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The Chicago Sites Whose Official Names We Love To Ignore: A Roundup

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 16, 2016 8:10PM

Photo by Benjy Lipsman

"Someone's always playing corporation games /
Who cares they're always changing corporation names"

That’s a line from what is generally considered the worst song of all time, “We Built This City” by Starship, with lyrics composed by a man who now claims to despise the song. But it contains more than a kernel of truth here in Chicago, where it always plays in my mind whenever, say, a ballpark switches over from one corporate sponsorship to another, or a new commercial entity cashes in on our unwillingness or inability to let go of the previous one. Such intransigence is not always the best look, but in these cases it's charming—a curious sort of civic pride even. With the recent announcement of the stadium switcheroo in Bridgeport and last week’s news of Macy’s slinging Marshall Fields merch, today we celebrate those and Chicago’s other most eminently ignorable handles.

Guaranteed Rate Field (née Comiskey Park)

As a non-native who arrived after the leveling of Comiskey Park, I always knew the Sox home field as The Cell. It seemed like the perfect diminutive: reflective of the stadium’s workmanlike concrete-mass design (a perfect dovetail with the neighborhood’s own mythology) and an ironic counterpoint to the “friendly confines” up north. But when news arrived in August that US Cellular Field would next year be Guaranteed Rate Field, the smdh outcry was certainly not in defense of The Cell. The tweet below is pretty representative.

It was either that or White Sox Park, which was the original name of old Comiskey, from 1910-1912, then again from 1962-1975. Its understandable, really, considering the psychological pull that pro sports holds over many fans, especially in a sports town like Chicago. Spoiler alert: that emotional component proves to be something of a motif here.

Field's Fans in action, declaring their loyalty. Via Field's Fans Chicago

Macy’s (née Marshall Fields)

As we pointed out last month, the psychic wound felt by Marshall Fieds loyalists when the local department store was bought and rebranded by Macy’s still feels fresh for some—even more than 10 years later. Jim McKay, co-organizer of the never-say-die Fields Fans Chicago group, is still holding out hope for a Marshall Field’s return to State St. After Macy’s announced it would be closing 100 stores nationwide last month, McKay expressed hope that talks of leasing some upper floors at the former flagship location in the Loop could potentially signal a Marshall Fields return.

While it's tempting to say that a corporate brand is a corporate brand is a corporate brand, again the roots run deep enough sympathize: the Marshall Field and Company Building dates back to 1891 and was designed by perhaps Chicago’s most famous architect, Daniel Burnham. It was designated a national historic landmark in 1978, iconic green clock and all.

Sun Backlighting the Sears Tower [FrozenChipmunk]

Willis Tower (née Sears Tower)

Probably the most infamous test case and certainly the largest, this one also still rankles loudest. Time Magazine included it among the Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes, and dissatisfaction was prominent enough that The Onion ran a gag headline “Sears Extremists Fly Plane Into Willis Tower” in 2012, a good three years after the name was changed, in July 2009. (The tastefulness of the joke is debatable; the sentiment is not.)

More than seven years later, we never, ever hear locals call the Sears Tower Willis Tower (see?). Maybe the Wesley Willis Tower, in honor of the late, great Chicago outsider musician, but never just Willis.


Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre (née World Music Theatre)

Opened in 1990, this Tinley Park outdoor music spot has witnessed more name changes than it has decades of existence. No doubt the most promiscuous inclusion here, HCA has also been known as World Music Theatre, New World Music Theatre, Tweeter Center and First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. But as with the rest, we never hear any Chicagoland lifer call it anything other than the original. It still brings in a slew of major popular artists, ranging from country to pop to hip-hop; but in a lot of local minds it’s almost impossible to separate from the ‘90s heyday of the traveling-festival circuit, when HORDE, Ozzfest, Lilith Fair and others followed Lollapalooza’s lead, drove a muddy path to hearts and ensured nothing but World would do.

BP Pedestrian Bridge / Getty Images / Photo: Scott Olson

BP Pedestrian Bridge

Truth is, BP Pedestrian Bridge—the snaking, curvilinear footbridge that crosses Columbus Dr. and connects Millennium Park on the west to Maggie Daley Park on the east—has only ever been known by that name. It was born corporate, back in 2004. But to us, the simple and direct “Frank Gehry Bridge” has always made more sense—named of course for the architect who designed it and the perfectly complementary, wavy-steel forms of the adjacent Jay Pritzker Pavilion (soon to be known as ExxonMobil Music Shack). In fact, we may have never even known its true handle if it weren’t for the Gulf Oil Crisis, which prompted an ultimately stifled protest along the pedestrian path.

What other official Chicago titles do you willfully, gleefully ignore? Shout ‘em out in the comments.