I really enjoyed my little excursion to the top of the John Hancock Center! After attending a technical session on the opening day of the IEEE convention, there was nothing on for me in the afternoon so I took a shuttle back to my hotel and then quickly walked north to where this 3rd tallest of Chicago's skyscrapers is located.
Having read that it can be cheaper as well as more enjoyable to skip the 94th floor observation deck in favour of the 96th floor Signature Lounge cocktail bar, I marched through the lobby to the special elevators that will whisk you straight to the top! Another gentleman turned up as well, just before the elevator arrived, so I hit the Signature Room button and off we went. However, on the short journey up I realized that would take me to the 95th floor restaurant, so I also punched the button for the Signature Lounge. The gentleman asked me if that was where the good views were and I said it was - being the big expert! We chatted a bit as we continued upward, turned out he was from France and had been teaching history in Quebec, so I asked him to join me for a beer while we enjoyed the views from our window seat in the Lounge.
We had a great spot looking out toward the south where all the major skyscrapers are located and also took a stroll to the north side where we saw the Oak Street Beach along Lake Michigan's shore (2nd photo) as well as looked down onto the 871-foot 66 story Bloomingdale's skyscraper (3rd photo). The service in the Lounge was very fast and friendly as we relaxed in plush seating, sipping on Guinness and Heiniken beers as we discussed quite a number of things. It was a great way to spend an hour or so and the beer wasn't all that expensive either at $9 - especially since it costs $12 just to get into the Observation Deck!
According to Wikipedia, the 100-story John Hancock Center is 1,127-feet (344 m) tall, making it the 3rd tallest building in Chicago and fifth the United States. If you count its two large communications antennae, its height tops out at 1,500-feet. When it was completed in 1969, before the days of rampant 'I can build mine taller than yours', it was the world's tallest building outside of New York City. Today, the building houses offices, restaurants and the world's highest condominiums.
I made special note of the heavily reinforced look of its exterior (2nd and 3rd photos), with X-braces climbing up the side of the building to give it extra structural strength. I still remember the problems the John Hancock Insurance Company had with its 60-story all-glass exterior tower built in Boston in 1976. Whenever the winds exceeded 45-mph, large 4x11-ft panes of glass weighing 500-lbs had a nasty habit of popping out to fall hundreds of feet to the sidewalks below! Another little problem was the tendency of the top floors to sway in the wind giving that motion sickness feeling to their tenants. While investigating these various problems, it was also discovered that a certain type of wind shear could cause the entire structure to fall over. In the end, the glass panes all had to be replaced with stronger types, two 300-ton mass-dampers had to be installed on the 58th floor to counteract the forces of the wind and steel cross-braces similar to these exterior ones in Chicago had to be added to reinforce the frame of the building. Altogether, it was an architectural nightmare that cost the company more than a $100 million to fix.
The 100-story John Hancock Center was completed in 1969 and at 344 m tall, it is currently the third highest building in Chicago. The Hancock Observatory is located on the 94th floor of the building and offers a great view of downtown Chicago. At $15, tickets are a bit more expensive than those at the more popular Sears Tower's Skydeck, but it's usually less crowded (there was no line-up at all when I showed up). The elevator ride to the observatory lasts 40 seconds, and there's a funny pre-recorded message that helps take your mind off the fact that you're traveling at 32 km/h. Once you reach the Observatory, you can walk around the floor to take pictures, although I was a bit disappointed to find out that it's nearly impossible to take pictures on the skywalk, the only portion of the floor that is screened. Everywhere else there are windows, which makes taking night pics quite difficult if you've got an automatic camera like mine. The good news is that for an extra $3, your ticket can give you access to the Observatory the next day if you want to take both day and night shots. Another nice feature of the Observatory is that there is some interesting information about the history of Chicago along the walls, as well as a souvenir store.
The Hancock Observatory is open every day from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm.
A visit to Chicago is not complete without visiting the John Hancock Observatory. The view is just incredible and spans for about 80 miles seeing 4 states from the top.
Entrance is $9.50 for adults, $6.00 for children and Senior Citizens pay $7.50.
CLICK PHOTO TO SEE PANORAMIC OF JOHN HANCOCK
The John Hancock Center is one-hundred stories high and is a multi-use tower which tapers from bottom to top. The towering television antennas give it a height of 1,476 feet. It's exterior "skin" is made of aluminum and glass. (I would not want to wash all 11,459 panes of window glass!) It has 46,000 TONS of steel in its construction.
Commercial spaces occupy the base of the tower while parking, office, and residential zones rise above.
