The John Hancock is synonymous with the city of Chicago’s iconic skyline, but its historic look and even name could change under the building owner’s proposed redevelopment released this week.
Sources say the Hearn Company plans to sell the naming rights to the 100-story structure, redesign the building’s front plaza and add a flashing sign facing Michigan Avenue that many believe would be a touristy tarnish to the currently untouched architecture and aesthetic.
A tall glass box would enclose a large part of the plaza and house a proposed recording studio, according to artist renderings of the plans, drastically cutting the amount of outdoor space available for pedestrians to enjoy.
“It would represent a substantial change to the at-grade pedestrian experience,” downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) told the Sun-Times. “A large, three- or four- story glass box will significantly obscure the view at the pedestrian level and represent a major change to the plaza area, which many consider to be as historic as the building itself.”
Other changes highlighted by the renderings show a large nameplate sign on the front of the building, much like the Trump Tower’s and the one on the new Loew’s Hotel.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, says the signage would drastically change the classic face of the building.
“Traditionally these super structures in Chicago were really special and they didn’t need that nameplate,” Miller said. “They came with that nameplate and people knew of these important buildings. Trump Tower redefined that with the big graphic that I think really harms the building and I think a lot of people probably have the same reaction even if they don’t realize it. It impacts the building in a negative way. These structures are known by their name when they were constructed and really a building like the Hancock building should remain the Hancock building.”
The solution? To landmark the building, he says, saving it from the owners’ drastic ideas and proposed redesigns.
Preservation Chicago plans to bring the request to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks for the John Hancock building to receive the designation as a city landmark.
"We look at the John Hancock building as an iconic Chicago landmark. It’s paramount that it be preserved,” Miller said.
Miller says the naming rights being up for grabs is the least of their worries.
"The John Hancock building is the John Hancock building at the end of the day," he said. "But architecturally these changes may impact an iconic Chicago landmark, and that’s what were really concerned about – how it impacts the building, the quality of the building and its architecture overall and we’d like to see all of that really eliminated. It’s had some modifications over time but not on this scale and this just opens the door to a whole series of modifications that could happen potentially in the future.”