The Ledge gives thrilling views of Chicago’s landscape

I was in Chicago the day the Sears Tower vanished.

Granted, the famous building erected by the well-known retailer in 1973 was still standing, but all traces of the Sears brand were gone on July 15, 2009.

It’s now called the Willis Tower (for Willis Group Holdings, a London-based insurance broker). But instead of lamenting the change, I commemorated the occasion by zooming 103 stories in minutes by elevator to visit the famed Skydeck and to step out on a glass-enclosed Ledge.  At 1353 feet in the air, The Ledge transforms how visitors experience Chicago, providing never-before-seen views of the city—views from beneath your feet.

Looking down while standing on The Ledge

Looking through clear glass—up, down, and all around–gave me the feeling of floating above the city, like being a fly on the wall watching daily happenings from my heavenly vantage point. When it started to rain, the drops cast a somewhat eerie spell on the glass without diminishing the scene a bit.

I took many photos to show how utterly free and unencumbered the cantilevered enclosures are; the only visible hint of support appears as small clips on the sides and floor, amazing considering the glass panels weigh 1500 pounds.  It’s an incredible experience giving adventurous souls—and even timid (but temporarily brave) folks–unobstructed views of people, taxis, boats, and bridges.

The four glass-enclosed boxes that comprise The Ledges are barely visible from street level. Jutting out from the west side of the skyscraper 4.3 feet, each consists of three layers of half-inch thick glass laminated into one seamless unit.  All perimeter structural steel at the sides and along the floor was eliminated creating a nearly invisible support system and an unparalleled view in all directions, a platform from which to view Chicago’s skyline, the Chicago River, and Lake Michigan shoreline. That’s especially commendable considering The Ledge is moveable; it was designed so that the enclosed glass boxes could be retracted into the building for cleaning and maintenance.

“The Skydeck has evolved to challenge our visitors’ curiosity,” says Randy Stancik, general manager, in a prepared statement. “You only need to see the forehead prints on the windows to know that visitors are constantly trying to catch a glimpse below.” Delighted folks press nose to glass, do handstands, sit on the floor, or just stand in the corner for a Kodak moment that documents this thrilling experience.

Zooming upward on the elevator of the Willis Tower high above Wacker Drive and Jackson Boulevard, visitors view an educational video presentation about the building and the city.  Better than musak, you get a vision of where you are what you’re about to see when you step off at Skydeck.  Surrounding wall displays provide an entertaining visual summary of Chicago’s history from politics to sports to celebrities.

Skydeck Chicago is open daily October-March, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and April-September, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Adults $17; youth 3-11, $11.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Connect with Beverly at Going on Adventures, Austin Adventure Travel, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

 

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