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Sears Tower - the tallest of them all!
When it was completed in 1973, at 1457-ft the Sears Tower became the world's tallest building as it surpassed New York's World Trade Center by 85-feet. If you don't count the communications masts on top of many of the world's tallest buildings, it held that title for 31 years until completion of the 1667-ft Taipai 101 building in Taipai, Taiwan in 2004.
Unlike its two nearest competitors in Chicago, the rectangular shaped Aon and the gently tapering John Hancock, the Sears tower is constructed out of nine individually reinforced steel tubes. All nine of these rise to the 49th floor to provide a solid base for the structure as seven of them continue upward to the 65th floor. Two more stop there and the remaining five rise to the 90th floor in the shape of a crucifix before the final two, creating a rectangle, reach the top - 110 floors up. In addition to providing great strength against wind loading, the different levels at which various tubes end provides the Sears Tower with differing appearances depending on which direction from which it is viewed. Observation decks on the 99th and 103rd floors continue to be a toursist draw in Chicago, but it was too far off my beaten path on this trip as I settled for the view from the more centrally located John Hancock Center.
The fortunes of the Sears company began to flag shortly after it was built and by 1995 Sears had moved out completely as it was taken over by more than one hundred tenants including major law firms, insurance companies and financial services firms. It changed hands in 2009 and was re-named the Willis Tower.
- Business Travel
No trip to Chicago is complete without a trip to the top of the SEARS TOWER Skydeck, one of the highest observation decks of any building in the world. The Tower is 110 stories high and the observation deck with spectacular views of Chicago, is located on the 103 floor.
Prices as of August, 2006
Adult 12 - 64 $11.95
Seniors 65 + $9.95
Youth 3 - 11 $8.50
Children under 3 Free
- Family Travel
Once the symbol of Sears, Roebuck & Company
Click on panoramic photo
The 110 story Sears Tower was completed in 1974, &, at that time until 1996 was The World's Tallest Building. At the time it was built, it was the symbol of the vast merchandising empire of Sears, Roebuck & Company, based in Chicago since 1893! The company wanted a large building 6,500 employees. The idea was to consolidate offices that were scattered across the city.
This site on South Wacker Drive was chosen because it was close to commuter railroad stations, the Elevated, the CTA bus routes, & all 3 expressways.
The building was limited to 1,454 feet by the Federal Aviation Authority. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Architectual Firm designed the building. They used a "bundled tube building procedure" because the perimeter columns brace the building against the wind. Their frames are interlocked, & each tube helps support its neighboring tube.
Setbacks are used above the 50th floor which help to deflect the horizontal wind stress. These setbacks make for sound design & a powerful profile on Chicago's skyline. It can be seen for great distances.
Originally, the large floors in the base building were occupied by Sears; the upper floors were (and still are) rented. This building uses high-speed, double-deck express elevators & sky lobbies for transfers to local elevators.
Even though the building itself reflects sound engineering & sucessful architecture design, much criticism has been given concerning the granite-paved plaza surrounding the base of the tower. It's been called, "cheerless space, virtually devoid of seating or landscaping & generally devoid of people." Thus, 10 years after it was built, a 4-story, vaulted atrium was added to welcome arrivals on Wacker Drive. Also, a major entrance was added on Jackson Boulevard in a $25 million dollar renovation.
The Skydeck occupies the 103rd floor. Its own entrance is on Jackson Boulevard.
More than 1.5 million visitors come each year!
Oh yeah, every city has that big tall thing. For a chunk of your 401 they'll herd you into an elevator with a perky attendant and a kajillion other bodies you'll be fighting with for window space. For another chunk of your 401 they'll take your picture, and you'll hand over anything left for tchotchkes you'll hate the minute you get home.
Yep, this is one of those places but with an interesting twist: you can take in Chicago's skyline from a glass-floored cube that extends 4 feet outside the building and 1,353 feet above the ground: a real bird's-eye view. Big deal, you say? I did too - until it was my turn in the thing and my knees rattled so badly I almost had to crawl.
Skydeck/The Ledge is on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower and was an option our CityPASSes. A line-skipping ticket on its own was a staggering $35 - nearly 1/2 the cost of the 5-attraction pass - so they really paid off here. It goes without saying that the best time to do this is on a clear day, and the sunset hour is supposed to be impressive.
My third photo is from the Hancock Observatory with the Willis Tower in the distance.
- Family Travel
Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
When it was built, Willis Tower was the tallest skyscraper in the world. It still lays claim to that title, being as its extended radio masts stretch up higher than any other building, but officially the Taipei 101 building has sneaked into the lead. Willis Tower does, however, at 412 m (1,353 ft) up, have the highest observation deck of any other skyscraper, and it remains the tallest skyscraper in the Americas, and the tallest building in the US.
