Thousands of Chicagoans pass this nondescript building near the Loop every day and never give it a second glance. That is intentional. Made of beige grooved concrete, it is identified only by a single small plaque: “AT&T.” But don’t let its modest exterior fool you.
“This building touches every single resident of the city,” said Jim Wilson, AT&T’s Area Manager Network Services.
Those who do pause might notice something peculiar: no windows on most floors. Why build a 538-foot-tall building where only the second and the top seven floors have windows? The short answer is, because what’s inside isn’t able to look out and nobody outside is supposed to look in. Those at AT&T refer to the place only by its address, which is . . . well, they’d rather I not say. Security.
A bit of online sleuthing will turn up the Holabird & Root-designed building easily enough, but you can understand their caution. Not only does this center handle much of the city’s phone and internet traffic, but all the 911 calls come through here. Pressed for something to call the place, AT&T officials say they refer to it as an “Office” or a “Mega-Office,” one of three in the city.
“This is one of the key switching stations for AT&T,” said Warren Salek, assistant vice president of the company’s Radio Access Engineering division, guiding a tour of the facility never seen by the public. “Some of the first electronic switching systems were installed right here in this building.”
Built in 1970, the building actually has just 27 stories, though it is tall as a 50-story building because each floor is double height, built to accommodate enormous banks of telephone....
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