It sits just off Lake Shore Drive and is surrounded by huge, residential high-rise buildings, but it faces the city's most attractive commercial street: North Michigan Avenue.
The great thing about the observatory on top of the building is that you can see spectacular views in all directions:
East: Beautiful Lake Michigan.
North: Lake Shore Drive and Lincoln Park.
South: Chicago's Loop
West: Pattern of city streets and neighborhoods.
On clear days you could see up to four states:
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The John Hancock boasts of the "world's fastest elevators which whisk passengers non-stop from below ground to the observatory in 39 seconds!"
The 95th floor has a gourmet restaurant.
The 96th floor has a bar and lounge.
The Observatory is open:
9 a.m. to midnight
7 days a week.
Members of the armed forces in UNIFORM are admitted free.
Seniors and children pay special rates.
Sometimes, there is a line to enter, but it is worth it for the wonderful view.
This is another big, tall thing (see my Skydeck review) included on CityPASS that we opted to do because we were sort of museum-ed out. "Big John's" glass observatory is perched a couple hundred feet lower than Skydeck in the Willis Tower but it was also less mobbed and has a bar and espresso cafe. For a small extra fee and a buck for blades, you can wobble around the synthetic "Skating in the Sky" rink for 1/2 hour during the winter.
If not using a CityPASS for this one, you might be able to get away with not forking over for fast-pass tickets (twice the price of regular admission) as queues were shorter here than at Skydeck. Busiest times, they say, is between 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Open 9:00AM -11:00 PM daily.
While admiring the Hancock Center from the outside, be sure to go in and enjoy the view from the inside. As in the 94th floor. The Hancock Observatory is open to you, to enjoy this amazing city from 1000 feet high. Make sure you visit on a clear day (my day was a little hazy - I'll have to go back sometime).
Big windows open your view of Chicago from all four sides. Look down and see what those little ants (I mean people ) on the street are doing. Check out the Skywalk, an open-air viewing area (it does have barriers though, just in case). See a display on Chicago's history. Or take a personal audio tour.
Most of all, enjoy what many say is the best view of Chicago, at the Hancock Observatory. It's open every day, 9am-11pm
Last visit June 2011
Of the four tallest buildings in Chicago, if I had to choose one to go up to take a look at the city from above, I'd choose the Hancock which at 1,127 feet and 100 stories is the 4th tallest in Chicago.
The 2nd tallest building in Chicago, the Aon building, doesn't have public access. I haven't tried to get to the top of the 3rd tallest building in Chicago, the Trump Tower, as far as I know the highest the general public can get is the 16th floor where there is a restaurant.
Why choose the Hancock over the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, the tallest building in Chicago and the US? The Hancock is located right in the heart of the tourist area on Michigan Avenue, the Willis Tower is in the business district. The Willis Tower often has a long line and a security check. But the main reason is that I think the view from the Hancock is better, you're right on the lakefront and Michigan Avenue.
You can pay the admission fee to go to the observatory or you can go have a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. The drink is as much as admission but you got a drink! This used to be a local secret but not anymore, on a Saturday night we waited 20 minutes in line for a table. Try to go near sunset, for both the day view and the night view, both equally stunning!
Ladies, check out the women's bathroom in the Signature Lounge, the view is amazing! (sorry guys!)
Included on the City Pass and the Go Chicago Card
A few more facts if you're not bored yet:
The elevators are among the fastest in the world, making the trip to the 94th floor in about 39 seconds.
Built in 1969, floors 4-12 are parking, 13-41 are office space, and the rest up to 92 contain some of the most exclusive condos in the city.
It was financed by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, hence the name.
The Hancock is featured in at least 2 films-Risky Business and Poltergeist III
Chris Farley died at age 33 in his 60th floor apartment of a drug overdose.
If you are athletically inclined, there is an annual fundraiser called Hustle up the Hancock where you can climb up 1,632 stairs up to the 94th floor.
They whoosh you up to the top in a manner of seconds, and then you're free to wander around the area and take in the various views of the Windy City. I enjoyed seeing the gardens and pools on top of other skyscrapers--something I'd never considered before--as well as the shoreline and the traffic that looked like scurrying ants below.
The voice in the lift up the 314 meters to the Hancock Center's observation deck boasted that the skyscraper was the "most recognizable building in the world". Now I think the Hancock Tower is a fantastic looking building, but if they think it is more recognizable than the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building, or the Eiffel Tower, to name a few, they must be living in some alternate universe that I've never been to.
Personally, and this may be due to my gross ignorance, I only recognised the Hancock Tower because I mixed it up with the other great black monolith in Chicago, Sears Tower. I'd never previously have been able to put a name to the building, only say "yeah that's in Chicago!"
