John and Norman Schlossman, and Charles Kober Associates, and that Morese-Diesel won the contract over Schal Associates Inc.

One of the project's features, sources say, is a new atrium entrance off Wacker Drive that will extend from the sidewalk to the present doorways. In addition, plans call for an overall "opening-up of space."

The project may slightly raise the rents in an already high-rent district, but it's believed to be intended to spruce up the image of Sears and its tower. Some also theorize the renovation may be a testimonial to Chairman Edward Telling, the man who directed Sears' metamorphosis from a sluggish retailer into an aggressive financial services giant.

Guesses vary as to why Sears rejoined forces with Skidmore, which designed the confusing public space area to begin with, but one industry executive comments: "You married? Well, you have fights and disagreements, but you get back together again. It's comfortable."

Architectural giantism
By Paul Gapp
Architecture Critic
(c) Chicago Tribune, Nov 17, 1985

The recent $25 million overhauling of Sears Tower is in most respects an esthetic as well as practical success, but it is hardly possible to contemplate the results of the work without considering broader issues of architectural giantism.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) designed the 110-story skysccraper, the world's tallest. The structure opened in 1973 and quickly became an enormous hive for 12,000 office workers. Engineers marveled at the design of its extraordinary steel frame, devised by Fazlur Khan of SOM. Sightseers were delighted by the view from an observatory on the 103d floor.

Sears Tower's unusual shape immediately gave it a place alongside Marina City and John Hancock Center as the Chicago skyscrapers most often reproduced on souvenirs (a bizarre index for archeologists of the distant future?).

Yet even the shape became a bit of a bore after the novelty wore off, and the building's setbacks (which do not begun until the 50th story) never yielded the dramatic tapering quality of older skyscrapers. Indeed, Sears Tower may be the only high-rise in the nation that looked a littled better after television antennas were added to its top. The slender masts mitigate the stubbiness of the summit.

But while the design was visually unsatisfying from the start, it fell short in other respects, too. Users of the main entrance facing Wacker Drive were frequently buffeted by winds swirling down the west side of the building. Confused tourists seeking the observatory elevators collided with people who were in the lobbies on business. There were relatively few restaurants and retailing spaces on the lower floors, and they were mostly tucked out of sight.

Two years ago, SOM was finally commmissioned by Sears to perform the sort of remedial architecture that should have shaped the building in the first place--although Sears itself must share the responsibility for some of the original misjudgments.

In any case, the public spaces in Sears Tower are today in some ways radically different from what they were when the massive remodeling job began. The results are also worthy of scrutiny simply because it is unlikely that any one ever spent so much money in the altering of so young a skyscraper.

The most striking change, of course, has come with the creation of a large new glassed-in entrance on the Wacker side--a vaulted transparent structure that is 135 feet wide, 60 feet deep and 58 feet tall. It replaces a skimpy little marquee and an exposed outdoor staircase of 21 steps--which was a ridiculous entrance to a tower 1454 feet tall.

SOM scaled the new entrance skillfully, in keeping with the main building's height. One now walks in with the sure feeling that this is a goliath of a tower, for better or worse. The freestanding entrance structure is linked to the skyscraper quite deftly.

It can be argued that this curvy greenhouse, done in the SOM-favored New Mainstream style, is incompatible with the slick, Miesian, 90-degree angle architecture of the tower. Still, what shape would have been better--a box? Hardly. Some incongruity was probably inevitable.

Inside the protective entranceway, almost everything is symmetrical and in balance including two little groves of three fig trees each. Twin curved staircases rise one story, but lead to say, SOM gave them little grace. Paired ramps for wheelchairs and babystrollers lead one level down, and alongside them are decorative twin rivulets that unaccountably terminated in exposed drainage basins where the water whirls around precisely as it would in two giant toilet bows. Somebody really ought to do something about that.

The other most obvious, costly and complicated change was made on the Franklin Street side of Sears Tower, where floors were pierced to create a large atrium. Walking into this area, a newcomer can now look up or down and instantly perceive that shops, restaurants and other facilities are handily located inside the building.

The five-floor atrium not only makes good marketing sense, but relieves the formerly cramped feeling just inside the Franklin entrance. From outside, however, the entrance still looks like a back door of little consequence, even though it faces the Loop and is daily used by thousands of pedestrians.

A rather less conspicuous but important addition was made on the Jackson Boulevard side, where a skylighted passage now runs beneath Sears Tower's plaza from the street to the building. There was formerly no entrance tying into Jackson, and there is still none that connets with Adams Street to the north.

