John Tishman, who built Chicago’s Hancock Center, dead at 90

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John Tishman, in February 1985 photo.

John L. Tishman, the builder who oversaw the construction of some of the nation’s tallest skyscrapers, including Chicago’s 1,100-foot John Hancock Center and the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York, has died at age 90.

Mr. Tishman died of respiratory failure Saturday morning at his home in the Westchester County town of Bedford, New York, about 35 miles north of New York City, family spokesman John Gallagher said.

His other projects included Walter Disney World’s EPCOT Center theme park in central Florida, Detroit’s Renaissance Center and the “new” Madison Square Garden in New York, built in the mid-1960s.

Construction on the landmark, 100-story Hancock Center began in 1965. It opened in 1969, dominating the Chicago skyline.

The high-profile project led Mr. Tishman’s company to be brought in first as a consultant on the even-taller World Trade Center and then as the builder. It opened in 1973.


John L. Tishman, right, of Tishman Realty & Construction Co., and Sheraton Corp. chairman John Kapiolitas at a ceremonial groundbreaking in 1989 for a new Sheraton hotel at Columbus Drive and the Chicago River. Jim Klepitsch / Sun-Times file photo

Born in 1926, Mr. Tishman studied electrical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Even though the construction company founded by his grandfather, a Polish immigrant named Julius Tishman, in 1898 had become a huge business by the end of World War II, Mr. Tishman went to work at his old high school, teaching physics and math, after serving in the U.S. Navy.

“My father had died years earlier,”he said in a 1985 interview with the news service United Press International. “Other members of my family had anticipated joining their fathers in the family business. But I had not.”

He loved teaching, saying in that interview it “was probably the greatest experience of my life.”

Still, at the urging of other teachers who told him he shouldn’t pass up such a good opportunity, Mr. Tishman joined the family business, Tishman Realty & ConstructionCo., in 1948. The company grew huge, and the Tishmans became one of the royal families of real estate in New York.

Years later, after most of the other family members had moved on to other careers, Mr. Tishman stayed on, overseeing major construction projects. The construction side of the business was bought by Rockefeller Center Inc. in 1976 but reacquired by the Tishman family four years later. Mr. Tishman led the company as chairman and chief executive officer.

In 2011, when he was chairman emeritus of the business, Mr. Tishman co-authored a book, “Building Tall: My Life and the Invention of Construction Management,” published by the University of Michigan Press.

He is survived by a son, Daniel Tishman, who is vice chairman of the company now known as Tishman; a daughter,Katherine Blacklock; and three grandsons. Mr. Tishman’s wife, Suzanne, died in 2005.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, left, developer John Tishman, center, and Gov. George Pataki, pose on May 1, 1995, with a scale model of the plan for the 42nd Street development project in New York. AP file photo

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