The Standard Oil Building in Chicago was finished in 1973. At time of completion, it was the city’s tallest building, earning it the nickname ‘Big Stan’. (Its claim to fame only lasted a year, until the Sears Tower was completed… today the Aon Center, as it’s called, is Chicago’s third tallest building.)
Besides being the tallest building in the Chicago skyline, Big Stan’s other claim to fame was the beautiful Carrara marble that covered it. Carrara marble is a beautiful white or blue-grey marble prized by sculptors and builders since Ancient Rome. Rome’s famous Pantheon is Carrara marble, as is Michelangelo’s David. London’s Marble Arch and the Harvard Medical School use Carrara marble. In short, it’s a big deal, a status symbol. And when Big Stan was completed in 1974, it was the biggest building in the world to be covered entirely in Carrara marble.
On Christmas Day, 1973, in the middle of construction, a 350-pound slab of that beautiful Carrara marble detached from the building and crashed through the roof of the Prudential Center. Whoops. The building was finished, however, and everything seemed fine.
Until a little over a decade later, in 1985, when building inspectors found cracks running all over the building. It turns out that Carrara marble is just too thin and delicate to cover such a large building. Standard Oil – which had just renamed itself Amoco – used metal straps to hold the marble together. That lasted another five years, and then between 1990 and 1992, Amoco spent more than $80 million dollars (which was over half the original cost of the building!) to resurface the building with white granite.
Big Stan looked great, and I’m sure those in the know took great pleasure from boasting that the same marble Michaelangelo chose for his masterpiece gilded their building.
But Carrara marble wasn’t suited for that building. Someone, somewhere, missed a key calculation, and by the time anyone noticed it was too late. Ultimately, it was an $80 million mistake.
I thought a lot about Big Stan as I was preparing this message.
Because we’re talking about a faith built to last, and I think all of us would love to have a faith that’s a Big Stan faith – a robust, sturdy faith. Not necessarily better than everyone else’s, but a faith that shapes the world around us, that becomes an essential part of the skyline of our community.
But how many of us, after a few years, start to notice some cracks in our faith? Questions that seemed small when we were younger grow bigger and bigger. Or maybe a crisis hits and we’re rocked, our building less able to weather the storm than we thought it was.
How many of us have woken up one day and realized we’ve built our faith out of something less-than-ideal, and it’s in danger of crashing down?