Landmark commission could save State Street towers

Federal government plans to demolish historic buildings for security needs

A photo illustration of Ward Miller in front of 202 and 220 South State Street (Preservation Chicago, Google Maps)
A photo illustration of Ward Miller in front of 202 and 220 South State Street (Preservation Chicago, Google Maps)

Chicago officials have renewed an effort that could spare two State Street towers from the federal government’s wrecking ball.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks is meeting Thursday to consider designating the 16-story Century Building and the 22-story Consumers Building as landmarks, which could protect the buildings from being demolished by the U.S. General Services Administration, Crain’s reported.

A federal bill last year approved a $52 million tear-down of the towers at 202 and 220 South State Street, built in 1913 and 1915, respectively. The agency announced last week that it will demolish a three-story building in between the two high-rises, prompting preservationists to act quickly before the taller ones suffer a similar fate.

This will be the local commission’s second attempt to get a vote on the record regarding landmarking the towers. A planned vote on the idea was pulled from the table last year.

The GSA seized the Century and Consumers buildings, along with two low-rises, in 2004 due to safety concerns surrounding the nearby Dirksen Federal Building. The properties have been largely vacant since then, but preservation groups believe the high-rises represent an important era of Chicago’s architectural history.

Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, was “personally overjoyed” to hear about the landmark commission’s planned meeting.

“It was a beautiful moment to see those buildings included,” Miller told the outlet.

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If the demolition project were to happen, the GSA would turn that area into a safety zone around the Dirksen. Preservation Chicago has proposed the idea of using the State Street towers as an archives center, which could serve the GSA’s security needs simultaneously.

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A handful of federal officials are opposed to preservation ideas, but others are open to giving these sites a landmark status.

“GSA’s position is formally neutral on the Commission’s proposal to designate the buildings as landmarks under the Commission’s criteria,” a GSA spokeswoman told the outlet.

The State Street buildings are located in the Loop Retail Historic District — an area encompassed by the National Register of Historic Places — requiring the GSA to hold a series of hearings regarding the tear down. The process is expected to conclude in early 2024.

— Quinn Donoghue