The Sears Tower is also the Hancock Center's greatest competitor. They both have skydecks that offer grand views of the city, and they are both extremely tall buildings. Sears Tower obviously wins out in terms of sheer magnitude, but many in Chicago seem to think that the Hancock Center offers the best views. What cannot be argued with is that the Hancock Tower has the least queues. I also prefer its clean lines to the "staggered cigarettes" shape of Sears Tower. My personal view is that you should go up Hancock Tower for the love of great views, and the Sears Tower for the damn bullheaded desire to chalk off one of the record breakers from your list.
At least those were my reasons for going up both :).
Cost: $10.25 (plus local taxes = about $11).
Rather than wait in line with the other tourists for the John Hancock observation deck. Make reservations or have a romantic cocktail at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building. The views are spectacular!
I visited both the Sears tower and the John Hancock. If I went again, I would choose the John Hancock. The Sears tower requires plenty lining up for each stage e.g. security, tickets, pictures etc. Frequently, this can take an hour or more. The John Hancock may not have an official viewing area, but has a restaurant. The minimum requirement is to buy a drink. Arguably a drink is far cheaper than paying to reach to top of the Sears tower, but you are still in one of the tallest buildings in the world. Maybe the view is not quite as high, but is far cheaper and far less waiting! Nevertheless, both buildings are impressive!
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The John Hancock Center Tower is maybe not Chicago's most beautiful building but is one of the most recognizable. After the Sears Tower, and the Aeon Building, the Hancock is the third tallest building in Chicago and in the US. While the Sears Tower is a place of business, the Hancock is a place to do business to but also to live. Yes, that 100 floors and 1,127 feet tall building has year-round resident. And I understand the prized appartement are the one where the windows are crossed by those X beams so characteristical of this building. It has everything you need too (Post office, dry-cleaning, newstand... even a grocery store! The ground floor has restaurants and business. But people come here for the view, the best view in town. You have the choice, you can either pay the admission price for the observation deck (open from 9 am to 11 pm): Adults pay $9.50, Seniors (62+); $7.50 and children under 12 years-old; $6.00. The alternative is enjoying a drink or a meal at the Signature room on the 95th and 96th floor and 96th-floor (restaurant on the lower floor and lounge on the upper floor) . It's not cheap (more than 6 bucks for a beer) but you can have a drink with a view! On the other side, if you really want a 360 degrees view, then the observation deck will be your pick. You may also notice that the building is... yes... swaying. Especially if the wind is strong. Don't worry though, the worse thing you can get is maybe a little motion sickness.
I recommendto go at sunset when the sun disappears and the Chicago lights are coming on, it's really, really a sight to see!
Welcome to the John Hancock Center, one of the jewels of Chicago's amazing skyline. The Hancock Center is prominent in any profiles of Chicago's skyline, as well it should be - to me, it's a beautiful building. In fact, it's Chicago's third tallest building, behind the Sears Tower and the Aeon Center
It's right on the Magnificent Mile. Look up from your shopping and you're bound to see it - in fact, it's impossible to miss. Bring your camera along and get some fun pictures.
This is a business building where thousands of people work each day, but fun can be had here too. Like, going up to the Hancock Observatory for a one-of-a-kind view of this amazing city.
One fun fact: one of Chicago's most famous citizens (OK, Chicago's MOST famous citizen) lives in the building next door. There's no sign for it, but Oprah Winfrey lives right next to the Hancock Center. After your Hancock Center visit, be sure to drop by Oprah's place. With a casserole, maybe? She'd LOVE to see you ;-)
John Hancock Center is the fifth tallest building of the country with its 100 floors and its 343 meters height. On the 94th floor, standing 314 m above street level, you’ll have a great view on the city, up to 100 km when the weather is clear.
'Big John', is said to be the Chicagoans favorite skyscraper as the view from the observation deck is one of the nicest you can get on the Loop and on Lake Michigan.
The building was designed by the engineer Fazlur Kahn and architect Bruce Graham and completed in 1969. Its design is quite remarkable, the huge X-braces serving both a structural and a visual purpose. It really gives the impression of stability and can resist the strong windforces by having the forces absorbed by all three dimensions of the building. John Hancock Center is a multifunction building. It includes 48 stories of apartments, 29 stories offices, shops, a hotel, a swimming pool, an ice rink, a post office, a restaurant and radio and television facilities on top. The 711 apartments are located at the top of the tower, and the funny thing is that some of them are so high that the inhabitants sometimes have to call the doorkeeper to ask what the weather's like down on the ground !!!