From Which Building You Can See All the Way to Wisconsin?
If King Kong ever climbs another building, the Sears Tower might be the one. Rising 1,451 feet above the streets of Chicago, Illinois, it is taller than New York City’s famous skyscrapers – the Empire State Building [1,250 feet tall (roof height)], and the old twin towers of the World Trade Center (1,362 & 1368 feet) which got destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Sears Tower was the national headquarters of Sears, Roebuck and Co. The building has 108 stories, 16,000 windows, 40,000 sprinkler heads and provides enough office space for 16,500 employees. 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 left the building, moving to a new office campus in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
As of December 2013, the building’s largest tenant is United Airlines, which moved its corporate headquarters from the United Building at 77 West Wacker Drive in 2012 and today occupies around 20 floors with its headquarters and operations center.
The Willis Tower, built and still commonly referred to as Sears Tower, is the second-tallest building in the United States and the 13th-tallest in the world. More than one million people visit its observation deck each year, making it one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. The structure was renamed in 2009 by the Willis Group as part of its lease on a portion of the tower’s space.
From the observation deck on the 103rd floor, you can see all the way to Wisconsin! The Willis Tower observation deck, called the Skydeck, opened on June 22, 1974. It is 1,353 feet (412 m) high 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 on a clear day.
Elevators take tourists to the top in about 60 seconds, and allow tourists to feel the pressure change as they rise up. The Skydeck competes with the John Hancock Center’s observation floor a mile and a half away, which is 323 feet (98 m) lower. Some 1.3 million tourists visit the Skydeck annually. A second Skydeck on the 99th floor is also used if the 103rd floor is closed. The tourist entrance can be found on the south side of the building along Jackson Boulevard.
In January 2009, Willis Tower’s owners began a major renovation of the Skydeck, including the installation of retractable glass balconies, which can be extended approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) from the facade of the 103rd floor, overlooking South Wacker Drive.
The all-glass boxes, informally dubbed “The Ledge”, allow visitors to look through the glass floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below. The boxes, which can bear 5 short tons (4.5 metric tons) of weight, opened to the public on July 2, 2009. However, on May 29, 2014, the laminated glass covering the floor of one of the glass boxes shattered while visitors were sitting on it, but caused no injuries. The broken glass was replaced within days, and tourist operations resumed as before.