The original Sears Tower

October 12, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Now called the Willis Tower, the Sears Tower was built in 1973, and to many Chicagoans, it's still the Sears Tower. And it has a history that goes back much further than 1973. It goes back over a 100 years to Homan Avenue just south of the Eisenhower Expressway. This is where it all began.

"This is the original Sears Tower, built in 1905 by Sears Roebuck and Company. It was part of a five million square-foot facility and stretched for two city blocks and employed 22,000 people in its heyday," said Kristin Dean, president of the Foundation for Homan Square.

The Foundation for Homan Square is turning this neighborhood around and the original Sears Tower, which is 14 stories tall, will eventually be the centerpiece. On Saturday and Sunday, the tower and over 130 other significant properties will be open to the public as part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Open House Chicago.

"It's a fabulous weekend. It's free, behind-the-scenes access to over 130 of Chicago's great places and spaces. One weekend a year, October 15th and 16th, with no tickets required, no reservations, no registration," said Bastian Bouma, director of Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago thinks this original Sears Tower might be one of the most popular -- not just because of its age and connection to Sears but because it's filled with interesting history.

For instance, back in the 1920s, the original Sears Tower is where WLS Radio went on the air for the first time. The station was owned by Sears, and that's where the call letters come from -- "World's Largest Store" for WLS.

Once a beacon in the business world, the Sears Tower is now in a state of rehab, but it's something you can still get a good view from during this weekend.

"They will be able to come to the top of the tower -- the only Sears Tower in the country -- and see this gorgeous view. It's 360 degrees, the best view of all Chicago in all directions," Dean said.

Ultimately, the original Sears Tower will be used for neighborhood cultural and musical education and performance.

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