I'VE OVERCOME AN ABSOLUTE TERROR OF HEIGHTS since I was a kid by putting myself in situations that force me to deal with it. So one of my greatest successes in curing me of this phobia (well, as much as anyone can actually be said to be "cured") was leaning into the windows at the top of Sears Tower, where you could do that kind of thing.... On the right day, with the right wind, you could almost look down and see the street. Quite a rush.
This did not happen at WILLIS TOWER. This happened at SEARS TOWER, which - as of today, no longer exists. A British company which took over a sizable chunk of office space there wants to brand itself to the world. But I'm not buying into it.
Look, politicians and businesspeople: Buildings are a part of the American landscape. Signficant buildings have a lore associated with them. Just because you temporarily call french fries "freedom fries" doesn't mean people think of them differently - or that the new name sticks - or that it doesn't revert to the former name.
I live near Philly. On the New Jersey side of the Delaware River is the old E Center. It's a nice outdoor entertainment venue, with a big sloping hill within sight of my native city, and on a clear night in summer, you can listen to the best music the world has to offer, and drink a beer with your friends while sitting on a blanket and thinking it just doesn't get better than this.
Except it's not called the E Center anymore. They renamed it the Tweeter Center. And then that folded. And now I think it's called Susquehanna Bank Center. And when that dies the death of a thousand banks, I guess someone else will buy it. I've stopped trying to remember all the names in the past 10 years for a very public place. So I've stuck with E Center - and any Philly person who's been around a while knows the score.
Same is true for the First Union Center in Philly, down by the sports complexes. It's the Wachovia Center now (the former having morphed into the latter) - or at least I think so. Of course, can it ever replace the iconic name so many natives in this brash, blue-collar town came to call it: the F-U Center (I have always loved this accident of marketing, by the way).
Was a time that significant public places were named after significant people. Not people responsible for funding the thing, usually. Presidents. American heroes or heroines. That's long past.
But hear me now, Willis Group: I think you'll find an uphill battle in getting people to embrace your name. At least for a generation.
It's a fine name. It's a great building. But our Sears Tower has achieved a certain prominence in American culture - and you can't just buy that away and remarket it to the masses.