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Chicago's Iconic John Hancock Center To Lose Its Name

The John Hancock Center, one of Chicago's most famous skyscrapers, must change its name.
Tim Boyle
Getty Images
The John Hancock Center, one of Chicago's most famous skyscrapers, must change its name.

It feels like just yesterday that Chicagoans were told that their prized skyscraper, once the world's tallest building, would no longer be named the Sears Tower.

"Call it the Big Willy," encouraged the CEO of the company that had bought the naming rights. But it's been almost nine years, and while some folks do call it the Willis Tower, few do it with much gusto. And no one calls it Big Willy.

Now Chicagoans are losing the name of another beloved skyscraper: the John Hancock Center.

John Hancock Financial, the building's namesake, asked for its name and logos to be removed from the building immediately, The Chicago Tribune reports. The insurer hasn't been a tenant in the building for years. The company is now owned by Manulife Financial, based in Toronto.

The 1969 building,designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, houses office space, condos, shops, restaurants, a parking garage and with 360-degree views.

The naming rights expired shortly after the building's ownership group bought the building in 2013. And as the owners look to secure a new naming-rights deal, they hope to avoid the backlash that accompanied the Willis Tower name change.

"We have turned away a number of interested parties because we didn't feel the name was appropriate for this iconic property," Stephen Hearn, president and CEO of Hearn Co., part of the building's ownership group, told the Tribune. "I want to put an identity on this property that everyone in Chicago can be proud of."

So what are Chicagoans supposed to call the 100-story building, famous for its bold X bracing and innovative engineering?

For now, just its address: 875 N. Michigan Ave.

A similar tale played out in Boston three years ago, when that city's own John Hancock Tower was forced to stop using the name after the insurer moved out. That building is now simply 200 Clarendon St.

One thing is clear: Whichever company ends up with the building's naming rights, getting Chicagoans to roll with it is another matter.

"You think I'm going to call the John Hancock Center anything else while I still call Sears Tower, Marshall Fields, and Comiskey Park by their correct names?" wrote one Chicagoan, who captured the prevailing mood on Twitter.

Meanwhile, changes are afoot at yet another storied Chicago tower.

The Tribune Tower, a Gothic Revival building completed in 1925, is also losing its namesake tenant. In the coming months theTribune will be moving its offices a few blocks south.

Interior demolition is underway at the Tribune Tower, and an editor at the Trib tweeted a photo of one of the building's doors — possibly an original — discarded in a dumpster. The latest plans for the tower call for it to be converted into condos.

Next to the Tribune Tower, a new glass and steel skyscraper is planned. On what's now a parking lot, developers hope to build a hotel and condo building nearly the same height as the city's second-tallest building, the Trump Tower, completed in 2009.

The Tribune Tower's design was the result of a major architectural competition to design "the world's most beautiful office building." Some of the losing entries inspired the next generation of skyscrapers.

Mary Schmich, a columnist at the newspaper, reflected on what it means to leave the building behind.

"Tribune Tower without the Chicago Tribune sounds like a chocolate bar without the chocolate, or a stadium without a team, or a body without a soul, but I'm excited by the prospect of moving."

"Times change," she writes. "So do cities. Life is movement."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.