Times have changed since Chicago’s Sears Tower was first built. Upon its completion in 1973, this 110-story Chicago monolith was proclaimed a modern marvel – a building that planted a massive stake in the ground for Chicago’s, and arguably America’s, architectural and economic dominance. Though the Sears Tower remains an important symbol in 2009, its preeminence in the “World’s Tallest Building” category has changed significantly.
Still, the news earlier this week that the building would soon be renamed as the Willis Tower comes as a surprise. Willis Holdings, a London-based insurance group that occupies more than 150,000 square feet of office space, will take over naming rights to the building in late 2009. This is in contrast to Chicago-based retailer Sears, which no longer leases space in the building and frankly, is struggling merely to stay relevant.
How is everyone reacting to the news? Chicago’s own Mayor Daley has feigned indifference. But coming from this Chicagoan by birth, I find the name change surprisingly affects me on a personal level, as if it was an affront to the pride of my hometown. Perhaps though the name is less important than what the building represents. To quote the great William Shakespeare, “What’s in a name?” Is anyone, tourist or local, likely to start calling the building the Willis Tower? I doubt it. Believe it or not, the Sears Tower is not the first Chicago landmark to be taken over by out-of-towners, and Chicagoans have learned to continue on with their lives.
Maybe it’s just a sign of the times – in an increasingly global world, it’s harder and harder for something truly “local” to remain that way. Whether it’s the authentic Japanese sushi you’re eating in New York or the London souvenir hoodie that was made in China. Travel is often more about your expectations of what a destination or landmark should be like, rather than taking it for what it truly is. For me at least, whether it’s called the Willis or Sears Tower, the next time I gaze up at that magnificent building I’ll see what I want: a landmark that continues to be truly one-of-a-kind.