360 Chicago (formally Hancock Observatory)

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Though it is only the fourth tallest building in the city, the John Hancock Center and its famous observatory is one of the most popular attractions in all of Chicago. Located on N. Michigan Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s tourist district, the John Hancock Observatory’s location, views, and one-of-a-kind restaurant offer visitors the best seat in the city.

History

When it originally completed its height-based construction on 6 May 1968, the John Hancock Center, named after John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., was the tallest building in the city of Chicago and the tallest building in the world outside of New York. Standing at an impressive 1,506 feet including its antennas, and with a total of 100 stories, the diversity of the Hancock Center alone makes it an impressive addition to the Chicago skyline.

The idea for the construction of what was at the time to be the world’s tallest building was the brainchild of Washington D.C.-based developer Jerry Wolman. Employing the well-known architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and the talent of designer Bruce Graham and engineer Fazlur Khan, the building was to be a beacon for the city.

However, early on in the construction of the tower, a structural wall of sorts was hit when the soil settlements at 20 stories were already at the level intended for the entire building. Because of this issue, a delay in construction caused the original owner (Wolman) to lose his credit and go bankrupt. As a result, the John Hancock Company took over the development and the bankroll of the building while maintaining its original creative team.

Although the nearby Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) soon unseated the Hancock Building as the tallest building in Chicago and the world in 1973, the draw of Hancock’s observatory and bevy of recreational options as well as its more centralized location continues to make it a more popular option for many tourists.

In addition, the Hancock Center and Observatory have been quite present in popular culture as well as Chicago history. Actor Chris Farley, as resident of one of the condos, was found dead there in 1997. The tower is also featured in the 1988 movie Poltergeist III. Other famous residents and tenants of the Hancock Center include the General Consulates of Chile and Denmark and Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Main Attraction

In total, the 100 floors of the John Hancock Center include everything from private residences to business offices to a restaurant, swimming pool, and indoor ice skating rink. The observatory, located on the 95th floor offers 360° views of the city and the storied “Magnificent Mile” on N. Michigan Avenue below.

Going to the John Hancock Observatory offers visitors breathtaking views of the city without the need to travel outside of the main tourist area of Michigan Avenue. In addition, the Center offers retail shopping from big names like Best Buy and the North Face as well as an multi-media tour in six different languages narrated by David Schwimmer.

Perhaps the most special part of going to the Hancock Observatory, however, is the opportunity to take in these breathtaking views while also enjoying a meal and a drink. The Lavazza Espression Café is the highest restaurant and bar in the city. It offers coffee, espresso drinks, and cocktails as well as a full menu prepared by a 3-star chef.

Daring visitors to the Hancock Center may also want to try the open-air Skywalk which is the only open-air deck in the city to offer these breathtaking views. All visitors to the Observatory will also get the chance to experience the city’s fastest elevators which takes you up over 1,000 feet in less than 40 seconds.

Why It’s a Must-See

Chicago is a city of big buildings, and the purpose of big buildings is, of course, the views they offer. Though Willis Tower is by far the tallest in the city, Hancock is by far the local favorite. This is because it offers more than just height, but also experience. The chance to travel in the city’s fastest elevator, experience the winds of Chicago from over 1,000 feet off the ground, and have a snack and drink with those same fantastic views makes the John Hancock Center and its Observatory and excellent way to spend the day in the heart of Chicago.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

1. Purchase a ticket from the Hancock Observatory when you get there.

2.   .

3. Purchase as part of a money saving package. Popular examples to the right.

4. Purchase a Tourist pass. The Hancock Observatory is available on the Go Chicago Card and Chicago CityPass..