Preservationists push to save Chicago’s Century, Consumers towers

Plans to use the building as archive address security concerns of adjacent courthouse

Preservation Chicago's Ward Miller and Century Building (Tdl1060/ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons, LinkedIn)
Preservation Chicago's Ward Miller and Century Building (Tdl1060/ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons, LinkedIn)

Preservationists fighting to save a pair of century-old downtown Chicago office towers say the buildings can escape the wrecking ball by housing historic records.

Using the 22-story Century Building and 16-floor Consumers Building to store archives makes sense because they wouldn’t pose a security threat to the adjacent Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Crain’s reported, citing Ward Miller, head of Preservation Chicago, which is leading the Chicago Collaborative Archive proposal.

“There is a great concern that the buildings be saved, and there is a desperate need for archives,” said Malachy McCarthy of the Claretian Missionaries Archives, one of three religious groups that make up the Collaborative Archive. The other two are the Cenacle Sisters Archives of North America and the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago Archives.

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The two buildings were built in 1913 and 1915 respectively and have been home over the years to everything from the Remington Typewriter Co. to Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign headquarters. The federal government seized the towers, along with two smaller structures between, after the Dirksen building was targeted in a 2004 truck bomb threat.

Redevelopment plans never took off, and now the government plans to spend $52 million to knock them down. Dick Durbin, an Illinois senator, told the Chicago Sun-Times in April that people can peer into judges’ chambers and jury rooms from higher floors of the two buildings. “Ensuring the safety of the judges and employees who work in the Dirksen Courthouse must be a top priority in light of the acute security threats they face,” he said.
The preservationists say using them for archives would mean only registered visitors could visit and the buildings are well suited for that use. They haven’t been able to estimate the cost because they haven’t had access to the buildings, according to Miller.

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[CCB] — Victoria Pruitt