In Chicago, Tour Guides Take Measured Approach to Trump Tower

(Giuseppe Milo / Flickr)(Giuseppe Milo / Flickr)

“This is Trump International Hotel and Tower, in case you couldn’t tell.”

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That used to be Adam Habben’s go-to line as a tour guide for Shoreline Sightseeing, delivered as the tour boat would glide under the DuSable Bridge to reveal Chicago’s second-tallest skyscraper. And its singularly enormous sign.

But when President Donald Trump became the Republican front-runner in the presidential election in May 2016, Habben changed his script.

“The bit had no political humor in it when the sign first went up in 2014, but people started taking it in political ways and some would get upset,” Habben said. 

After tour boat riders began urging the Chicago native to “show some respect,” he chose to curtail the one-liner. Following the election results, Shoreline Sightseeing told its guides to refrain from making any statements about the tower that could be construed as political.  

Many other tour companies have followed suit.

“Our job is to report that it’s the Trump Tower and not make any personal feelings about the sign be known,” said Craig Wenokur, vice president of Wendella Boats.

A panoramic view of the Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive, with Trump Tower at its center. (David B. Gleason / Flickr)A panoramic view of the Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive, with Trump Tower at its center. (David B. Gleason / Flickr)

Hillary Marzec, who has worked as a tour guide in Chicago for the last six years and recently launched Inside Chicago Walking Tours, says she tries to keep the focus on the tower’s unique architectural designs.

“I end up emphasizing the architecture and help people see that it’s not a matter of if you like or dislike the guy, but about the accomplishments of architect Adrian Smith,” Marzec said.  

Marzec recently told a group of guides-in-training “to try not to be too snarky about it” before conceding that she’ll allow herself to joke about the Trump sign if the group she’s leading seems like they’d take it well.

While tour guides seem to be taking a measured approach, those taking in the sights don’t always keep their political views under wraps.

“They wave to the building—not always with all their fingers—they boo, sometimes they even cheer,” Wenokur said. “I don’t know that there’s been anything in Chicago that has been this charged—it’s a visible piece of architecture and a hotly contested political atmosphere.”

A Wendella sightseeing boat cruises past Trump Tower. (JohnPickenPhoto / Flickr)A Wendella sightseeing boat cruises past Trump Tower. (JohnPickenPhoto / Flickr)

Habben says his groups are often eager to see the 92-story, layered tower, asking for it from the onset of the tour.

Both guides say they typically let a handful of comments fly before refocusing their groups. Sometimes they have to remind groups to remain respectful of other’s political leanings.

And though the tourism industry he’s part of tries to not ruffle feathers, Habben said it’s difficult to remain apolitical when it comes to a site that’s been tied to weekly protests for the last three months.

“Whenever that visual comes up, you either address it in saying something or address it in ignoring it,” Habben said.  

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