Sears and SOM also devoted attention to improving the logistics of handling large observatory crowds and enhancing their visits. Before boarding nonstop elevators to the 103d floor, sightseers enter a new auditorium to watch a lively slide show about Chicago, then gather around a large scale model of the building to learn about its design, construction and mechanical systems.

The view from 103 is still as smashing as ever. Among other things, it gives one a quick grasp of how much new high-rise construction is underway in the central area and how each structure fits its environs.

Sears Tower is assuredly a better building than it used to be in several important respects--and workmen are still applying finishing touches. One hopes that by next spring, the ugly plaza surrounding the structure also will be refashioned into something respectable. Sears is already using a picture of the greenhouse in its advertising as a new symbol for the skyscraper.

Still, some of the most negative characteristics could of course not be changed and will continue to serve as examples of how not to impose a collossally dimensioned building on the urbanscape.

In the broad context of what a well-planned and comfortable city should be, Sears Tower is simply too big. Its height is excessive. Its worker population and 4 million squre feet of floor space on a single city block impose densities that in my judgment are unacceptable.

Yet it is not the intent here to single out Sear Tower as some lone example of aberrant architecture. While it happens to hold the height record, it is only a fractional part of a much large problem that is eroding the beauty, charm and ground level vitality of most big cities.

What is "too tall"? What is "too big"? The answers will always be partly arbitrary, for no heavenly messenger confronts us with the definitions chiseled in stone. Nor must the standards always be the same in every situation--if it is not belaboring the obvious to say so.

But consider: Chicago does have zoning controls governing height. It has legally mandated floor area ratios, which dictate [more or less] how tall you can build depending on how much land you're using. It has long had something called the Planned Unit Development ordinance [PUD], under which real estate promoters theoretically provide extra amentities in exchange for relaxing zoneing restrictions.

On paper, then, there is a clear legal intent at the municpal level to prevent or blunt giantism for the common weal. The problem is, such regulatory mechanisms are weak and do not function well in chicago and most other ciies. Architecture must share the blame--along with building owners and politicians--for the mindless escalation of the skyscraper hieght race.

Some of the structural engineers who design the supporting frames that make tall towers possible seem to exult in technology without understanding or caring about giantism's effects. There is seemingly serious talk today about 200-story buildings, and even some academic palaver about 500 stories.

But is it not time for an embargo on this sort of nonsense? Hasn't architecture carried the technology of tallness far enough--with the exception of such things as better design for fire and earthquae protection?

Certainly a skyscraper can be and occasionally is a glorious object--even a beautiful one. No one is asking for a Daniel Burnham-style central city of six-story structures, as though the Loop were Montpanasse. But as we near the end of 1985--the centennial year of the skyscraper's birth--can't we recognize that we may be approaching an age of buildings as freaky and repugnant as a 9-foot man?

Sears faces tough sell leasing tower office space
By By Stanley Ziemba
(c) Chicago Tribune, Nov 5, 1989

Having removed the ``For Sale`` sign from Sears Tower, Sears, Roebuck & Co. now faces a problem it had hoped to avoid-finding a new anchor tenant for the world`s tallest building.

When Sears` 6,000-member Merchandise Group moves to Hoffman Estates in 1992, the company will have to find one or more firms to lease the 1.8 million square feet of office space in the 110-story skyscraper that the retailing division will be vacating.

Sears could have avoided the problem had it sold the building outright, leaving a new owner stuck with the task.

Sears tried to sell the Tower. In fact, a sale to Toronto-based developer Olympia & York Developments Ltd. for $1.04 billion appeared imminent last summer, but fell through in the fall. Sears could find no other takers.

The firm now is said to be seeking an $850 million convertible mortgage-in other words, taking its equity out of the building while retaining at least partial ownership.

According to commercial real estate brokers here, Sears` decision to go the convertible mortgage route implies, on the surface at least, that the retailer will have its cake and be able to eat it, too.

But faced with the daunting task of filling 1.8 million square feet of soon-to-be vacated space in the Tower, the retailer might find the cake to be anything but appetizing.

To get some idea of the scope of Sears` problem, consider that most of the new, mega-size office buildings built downtown in recent years contain 800,000 to 1 million square feet of rentable office space. The space being vacated in Sears Tower, in effect, is equal to two major office towers.

The thought of having to find new tenants to fill such space sends shivers through even the most experienced brokers in the city`s commercial real estate firms.

``Can they do it?`` said Goldie B. Wolfe, president of the firm, Goldie B. Wolfe & Co. and one of the city`s top commercial real estate brokers. ``Sure, anything is leasable. It`s just not going to be easy.``

According to Wolfe and other downtown real estate brokers, Sears Tower has a lot of pluses that appeal to prospective office tenants. The building itself, because of its height, is a trophy structure. Despite its age-it was completed in 1974-it remains a quality building. Moreover, it`s on Wacker Drive, the hottest high-rise commercial office strip in Chicago.

