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Why I’m not that sad to leave the Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower flying buttresses

Many of the Tribune journalists have been tweeting and writing emotional stories about leaving the Tribune Tower.

Royko's old office. Watched many Cubs games here on his tiny TV, listening to his old Cubs stories over and over. We crawled through windows, ignored “do not enter” signs, drank wine out of bottles in vacated cubicles, raced around the Crown and pillaged the newsroom. Tower, you will be missed. Happy Last Friday from Tribune Tower. In case you forgot, we’re moving and care about it very much My final day working in the magnificent Tribune Tower. Took this picture the first week I worked there, 6 years ago.

The Tribune big columnists are writing some very poignant stories. Page two columnist John Kass, architecture critic Blair Kamin, Pulitzer-Prize winner Mary Schmich have all weighed in. Everyone seems to be so sad that we are leaving the Tower.

And then you got me, the goofball Matt Maldre who says that the Tribune Tower is a freakin rocketship destined for interstellar travel.

This time around, I’m not all that emotional about it. Why?

I’ve already gone through two good-byes here. The third goodbye is rather like three strikes and you’re out. Literally out…of the tower.

My first good-bye at Tribune Tower

My first good-bye process happened, when I was laid off in 2005. Our entire marketing staff of 15 people were let go. At the time Tribune stock wasn’t doing as well as expected. The executives wanted to see the stock go up a little bit. So Tribune laid off a bunch of people. Victims for the stocks.

We were a great team. All of us has great memories of our time from 2000 to 2005. Everyone from that team looks back at the time and admits it was a unique time. We did great work, and won awards, and had fun.

I was the kid of the team, joining at age 25, my second job out of college. So many fun things we did together.

  • We held a competition to see who could shove a three-foot long piece of gum into his/her mouth the fastest.
  • Every Friday I held New Toy Fridays. At the end of every week I brought in a new toy for us to play with. Ant farms, foam disc shooting robots, and remote controlled cars rolled around the office.
  • Cubicles filled with inflatable monkeys.
  • We had our own pencil sharpening club.
  • When the Tribune-owned Cubs went to the playoffs, I printed out six-foot letters to unofficially hang “G O  C U B S” in the windows facing the Chicago River. (and was promptly told the next morning to take them down)
  • In the spirit of the early 00s before the internet completely took over, we would go on press checks for our design work. Printers took us on their sailboats on Chicago’s lakefront and trips to Wisconsin paper mills.

And then we were all laid off. Sorry, you must go, so our stocks can tick up a bit higher temporarily.

I had to go through the emotions of the breakup. I said goodbye to the Tower.

Then four months later Tribune rehired me. I was back working on the same floor. It felt a little bit like cheating. I wasn’t supposed to be back with this place where I went through all this grief letting go. But back I was.

And I stayed on that same floor until 2016. For sixteen years we had wonderful views and collected much stuff into file cabinets and desk drawers.

My cubicle had a long stretching set of storage cabinets expanding over 14 feet long. Every few months, I would print out a new set of images to display on these beige cabinets. My space became known as Gallery 1400.

Vintage Chicago postcards: 1400 Gallery

My second good-bye

Through the years of declining revenues at the paper, I survived through many rounds of layoffs. Eventually the floors became more and more empty. The owners of the company moved everyone from eight-some floors into two condensed floors.

I had to say goodbye to the 14th floor. Goodbye to the incredible views. Like when the Blackhawks celebrated their first Stanley Cup outside my window.

Aerial view of Blackhawks Stanley Cup celebration parade

Oprah recorded her last season-opening show, outside our conference room.

Don’t forget when the Transformers invaded Chicago! Again, my window provided an awesome view.

Along with losing my great view, I had to go through all my stuff—and all the stuff previous employees had collected during the 90s. We purged and purged.

I had to say goodbye a second time.

Leaving the spacious 14th floor, we squeezed into the third floor with 14 other departments. The desks were so tight, that we didn’t have enough chairs for everyone. I split a chair with another coworker. He worked from home on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I worked from home on Tuesday and Thursday. That way, two employees can split time at a single desk in the Tribune Tower.

