USC Webb Tower’s 13th Floor (Or Lack Thereof)

DH is an Asian freshman male at USC, who took me up to his room on the 14th floor of Webb Tower in the elevator. Webb Tower provides on-campus apartment-style housing, and it is special in that it has the most floors of any residential building at USC.

In USC’s Webb Tower, there are 14 physical floors. That is, if one were to take the stairs to the highest floor, they would have to climb 13 flights of stairs (14 flights to get to the roof). However, by taking a quick glance at the Webb Tower’s elevator buttons, one would get the impression that there are actually 15 floors in the building; it appears that an additional floor simply materializes. Upon closer inspection of the buttons, they would instead realize that the floor counts jump from 12 directly to 14, and then to 15. The 13th floor, although physically present, does not officially exist. Such is the case of many hotels and tall buildings in America and other countries with superstitions regarding the number 13. The number may be viewed as unlucky or related to bad luck, so a building’s designer may decide to abstain from labeling the 13th floor as a whole. Other countries in Asia have buildings missing a fourth or fourteenth floor as well since the number sounds like the character for death.

Though we had heard about this phenomenon of a missing 13th floor, DH and I were surprised to see this firsthand in an academic institution. The building, erected in 1972, is a prime example of the influence that superstitions or one’s innate beliefs have on places or aspects of life that are usually approached with a very critical and scientific mind. Some might say that skipping the 13th floor doesn’t hurt as it is merely a small change to the numbering and has no impact on the building’s structural integrity. The omission of a 13th floor may also put superstitious tenants at ease, especially those who might live on the 13th – now 14th– floor. However, countries such as Canada have banned the act of skipping the 13th floor since it can confuse emergency responders in a life or death situation. Personally, I believe it is simply an old tradition that is based on silly superstition and is not worth the possibility of becoming deadly.