But brokers also point out that approximately 15 percent of the office space along Wacker Drive currently is vacant. That figure is likely to increase by 1992 as more new buildings now under construction along the downtown strip open for business. That means there will be lots of buildings competing with Sears for new tenants, they said.

More important, the brokers point out, the floors within Sears Tower to be vacated by the company`s Merchandise Group are in the lower half of the building, the space within an office tower usually least attractive to image- conscious tenants. For many firms, having offices at or near the top of a skyscraper creates the perception, if not the reality, that it is powerful and prestigious.

Moreover, the floors in the lower half of the building where Sears` Merchandise Group offices currently are located are too large for most types of office users, the brokers say.

``Most of the midsize to large firms in the market for new office space today fit nicely into 25,000 square feet of floor space,`` said Pamela Rose, managing director of the Chicago-based corporate real estate firm of Rose & Associates Inc. ``The floors on which the Merchandise Group are located are 50,000 square feet.

``Large insurance companies, banks, engineering firms and maybe large accounting or architectural firms that need large spaces to accommodate administrative support staffs probably would work well in such a large space. Most other office users, such as law firms, however, have need of lots of private offices with windows. Not too many people can be next to or near a window on a 50,000-square-foot floor.``

Rose, Wolfe and most other commercial real estate brokers say that Sears` success in leasing the 1.8 million square feet of Tower space will require a gradual phasing out of the Merchandise Group from Sears Tower-perhaps over a period of five years or so-a competitive rental rate and some major remodeling.

``If they vacate that space all at one time, the office market on Wacker Drive could be thrust into a state of depression,`` Rose said. ``It would become a tenants` market and development of more new buildings along Wacker and adjacent streets would probably come to a halt for a couple of years.``

As for renovating Sears Tower, the lobby needs to be made more attractive and the windows, which have broken occasionally during high winds, need to be replaced with a more wind-resistant window, brokers say.

As for the rent, Sears probably will have to charge $5 to $10 less than the $20- to $24-a-square-foot net rent that office space along Wacker Drive commands.

Towering changes
By By Stanley Ziemba
(c) Chicago Tribune, Oct 10, 1993

Renovating Sears extends and betrays its original vision

The most dramatic place to experience the new lobby of Sears Tower, still the world's tallest office building nearly 20 years after it was constructed, is right in the middle of the lobby itself. For Sears has always seemed more a triumph of engineering than of architecture, and the greatest strength of the renovation is that it makes this triumph visible to the naked eye, peeling away ceilings and interior bridges to reveal the structural bravura that is this building's glory.

What you experience if you stand in the lobby, on either the Wacker Drive or Franklin Street side of the building, is a spare, 50-foot-tall space flanked on three sides by a shiny grid of beams and columns.

Big deal?

Well, yes, if you stop to consider that the columns are bearing the load of thousands of tons of structural steel, not to mention the weight of some 6,000 office workers, plus enough desks and copying machines to furnish an entire suburban office complex.

There are 15 feet between the centers of each column. Six columns form one side of a 75-foot-square "tube." Nine tubes are bundled together structurally, rising from ground level to the 49th floor, where two of the tubes are terminated. Five more are lopped off at the 65th and 90th floors, with the last two tubes-including the one that begins in the Wacker Drive lobby-soaring all the way to Sears' 110-story, 1,454-foot summit.

Developed by the late Fazlur Khan, chief engineer at the Chicago architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, this system of rigid, interlocked steel tubes created an immensely strong, relatively lightweight and, thus, extraordinarily economical framing system that did not place a financial premium on height.

The bundled-tube structural system is the genius of Sears, and that is why Chicago architects De Stefano + Partners were wise to make it the showpiece of the tower's renovated ground level. But a successful renovation is about more than highlighting one aspect of a work of architecture; it involves the creative synthesis of old and new, making additions seem as if they had always been there-faithful to the spirit of the original while taking it to a new level of form and function. That is the standard by which the new Sears ultimately must be judged.

In many ways, the old Sears was one of the most cold and fortress-like towers ever constructed-from some vantage points, a soaring presence on the skyline; from all sides, a dud at street level. Its curtain walls of black aluminium and bronze-tinted glass slammed into the ground without a hint of human scale. Its steeply pitched, granite-paved plaza repulsed all but the most determined lunchtime brownbaggers. The only respite from dullness came from Alexander Calder's "Universe," a playful, brightly colored sculpture that twirled and swirled in the Wacker Drive lobby.

