What's in a Name?

 John Hill
14. February 2018
Photo: OmidGul/Wikimedia
Chicago's iconic 100-story John Hancock Center, designed by SOM's Bruce Graham in the late 1960s, is now known as ... 875 North Michigan Avenue.
Yesterday the Chicago Tribune reported that "the insurance company that built the tower almost five decades ago ... asked that its name and logos throughout the building’s interior be removed immediately." The building will be known by its Magnificent Mile address until the owner can find a new naming-rights deal.

This news comes nine years after another Chicago skyscraper designed by Graham – the 1974 Sears Tower – was renamed Willis Tower, for London's Willis Group Holdings, which leases a measly three percent of the 108-story tower's total office space. The same Tribune article admits this name change has not stuck: "Chicagoans refuse to refer to the former Sears Tower" by its nearly decade-old moniker, Willis Tower." ​That sentiment is echoed by the Tribune's architecture critic, Blair Kamin: "'Willis Tower' has never felt right."

Chicagoans have to look east, to Boston, for a very similar story. There, in 2015, the John Hancock Tower, designed by Henry Cobb in the 1970s, changed its name to 200 Clarendon, when the insurance company moved out of its namesake building, the tallest in the city. Even though the tower cannot be called the Hancock legally, Bostonians still refer to it as such rather than its address.

​But owners of 875 Michigan Avenue don't want this sort of future. Stephen Hearn of Hearn Co., one of the real estate investors that has owned portions of the mixed-use skyscraper since 2013, told the Tribune: "This property deserves a more important identity than simply the address." We can only wait and see what name they find – and if it sticks.
Photo: Golbez/Wikimedia

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