20 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Chicago’s John Hancock Center

People love lists.  And people love to see if they know things other people don’t know.  That’s why people on the internet click on links like “26 Shocking Tricks To Lower Car Insurance!”

We’ve run a couple of smart-lists, too.  Five years ago we published 30 Things You Don’t Know About Block37, and it’s still getting clicks.  Recently Bill Motchan’s article 10 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About The Rookery took off.  So here’s another opportunity for you to pit your noggin against a list.  It’s 20 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan Avenue).  Or as they say on the interwebz, “20 Shocking Hancock Quirks You Must Know If You Live In Illinois!!!11!one!1!eleventy!!”


Big John towers over its Gold Coast neighbors.

Big John towers over its Gold Coast neighbors.

1It’s called “Center” and not “Tower” or “Building” because at one time the plan was to build two of them, but the Casino Club next door would not sell the developers the land they needed.

2The Hancock Center’s elevators are among the fastest in the world, and can take passengers from the ground floor to the 95th floor in 40 seconds.

A Hancock Center elevator panel.  This one goes to 98.  Your elevator feels inferior.

A Hancock Center elevator panel. This one goes to 98. Your elevator feels inferior.

3Each of the building’s X-shaped cross braces are 18-stories tall. They are notorious for creating oddly-shaped windows that affect the value of the real estate behind them because of the blocked view.

X's mark the spot!

X’s mark the spot!

4According to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling, the building is so tall that the air at the top is six degrees cooler than the air at its base.

From bottom to tip: 1,506 feet and 6°.

From bottom to tip: 1,506 feet and 6°.

5A time capsule at the top of the building contains a piece of the Eiffel Tower.

6The Hancock Center’s plaza once had a public ice skating rink.  Now it’s restaurant seating and a performing space for bands in the summer.  In the 80’s there was a plan to enclose the whole thing, and the rest of the base of the building, in a giant box and make it into a mall.

No skating rink.  But thank God, no mall, either!

No skating rink. But thank God, no mall, either!

7During Christmas, the owners of the Hancock Center used to hang a 20-foot-tall star between the building’s antennae.



The perfect place to hang a giant star.

The perfect place to hang a giant star.

8People live in the Hancock Center.  That seems elementary to many people, but I’m continually surprised by the number of people I run into—even people who are from Chicago—who think it’s strictly an office building.  When the building opened, it had 720 residences.  Over time, people bought out their neighbors to make their homes larger, and now the total  is around 702.  Which means, statistically speaking, there are 1,825.2 people way up there.

A deli with a view. But you pay a premium for this kind of living. Even Peapod is cheaper.

A deli with a view. But you pay a premium for this kind of living. Even Peapod is cheaper.

9There is a private supermarket on the 44th floor of the building. It’s not just some little convenience store; it’s a full-blown outlet of the Potash grocery store chain with a deli and fresh fruits and veg section and places to sit and eat. Office workers can use it for lunch, but must enter and exit through the rear service entrance. Only residents are allowed to use the front door.

10The residential portion of this building is it’s own election precinct. People who live there don’t even have to leave the building to vote.

11People also don’t have to trudge out into the snow to mail a letter.  The Hancock Center has its own Post Office.  It also has its own FedEx Office, but so do many other buildings.  There are also other shops and restaurants that are open to the public.

The Hancock Center Post Office.  Always a line.

The Hancock Center Post Office. Always a line.

12On windy days, the building sways and the top half sounds like a pirate ship creaking in a storm. Though we have seen slight movements of liquid in glasses in residences in the 70-something and 80-something floors, reports of toilets sloshing over remain an urban legend, as far as we can determine.

13The building has a full-sized pool on the 44th floor. Not one of these cheapo plunge pools that most buildings get these days. It’s a real pool with a very deep deep end.

Pool with a view. If your building only has a splash pool, it doesn't deserve to call itself "luxury."

Pool with a view. If your building only has a splash pool, it doesn’t deserve to call itself “luxury.”

14The residential portion of this building is divided into two tiers. Floors 45 through 65 and floors 65 through 92 have separate elevators. Not surprisingly, living in the 65 through 92 tier is considered higher class than living merely on floors 45 through 64. The people on 65 are caught in the middle, but at least they can take whatever elevators they want since all elevators stop on 65.

