Urban exploration right in the heart of downtown Chicago filled my afternoon yesterday. I had the very special opportunity to do something that no one does every day – I climbed the inside a skyscraper tower on the very top of the Chicago Temple Building.
I’ve been fascinated by this 1920s skyscraper since I started researching its architecture for our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour a few years ago. It has a sanctuary for the First United Methodist Church on the ground level. When Senior Pastor Phil Blackwell told me that the spire above the “Chapel in the Sky” on the 26th floor was just hollow and full of steps all the way up, I said, “Let’s climb it!”
After years of reminding him of our plan, we finally climbed this spire, a landmark of the Loop. You can see the tower pictured here, with the First National Plaza building to the left, and the Burnham Building below on the right. This style is pretty common among 1920s skyscrapers in Chicago, but this is likely the only one that we could really call a spire, which is an architectural term specifically for pointy towers usually on churches. In this case, its a skyscraper with both a church sanctuary and a chapel.
So yesterday Phil and the church Music Director Erik and I ventured vertically. We put a ladder into a trapdoor on the ceiling of the Chapel in the Sky, and then from there it was several levels of very steep stairs, eventually becoming fixed metal ladders up at the very top.
It’s not very often that anyone gets the chance to climb inside a skyscraper tower, so I of course took several photos. I thought this would be full of dead animals and bird droppings, but it was just generally dirty. Where you see the grating at the top of this picture is the level of tiny windows about a third from the top. I had hoped that there would be a way out at the very top, where a cross caps the spire. However, the trap door was too heavy to open more than a couple inches, and we were worried that if we opened it, we weren’t sure that we’d be able to close it again.
Just being in this unusual space was a religious experience enough for me. Doesn’t it look sort of like a steampunk vision of a rocket ship?
— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director