Tribune Tower’s mystery rooftop room

What stands at the very top of the iconic Tribune Tower? And how I did I discover this room? Read on to find out.

Tribune Tower, former home to the Chicago Tribune, was my workplace for 18 years (see my 1,600 word post about my memories of working there). My desk had the honor of a spectacular view of the Chicago River.

In the past few years, it has undergone a significant transformation, now standing as multi-million-dollar luxury condos. I often find myself wondering which multi-millionaire now enjoys my view today.

Gone are the days of cockroaches falling from the ceiling onto coworkers’ backs (an experience I’ve witnessed firsthand). The building has undergone extensive renovation and exudes glamour—except for its very top.

Tribune Tower Residences shared a drone video showcasing the building’s elegance, inadvertently revealing a stark contrast – a dilapidated room reminiscent of a WWII bunker, incongruously nestled at the tower’s pinnacle.

I find it amusing that this weathered space was included in their attempt to showcase the building’s opulence. Their caption, “Where timeless design meets modern luxury, discover the timeless beauty of Tribune Tower Residences, a Chicago icon,” is a bit ironic. The caption really goes overboard with the use of the word “timeless” twice.

A more accurate caption might be, “Yes, at the very top of this timeless beauty is this ancient room, beat up by the ravages of time. Come experience what the Tribune Tower used to be like!”

What could be in this room? I don’t know, but I asked the @chicagotribune X (Twitter) account to find out.

The decrepit room is probably the original observation deck

Eventually, through a little research, I think the neglected room was the observation deck…

In 1937, the Chicago Tribune labeled this room as the “Tribune observation tower.”

Source: Chicago Tribune “Graphic Section” June 6, 1937

Here’s the full 1937 graphic:

Source: Chicago Tribune “Graphic Section” June 6, 1937

Tribune Tower’s 14th floor now and then

  • My desk (2000-2005 and 2007-2016), I sat at the southern windows of the Tribune Tower facing the Chicago River.
    In 1937, this was “Woman’s editor”. COOL! (see #9 in the diagram)
  • Marketing Department of Tribune Media Services (1997-2005); Sales Department (2006-2014)
    In 1937, this was “Editorial Promotion”—maybe this department would try to promote the content in the newspaper editorials? (see #8 in the diagram)
  • From 1997-2018, the corner office was the 14th floor conference room with beautiful views.
    In 1937, this was “Employees’ benefit plan” (see #48 in the diagram)
  • Syndicate editors for the comics, games, and columns (1997 to 2014)
    In 1937, this was “Literary editor”. Very fitting that editors sat here in the 1930s and in the early 2000s! (see #49 in the diagram)

If you are curious how I found this diagram, it was a little Google mining. I googled, “Who lives on the 14th floor of the Tribune Tower?” I knew that wouldn’t get me the answer. But heck, might as well give it a shot. That query indeed didn’t answer my question, but in the results, this link looked interesting: Chicago Tribune Building IV from chicagology.com. They had an edited version of this diagram, but I couldn’t download it.

So I googled: “Chicago Sunday Tribune” “Graphic Section” “June 6, 1937”. The only result for that query is the MSU page with the unedited graphic. Hooray! And it has a downloadable high-res PDF.

Other images of the Tribune Tower observation deck

Looking around MSU’s archives for all the images tagged Tribune Tower, this aerial shot from October 22, 1933 comes up. However, you can’t really make out details of that top room. There’s not even a flagpole atop the Tower yet!

Source: Chicago Sunday Tribune (October 22, 1933), p. 3

The observation deck closed on August 10, 1956. This Chicago Tribune photo shows a slight glimpse of the rooftop room on the right side of the photo.

The Tribune Tower observation deck closed on August 10, 1956. Why did the deck close? In 1955 a new tallest building in Chicago opened—One Prudential Plaza. This taller building boasted an observation deck with one million visitors in 1956. Thus, we can infer that Tribune Tower saw that everyone was going to this new deck, so they closed theirs.

Also, in this 1956 photo the antenna is being removed from Tribune Tower. Why? WGN negotiated to install a TV broadcast pylon atop the One Prudential Plaza. Double-ouch. One Prudential Plaza stole Tribune Tower’s rooftop visitors and their antenna.

That wouldn’t be the only thing Prudential Plaza would steal. 62 years later in 2018, the Chicago Tribune moved out of Tribune Tower and moved into One Prudential Plaza. Thus, One Prudential Plaza stole the newsroom from the Tribune Tower as well!

In 2009 Flickr user Pan Kotus photographed the portion of the observation deck room.

The etching on the wall in lead says:

FLAG POLE ERECTED BY
George Butrow
GD Harvey
John Whitney
Max Martino
Fred Menconi

I’m guessing this room remains untouched on the Tribune Tower, because it’s part of the landmark status of the building.

How would the multi-millionaire luxury tenants feel if they knew a house made of lead was sitting atop their timeless condo?

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Tom Saaristo
7 months ago

Fascinating! Exceptional research about something I never knew!

Menconi
Menconi
15 days ago

Interesting… Fred Menconi was my dad. He was a Chicago iron worker by trade and passed away in 1967.

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