All those titles are the main reason for visiting Willis Tower. It's not a particularly beautiful building. Its architects came up with its design when looking at a popped packet of cigarettes, and seeing how each cigarette gave the higher cigarettes support. The result was a staggered black monolith that stretches up literally into the clouds. It is a massive building, it was a massive undertaking. It was also a massive failure. Sears built it hoping it would spark a huge demand for real estate, but it never happened.
Its fame also attracts the crowds. It wasn't a particularly nice day when I went up. In fact it had started to rain just as I entered. Despite this the queues were unbelievable. I was warned of an hour wait just to get into the lift. There were so many people trying to get in that my entire experience of the Willis Tower became one long queue. Even at the observation deck, I made my way around the top taking pictures... while standing in the queue to get out.
If you want to save some time queuing: book online before you go. This should get you past at least the first queue, for the tickets, but you will still have to queue for the lifts both up and down. It could save you about 15-30 minutes.
The tallest building in North America
When it was completed in 1973, Sears Tower was the world's tallest building, standing at 442 m tall. It held that title for 25 years, until the Petronas Twin Towers were completed in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sears Tower still remains the tallest building in North America, and the world's tallest building from the base to the tip of the antenna (527 m), but who knows how long that will last?
In any case, Sears Tower was born thanks to the imagination and skills of two men: chief architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan. In 1969, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was the largest retailer in the world. At the time, its 350,000 employees were scattered in different offices throughout the Chicago area, and with optimistic predictions for the future of the company, Sears decided to reunite all the employees into what was to become the world's tallest office building. The story goes that Graham and Khan came up with the design one night as they were smoking and having a drink. They realized that although it was easy to break one cigarette, putting 7-8 cigarettes together in a bunch made it much more difficult to break them. Sears Tower was therefore designed as nine towers of different heights all bunched together, making it possible to reach an unprecedented height. While the construction of the building was a successful enterprise, Sears' optimistic predictions never fully materialized and for years the building was left half-empty. In 1992, the company began moving out and although the name "Sears Tower" will remain, the company left the building entirely in 1995.
The Sears Tower Skydeck, located on the 103rd floor of the building, opened in 1974 and remains one of the major attractions in Chicago with 1.3 million visitors every year. It is 98 m taller than the John Hancock Observatory located just a mile away on North Michigan Avenue. Because I'd already been to the John Hancock Observatory I decided to skip on the Sears Tower Skydeck this time around, saving it for my next trip to Chicago :o)
Fantastic Views from Sears Towers
The building of the Sears Towes began in 1970 and was completed in 1973. It is one of the worlds tallest buildings. 1431 above the ground. It has 110 stories. 2232 steps to the top. I took the lift. More than 1.5 million people visit the Skydeck. The lift moves as fast as lighting it took 70 seconds to reach the top. If you suffer from Vertigo you won't have a problem. You watch a video in the lift and before you know it your at the top. When you buy your ticket you have to sit through a short video which gives you the story of the building its called "Over Chicago". I was lucky as there were not so many people in the "q". When l reached the top the views were fantastic. The day was warm and sunny and l could see the United Centre, Greek Town, John Hancock Centre, Lake Michigan, Soldier Field, Navy Pier, Grant Park and the Wrigley Field to name but a few. You can also find exhibits on Chicago history on the interior walls. You can't go outside as it is all enclosed in glass.
ROUTE 66 : TIP 3 - Sign of a Second City ?
Within just a few feet of the start of Route 66 stands Sears tower.
It held the record of the highest skyscraper from its construction in 1973 until 1996. Since then it has continued to hold the record for the highest floor that was rented out - the 110th if you are interested. The Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpar only have a paultry 88 in comparison.
It struck me that Chicago's status as the 'Second City' of America meant that it's citizens took somewhat inordinate pride in having the tallest building, rather than New York. Despite that the tower has often been nearly empty at various points - Sears apparantly has long since carted itself off to more spacious accommodation in the suburbs. The name however remains, it just wouldn't somehow be the same if if was the Burger King Tower would it ?
The view from the top (or skydeck as we are supposed to call it) is certainly stunning.
As we were beginning the Route 66 journey, it also stuck me as somewhat ironic that thousands used the road to begin a search for new wealth out west, yet that journey began from near one of the most visible symbols of American Corporate might and power.
- Road Trip
The Sears Tower is a magnficent structure, 443 meters high (520 meters if you include the twin antennas). Construction on the tower started in 1970 and took 3 years to complete.
Reportedly on a clear day, you can see four states - Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. When there's a bit of a wind outside the building does sway, though only an average of 15cm.
