Harrowing Hancock! Chunk of Big John Impales Mag Mile

We’ve been in a cheesecake-induced coma for most of the extended Christmas holiday, and only just now crawling out from under the cozy warmth of six quilts, two afghans, and a cat. So what greets us as we fire up Netscape Navigator for the first time in a long time? A story in Blockclub Chicago that Big John has a major dandruff problem.

Long story short: A piece of the 100-story building’s facade broke off and fell onto the sidewalk below. It’s natural to try to rationalize that kind of behavior with thoughts like “Well, it’s just metal fatigue…” or “It’s an old building, things happen.” If you’re the kind of person who thinks this is not a big deal, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. And repeat after me: “A chunk… of a 100-story skyscraper… fell on the sidewalk.” Yes, it’s a big deal.

How big a deal this is will be left up to 875 North Michigan’s tenants, residents, insurance company, and hopefully the City of Chicago.

Stuff falling off of 875 isn’t unheard of.

On March 9th of 2002, high winds tore apart a scaffold hanging on the side of the building. The debris killed two woman, hurt eight other people, and crushed two cars.

Also, in the winter, sometimes ice accumulates on the side of the building, and on the two antenna masts on the roof. When the ice starts to melt, sometimes great avalanches of ice will slide down the sides of the sloped building, breaking windows. According to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling, the air at the top of the building is six degrees cooler than the air at ground level.

Replacing the windows in the former John Hancock Center is pretty straightforward. Most of them simply unbolt. Such a window replacement is how we were able to lean out of an apartment window and take tummy-tingling pictures of the street below.

Just hanging out... of the John Hancock Center. (file)
Just hanging out… of the John Hancock Center. (file)

Checking our sister site, Chicago Architecture Info, yields the following interesting information about 875 North Michigan:

  • 57 of this building’s caissons are sunk 200 feet into the ground, almost to the locaL bedrock. The other 182 go down as far as 88 feet.
  • In 1966, construction was halted for six months while the building’s caissons were inspected for flaws at a cost of $1,000,000. Two of the caissons had developed voids in them. Three others had foreign material in them. All five had to be repaired.
  • Comedian Chris Farley died in his apartment (#6002) on the 60th floor of this building on December 18, 1997.
  • A 20-foot-tall star used to be suspended between the building’s antennae during the Christmas season.
  • The exterior of the building’s 98th floor is lined with 500 eight-foot-tall lights. Colored tubes are put over them by hand to change the colors.
  • There is a time capsule at the top of the building. Among the items inside is a piece of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, sports and space memorabilia, and a letter from Mayor Richard J. Daley.
  • In the film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, this was the location of Mr. Shirley’s office.

From personal experience, we can say that the former John Hancock Center is one of the best-maintained buildings we’ve ever lived in. And we lived in more skyscrapers than Liz Taylor’s had husbands. But as we’ve written before, the tower isn’t without its flaws. Primary among them, for residents, is the fact that it’s on the lakefront. Where it’s windy a lot. And the building sways in the wind. And when it does, the residences creak like the galley of a wooden pirate ship. Many a night’s sleep is lost to the creeeeeak… pause… creeeeeak… pause… creeeeeaking of the building. Fortunately, we didn’t live far enough up in this galleon to get seasick. But the urban legend about water moving around in the toilets is absolutely true.

Author: Editor

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

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