A lunchbox-shaped atrium tacked on the Wacker entrance in 1985 flopped miserably in its attempt to transform Sears into a pedestrian-friendly office building. The atrium was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architect Bruce Graham, who teamed with engineer Khan on the 1974 original.

Its lack of human scale was just one of Sears' ground-level woes. Lower floors were a maze of shops, elevator lobbies and escalators that bewildered visitors and tenants alike. On a given weekday, a phalanx of yellow buses might pull up to the tower, unloading hundreds of schoolchildren, who would pour through the Franklin Street lobby, bumping into pinstriped executives as they scurried to elevators that would transport them to the 103rd-floor skydeck observatory.

The economic significance of these problems was magnified when Sears, Roebuck & Co. decided in 1988 to relocate 5,000 employees from the tower to its state-subsidized corporate campus in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates. The move, made last year, vacated more than 2 million square feet of office space, turning what was essentially a corporate headquarters designed for a single tenant into a speculative office building that had to be rented to many tenants to be profitable.

The job of filling that yawning maw of office space fell to Chicago developer John Buck, who was hired by Sears to manage the tower after the retailer failed to sell the building. Buck tapped De Stefano-no stranger to the thinking that produced the tower-for the task of renovating its lobbies and public spaces level. Before opening his own office, De Stefano had been a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Yet it is no simple matter to renovate an office building such as Sears. In its two-decade lifespan, there has been a sea change in architectural thinking, particularly with respect to the way the skyscraper meets the sidewalk. Sterile is out; inviting is in. These days, the tall office building is expected to engage and enliven its surroundings instead of rising like an isolated tombstone. For De Stefano, the challenge was to warm up the base of Sears without tarting it up.

Working with partner John Albright, De Stefano has done much to extend Sears' powerfully austere modern architecture through the renovation, while simultaneously bringing a sense of order to the previously chaotic space.

A new free-standing, one-story pavilion, its roof hung from four steel columns, has a structural elan that Khan would have appreciated; its square form plays nicely off the round shape of the "lunchbox" atrium on Wacker. Located on the Jackson Street side of the tower, the pavilion houses a new entrance for the skydeck observatory, separating tourist traffic from the main lobby.

New entrance canopies on Wacker and Franklin are, for the most part, faithful to the modernist vocabulary of Sears; the Wacker canopy, in particular, lends a human scale to this Goliath of an office building. Better yet, room has been made for the Franklin Street canopy and the Jackson Street pavilion by carving openings, up to 100 feet wide, in the notorious granite plaza surrounding Sears. On the Jackson side, there are plans for greenery and tiered steps that finally should make the plaza a place where pedestrians can sit without feeling as if they are on the side of a mountain.

Inside, nearly every elevator lobby has been moved to a slightly sunken main level, while graphics show the way to the elevators, and all but the most essential shops have been relocated to basement levels, freeing the lobby of clutter. Interior partitions are separated from the original steel framework. Low ceilings and interior bridges have been removed; from the new, 50-foot ceilings hang steel "chandeliers" that use the building's structure as a motif for their silvery grid.

That structure, of course, is part of a larger aesthetic that derives from the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

(It is an old architectural joke that Skidmore, Owings & Merrill followed Mies so slavishly that they were "three blind Mies.")

The Miesian manner is always refined, never overstated. Luxuriant in its use of materials, yes; showy, no. It is hardly coincidental that Sears' exterior is black and essentially boxy, like Mies' epoch-defining apartment towers at 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive. No crowd-pleasing Jazz Age ornament here. It was not for nothing that critics referred to the world's tallest office building as 110 stories of soaring nonchalance.

And that is where De Stefano has run into trouble, cladding the beams and columns of Sears' lobbies in three varieties of burnished stainless steel justified in part by the fact that the tower is the tallest steel building in the world.

Had it been employed solely as an accent material, the stainless steel might not have been so jarring. But the shiny stuff is used like wallpaper in the new lobbies, giving the otherwise understated renovation the glint of a hall of mirrors. This is puttin' on the glitz, a flaw that seriously compromises the new Sears in its attempt to remain faithful to the Miesian original.

As if to underscore that departure, one of the three types of stainless steel is hand-ground with a swirl; it gives the lobby a decorative superficiality at odds with the stern rationality of the Miesian aesthetic.

To be sure, there is much to celebrate here.

The Calder sculpture looks superb in its new setting, the ground level appears to function smoothly, and the revamped plaza is finally reaching out to the city.

But art this is not, and, oh yes, there remains 1.5 million square feet of empty office space upstairs.

Perhaps they'll get it right on the third renovation. By that time, however, it won't matter as much.

Now under construction in Malaysia are twin towers designed by American architect Cesar Pelli that may rise to the height of 1,476 feet-22 feet taller than Sears.

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