After a year of this alternating time at a single desk, a newly hired executive put down the order that nobody can work from home anymore. I was forced to work in the office every day. However, there was no desk for me. Every day I came into work not knowing where I would sit. If a coworker was out that day, I would squat in his/her desk.

Eventually, they found a permanent desk for me to sit every day. But as we’ve seen thus far, nothing is permanent. The Tribune Tower was sold, and Chicago Tribune became renters in our own building.

Eventually the lease ran out. And now we are all leaving the Tribune Tower.

My third goodbye

This one is much easier. We’ve only been on this floor for two years, relatively nothing compared to my previous 16 years. I’m ready to go. I have barely nothing to purge. The third goodbye now, is three stikes and out. I’m ready to move on and have the change.

A new building. Right by Millennium Park. Closer to the Art Institute. The Cultural Center is across the street. I could even take the underground tunnel directly from our building into the Cultural Center!

Easy for me. But not as easy for the editorial team of the Chicago Tribune. They have never really moved inside the Tower. All these years they’ve stayed on the 4th floor. This is their time they have to grieve and recollect.

Chicago Tribune Page Two columnist, John Kass, admits his depression.

My wife has been trying to keep my spirits up over the move out of the Tribune Tower, the grand skyscraper on Michigan Avenue that was built as the permanent home for the Chicago Tribune.

She failed. I’m depressed.

I’ve spent my life in the Tower. I love it, the memories it holds for me and for others who’ve been fortunate to work here.

Yup. That was like my first goodbye. Saying goodbye to all the good times with coworkers in the Tower.

The Pulitzer-Prize winner, Mary Schmich, expresses her grief of purging her nest.

But my colleagues and I are still here, making peace with the past tense as we clear out our workspaces, shrinking the material stuff of our work lives into plastic orange crates, one per person.

In its way, our shedding is as communal as a barn-raising. While we’re also putting out the paper, we dig through drawers, flip through half-remembered folders, excavate shoes from underneath our desks, share our discoveries, seek counsel.

“Anybody want this?”

“Should I keep this?”

“Oh my God, I’d completely forgotten I had this.”

To keep or not to keep? Over and over, that’s the question.

Packing up a place, especially one you’ve occupied for a long time, stirs up memories and moods as surely as wind kicks up dust. It can be as true in an office as in a home.

A desk may be small, but like a house, it’s a nest. We feather it with papers, photos, cherished objects that mean nothing to anyone else.

Yup. I’ve been there. That was me two years ago, when we moved off the 14th floor.

Architecture critic Blair Kamin aptly compares the Prudential Plaza with the Tribune Tower.

But honestly — there’s no glory in being a tenant in somebody else’s stolid modernist high-rise, especially when you’re leaving a building as architecturally distinguished as the tower. One Prudential Plaza could be the box Tribune Tower came in.

Yup! We are moving into a box. For me, this box has special family meaning. My dad, born as a refugee, came to America at 3 years old. When he turned 18 years old, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen at the Prudential Building.

Kamin speaks of the connection between our work continuing on, and the legacy we left at the Tower.

I will miss the visual poetry of the tower and its hushed, churchlike Michigan Avenue lobby. We, the journalists, are leaving, but our watchdog role will live on in our new quarters. And the architects’ “signature” at the tower will remain.

It’s right there, their names inscribed in English Gothic lettering, in the block of stone to the right of the skyscraper’s entrance. I think of that block as a cornerstone of creativity.

I like to think of this Prudential box as a blank canvas, ready for our creativity to splash upon it.

Additional comments on my Facebook post.

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4 comments on "Why I’m not that sad to leave the Tribune Tower"

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Jennifer Holt
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I have a lot of fun memories from the early 2000s as well. My favorite was making Rice Krispie Treats on Thursdays in the microwave for the 13th floor. Leaving in an ambulance after getting a concussion playing basketball in the gym is another crazy memory. Did you know I found a picture of Tom Skilling in my first desk? I think I still even have my badge after all these years.

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[…] day. In fact, earlier in the morning, on my train ride to downtown, I wrote in my notepad, “In my blog post I say that I’m not sad to be leaving. But today I have to allow myself to be […]