Off Topic: End of the Line for Hancock Center’s Model Trains

Christmas train display at the John Hancock Center

John Hancock Center 2012 Christmas train display

There are many great Christmas traditions in Chicagoland. From Zoo Lights to Christkindlmarkt to just strolling your favorite shopping district looking for something to bring joy to someone else, this city is full of wonderful holiday experiences.

But one of those experiences is gone. This year there is no massive model railroad display in the concourse of the John Hancock Center.

The train display was a highlight of the season for many. It was a fascination for those without the time, money, or space to do the same in their own houses, and provided inspiration for model railroaders to take back home. And best of all, it was free.

The huge model train display has been replaced by a quartet of oversized nutcrackers, bedecked in beige and white, like the rest of the retail space in the Hancock Center.

John Hancock Center 2013 Christmas display

John Hancock Center 2013 Christmas display

We contacted the people who run the John Hancock Observatory to see if they could shed some light on what happened. After all, the trains below and the view above were very often billed as part of the same experience. Alas, while the observers were friendly, they were not informative, and suggested that we contact the Hearne Company. ┬áRepresentatives from Hearne have not responded to our inquiry. We’ll let you know when they do.

In the absence of an explanation of what happened, here’s a theory– We’ve all read in Crain’s about how the Hancock observatory, retail space, and office space are each now owned by different companies. Perhaps Hearne, not being tuned into the tourist trade like the folks up top, didn’t realize that this is an important part of the Michigan Avenue Christmas shopping experience.

I vaguely remember that the model train display was maybe owned and operated by a suburban model railroad club. But a full hour of searching turned up no leads.

If you have any theories about what happened, or know how we can get in touch with the train club in question, please leave the information below.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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