Q I noticed lots of buildings in Chicago don’t have a 13th floor. Is this some superstition that architects have with the number 13?—Andrea, Lakeview
A Triskaidekaphobes, the breed of paranoid scaredy-cats who live in fear of the number 13, blame the numeral for everything from the Apollo 13 explosion (the craft took off at…13:13, military time) to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (at the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot was one of…13 attendees). But triskaidekaphobic architects are not usually to blame, says Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson, for buildings that display the 13th floor as 14, 12B or M (mechanical) on elevator button panels. “[Relabeling the 13th floor] is usually the result of cautious building owners or developers,” he says, “who are either superstitious themselves or jittery that potential tenants might be.” The Reliance Building (now the Hotel Burnham) opened at 32 North State Street in 1895 with a designated 13th floor. “But an obviously nervous later owner had it eliminated and took the time and expense to change all the room numbers above the 12th floor,” Samuelson says. Even after a restoration completed in 1999, the Burnham left off the 13th floor. Some new construction also nods at the old wives’ tale: The 13th floor of Trump Tower, for instance, was made a mechanical floor. “It’s usually just the prerogative of the builder or owner, and some are obviously more superstitious than others,” explains Ron Tabaczynski of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago. “I’m often as surprised to see a 13th floor as I am to not see a 13th floor.”
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