Near the top of the building is the SkyDeck which is open 10am - 8pm (10pm in the summer). Prices are as follows:
Adult 12-64: $9.95
Senior 65+: $7.95
Youth 3-11: $6.95
Children Under 3: Free
- Family Travel
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Across the street from Sears Tower, there is a large patch of grass. Go lay on it and look up at it for a while. I've never been to the top as I get impatient waiting in long lines. I'm sure the view is breathtaking, but I prefer laying on the grass, anyway!
Let's CAll It Sears Tower-Still
All I can remember are the times I parked in the garage and got to the top of the tower; and it always will be Sears tower to me. This is a nice building to go inside-we did not because of parking problems and traffic a mess. Built in 1973, it encompasses 1450 feet without antenna, but 1729 included, and stands 110 stories; having 3.8 million SF. I used to park in the garage down under, which was convenient for the bank job I had then. Now rates are horrendous $25-40 a day.
To get to the skyview overlook go up the elevator. Cost is $16 regular, of $32 for fast track get to head of line, or use city pass, costing $69 for 1 days and $95 2 days for adults.
- Arts and Culture
- Sky Diving
View from Sears Tower
You may enjoy the view from Sears Tower. The 103rd floor - called Sky Deck - is opened to visitors. It is a floor all surrounded by glass and you may enjoy a 360º view. On clear days, you may see to a distance of 64km. This means you will be able to see 4 different states: Illinois (Chicago), Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. I wasn't that fortunate and I only saw Illinois. Nevertheless, the view over Chicago was breathtaking and my photos don't do it any justice. After buying the entrance tickets, you wait on a room where you get to know some data about the building. Then you will go up on a lift that takes you straight to the 103rd floor and goes up as fast as 488metres/per minute!
The only way is up
The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories high - in fact it was the world’s tallest for 24 years – is Willis Tower (it used to be called Sears Tower but changed its name in 2009 when a London-based insurance broker obtained the naming rights. Not a popular move, by most accounts). Here you can shoot up 103 floors or 1,451ft high in elevators that are among the fastest in the world operating as fast as 1,600 feet per minute up to the skydeck that has recently had transparent ledges bolted on that extend 4ft outside the deck, from here you can see the ground beneath your feet. Four states are visible from the Skydeck; Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
See My Travelogue for more photos from my visit.
April 1 to September 30
9:00 am to 10:00 pm
October 1 to March 31
10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Children (Ages 3-11): $11.00
The third tallest building in world!
Chicago became home to the world's tallest building in 1973 when the Sears Tower was topped off.
These categories are:
1-Height to the structural or architectural top.
2-Height to the highest occupied floor.
3-Height to the top of the roof.
4-Height to the top of antenna.
Don't miss a visit to the floor 103 and see the best views of Chicago!!.(See my travelogue for more pictures)
Top 10-Sears (Willis) Tower
**2009 update-the Sears Tower officially changed it's name to the Willis Tower on July 16, 2009, now named after the UK based insurance company that is leasing a large portion of the building and was granted naming rights as part of the deal. As with many Chicago landmarks that have changed names over the years, I suspect the locals will continue to call it the Sears Tower. Or maybe we'll just start calling it "the Big Willy"...**
If I was going to choose one of Chicago's buildings to go up in for the view, I would pick the Hancock which I think has the better view since it is right on the lakefront and is more convenient to where most people stay when visiting. Plus you can skip the observatory at the Hancock and go to the lounge for a drink for roughly the same price. But many people want to visit one of the world's tallest buildings on a visit to Chicago so this often tops the list of where people want to go.
Until the Petronas Towers in Malaysia were built, the then named Sears Tower laid claim to being the world's tallest building at 1,450 feet. There has been much debate over whether the 111 foot decorative spires on the Petronas Towers should be counted. And then there are those that claim that the CN Tower in Toronto is the tallest but others say that it's not technically a building. And if you count the radio masts on the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower......
Well, I'll leave that for other people to bicker about.....
The building stands 1,450 feet tall, has 110 stories. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, took 3 years and over $150 million to build. It was completed in 1973. The building was named for Sears Roebuck & Co but they no longer maintained their corporate offices in this building at the time of the name change to Willis Tower.
Visitors can go up to the Skydeck on the 103rd Floor. On a clear day you are supposed to be able to see four states-Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan-but it's not like there's any kind of distinct border. On July 2, 2009, The Ledge, a series of glass bays that extend from the building’s 103rd floor, opened to the public for a different viewing experience.
The website suggests going after 4 pm when it is less busy. On my last visit in July 2006, we went shortly after it opened and there wasn't much of a line at all. My 13 year old niece, who really wanted to go, seemed bored after about 2 sides, I thought it was kind of fun picking out the landmarks.
Of course, you don't want to go on a cloudy day!
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