From the time it opened in 1955, the Prudential Building became a major destination for its fabulous views. High atop the 41-story building were two places you could visit: the glass-enclosed observation deck and, one floor below it, Stouffer’s Top of the Rock restaurant. Back at a time when most people didn’t fly and the supertall skyscrapers weren’t yet on the drawing board, this was a thrill for many. In the first year alone, the Prudential observation deck had attracted a staggering one million people.
Not only were the views of the surrounding city breathtaking – and completely unobstructed – it is said one could see four states on a clear day. Here is a neat little silent film from 1957.
I’ve often heard older Chicagoans recount their excitement when visiting the observation deck years ago. After taking the world’s fastest elevators, you took the world’s highest escalators up to the observation deck. Then you could put a coin into the telescopes by the windows.
But some of Chicagoans’ fondest memories center on the Stouffer’s Top of the Rock restaurant. This was THE place to take a date, out-of-town guests, or to celebrate a special anniversary. Many proposals took place here over the years.
Stouffer’s opened its first diner in 1922 Cleveland and expanded into other cities in the 1930s-50s, and then into the world of frozen foods (1954). The company opened its first “Top” of a skyscraper restaurant in New York City in 1958, at a time when restaurants high in the sky were a novelty. Top of the Rock in Chicago first opened as a lounge in 1956, later becoming a restaurant (and closing in 1976). By the early 1970s the company had six “Top” restaurants including NYC and Chicago: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Minneapolis.