Singing the praises of the Sears Tower #AtoZChallenge

Chicago from A to ZAs in years past, this month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 2016 marks my fifth anniversary, so to celebrate, I’m hosting Friday Blog-Ins here in San Diego; you can find out more info about where we’re meeting each week on my A to Z Challenge page.

My monthly theme is Chicago From A to Z, so stay tuned from Monday to Saturday for new posts on the Windy City. Or sign up for my mailing list (delivered weekly, on Fridays) so you don’t miss a thing!


I must begin today’s post with a bit of blasphemy:

Fuck Willis!

To me, the skyscraper with the two spires will always be known as the Sears Tower. It was built and paid for by Sears, therefore it’s the Sears Tower. You can’t just slap your name on it, no matter how much money you paid for the privilege – no matter what Donald Drumpf says.

Sears Tower image by I, Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia.
Sears Tower image by I, Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia.

Yes, yes: Sears actually sold the building back in 1994, but they still held naming rights through 2003.

Willis claims the naming rights, as part of their lease of a chunk of the building. But Willis only leases 3% of the building’s total square footage (140,000 square feet out of 3,800,000).  So how, exactly, does that translate to “ownership”?

It doesn’t! Indeed, the Willis Group – for whom the building is currently named – doesn’t actually own the tower. An investment firm named Blackstone does. By that measure, shouldn’t it be called the “Blackstone Tower”?

Possession is 9/10 of the law

Regardless of who actually owns the deed to the property, who wants to slap their name on it, or who leases the most space in it, I think the building should always be referred to as the Sears Tower. Sears & Roebuck built it, they put up the money needed to finance it, and the tower was their HQ for decades. If that doesn’t entitle them to a damn name, I don’t know what does.

Besides, everyone in Chicago can point you towards the Sears Tower if you ask them. Who can keep track of stuff like Willis vs. Blackstone vs. whomever’s next in a long line of buyers and sellers?

Some things are tradition for a reason. Like the Sears Tower.

Visit the Tower

Regardless of what the building is called, it’s a great place to visit if you want to get a 360-degree view of the city. Even before Willis built The Ledge – reinforced glass decks that offer visitors a chance to look straight down to view the busy city bustling below their feet – the Skydeck allowed visitors unobstructed views from the 103rd floor, where you can see four states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin) and up to 50 miles on a clear day.

And, of course, Ferris Bueller and friends visited the Tower back when it was still the World’s Tallest, making the film a nice slice of American history. (The current tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet tall. By comparison, the Sears Tower is a mere 1,450 feet tall. But whose tower’s in the program selection of “Famous Buildings” on my cardio machine at the gym, huh? HUH?!)

Additional Resources

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Let’s talk about towers!

What’s the tallest building you’ve ever visited?


  • A. Catherine Noon

    I’ve eaten at the McDonald’s in your picture, lol. And that’s the transit stop I got off at for years when I worked across the street from Willis – I mean Sears – Tower. It’s an interesting area to wander at lunch time; very urban canyon-ish.

    I’ve held write-ins in the Sears Tower lobby in front of the Starbucks on their little hard metal chairs and tables. Being in the marble lobby informed the book I was writing at the time, which is set on Mars. I imagined what it would be like to be surrounded by stone like that.

    I agree with you; I think the name should be for the original builders. I resent the renaming of Comisky Field for the same reason. Many local DJ’s refuse to call it “Cellular One Field,” and instead just call it, darkly, “The Cell.”


    • Laura Roberts

      Have you eaten at the Rock ‘N’ Roll McDonald’s (of Wesley Willis fame)? I remember eating there as part of a school field trip, which is super bizarre, now that I think about it… I think we had gone to the Art Institute, and then visited a pottery studio in the neighborhood, but even so…

      Cool! I wouldn’t have thought of doing write-ins in the Sears Tower, but I bet that’s actually a really interesting place to people-watch.

  • Graham Strong

    Hey Laura!

    CN Tower would be the tallest structure I’ve been up, but as for office building… Probably the Sears Tower, though I’m not sure.

    When I was there about four years ago with a friend, we sat in on this promotional film about the Sears Tower — it was for the tourists, but honestly, it was probably originally a marketing film to sell units. It was so cheesy! I haven’t heard that much Rah! Rah! Rah! this side of Disney.

    But as we sat through it, I couldn’t help but start oohing and aahing in all the right places. At the end, I gave a standing ovation. I’m not sure I fooled everyone in the room (or even anyone…), but they all clapped along with me… lol

    True story — when we bought tickets to take our three boys up the CN Tower, it was the tallest free-standing structure in the world. By the time we actually got to the top, it wasn’t…

    And, on a last (only semi-related) note: went to Chicago for a hockey tournament with one of my sons last November. The bus driver didn’t want to actually drive into Chicago (we were technically in the ‘burbs) so a friend (who’d never been to Chicago) and I ubered downtown on the Saturday night at like midnight. Didn’t get the Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s, but we did end up at the Hard Rock for a pint. Good times.


  • JazzFeathers

    When I see picture of Chicago skyline, the Sears Tower is always the one which tells me where I am. And I didn’t know it wasn’t call like that anymore. That’s crazy. The name of a building is the name of a building, in my opinion. What’s the sense of changing it?

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz