Recalling the Hancock Center’s troubled early days

The Hancock Center, an iconic presence on Chicago’s skyline, had a troubled and mostly-forgotten early history.

I was reminded of that history when tripping across recent obituaries for Jerry Wolman, the Hancock’s original developer. Wolman, a high-school dropout, had become one of the country’s most successful and wealthy developers, and the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 1967, a year into the project, it was discovered that the concrete caissons built to support the tower had been improperly engineered and / or poured. One result was that Wolman filed personal bankruptcy and sold his interest in the project. He remained involved in the development of the Hancock only as a plaintiff in the complex litigation related to the construction issues.

Wolman was represented in the litigation by Bob Hanley, then a partner at the law firm where I practiced in the mid- to late-70s. Hanley’s secretary, Bobbie, was a young lady so compellingly gorgeous that she was a don’t-miss stop on every office tour, along with the spectacular views over the river from the firm’s 43rd floor IBM-building conference room.

Wolman took Bobbie with him when he moved to Washington, DC to begin another successful phase of his real estate career. His obituaries mention that he is survived by his wife Bobbie.

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