15In the elevator lobby on each floor of the residential portion of the tower, if you push the wood paneling that lines the walls in just the right place, a large door will open revealing the emergency escape elevators.

16When you enter the Hancock Center’s enormous and fancy Delaware Street residential lobby (featured prominently in the Will Ferrell/Maggie Gyllenhaal film Stranger Than Fiction), you’re not really in the lobby yet. The actual lobby is way up on the 44th floor and has its own service desk, lounge waiting area and other amenities.

Even the Hancock Center's lobby has a lobby.

Even the Hancock Center’s lobby has a lobby. Yes, those trees are real.

17The original Hancock residents were a litigious bunch, and the building opened right when condominiums started to become a reality. Because of this, many of the early precedents in Illinois real estate law arose from disputes in this building. One fight over pets went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

18Many of the current and former residents of the Hancock center are judges and lawyers. But there have also been celebrities. Talk show host Jerry Springer lived in the Hancock Center for years. And comedian Chris Farley both lived and died there. So far we have not heard of anyone spotting Ghost Farley on the 60th floor trying to get to his van down by the river.

The John Hancock Center, as depicted at the Fernsehturm in Berlin.

The John Hancock Center, as depicted at the Fernsehturm in Berlin.

19Although the building was built to the latest technological standards when it opened, that was 40 years ago. Until recently, private washing machines were prohibited because the building’s plumbing couldn’t handle it. Air conditioning is supplied by old fashioned window A/C units hidden inside long, vented window seats. Some residences still have Bell System 505A phone jacks—the old, round 4-pin plugs.  On the plus side, the residences have radiant heat available in the ceilings, a feature that is only now catching on in some places.

20The residential portion of this building has it’s own telephone network separate from the public network. Each home has a telephone by the door that can call any other home, or maintenance, or the front desk, or the management office. The system has voice mail and all the other latest features, but is isolated from the outside world.

John Hancock Center - Chicago, Illinois - May, 2009 - 005a


Author: Editor

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

Share This Post On


  1. For fact number three, I think I learned that the units with a portion of the X-Bracing were more valuable. Even though they block a portion of the view compared to non-x windows, they’re rare; and because the X is so distinctive and famous, having a portion of it in your unit is sought after. Or so I read

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      As someone who lived at the Hancock Center, I can tell you the opposite is true. When someone in the Hancock Center wants to sell their unit, they will put a note on the corkboard in the mail room. You’ll very often see “no angles!!!” touted as a very prominent and highly desirable feature.

      The angles that form oddly shaped windows add dramatically to the expense of the unit in a number of ways. For example, all your window treatments must be custom, and sometimes very complicated. In addition to blocking light, they block the precious, precious view, which is the main reason you’re in the Hancock Center in the first place.

      Post a Reply
  2. #12 is incorrect. Tall buildings act as a vertical cantilever, so it doesn’t bend at the middle but rather the whole building bends.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      Hi Logan. Thanks for the input. You sound like someone who knows a lot more about engineering than I do. I’ve removed the “middle” portion of the sentence in deference to your expertise. Thanks!

      Post a Reply
  3. The Delaware Lobby you refer to, is that the entrance to the publishing company Will Farrell enters? It was in one scene, so not sure that qualifies as “prominently” featured. The CNA building where his IRS cubicle was is a much more prominent fixture. I still learned a lot from this article.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      Your memory of the movie is much stronger than mine. Maybe I just remember it being very visible because it was a location I was more interested in.

      Post a Reply
  4. If you’d like to enjoy a moment of spontaneous comedy, ride the elevator to the Skydeck and begin to mumble loudly how you don’t feel so good. The crowd reaction is priceless.

    Post a Reply
  5. I just found out that some of the residential units have operable units. In the one unit, it looks like it could swing wide open. How far do the operable windows in the residential condos open?

    Post a Reply
    • they dont open a lot. just a few inches.

      Post a Reply
  6. Do toilets in the hancock flow backwards

    Post a Reply
  7. Wasn’t there a high-end department store on the ground floor of the Hancock?

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.