State Street towers make national list of most endangered places

Landmark Commission gave buildings landmark status last month

Consumer and Century buildings with Landmark Illinois' Bonnie McDonald
Consumer and Century buildings with Landmark Illinois' Bonnie McDonald (Google Maps, LinkedIn)

The fight to save two historic State Street towers in downtown Chicago has gone national.

The Century Building at 202 South State and the Consumers Building at 220 South State were included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 most endangered historic places in the nation, Crain’s reported. 

The U.S. General Services Administration wants to demolish the towers, built in 1913 and 1915, for security reasons, as they’re in close proximity to the Dirksen Federal Building. The Century and Consumer buildings have mostly been empty since 2005 after the GSA seized the entire row of properties on the street in light of a bomb threat made toward the Dirksen. Last year, Congress approved a $52 million plan to raze the row of buildings. A smaller building between the two towers has already been torn down.

Preservation groups have, however, made progress towards saving the historic sites from the government’s wrecking ball. Last month, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously to assign the two towers a landmark status — a huge step to preserve these sites. But the process is still far from over, and the government ultimately has the authority to raze the buildings if they’re deemed a security threat.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, and other local preservationists and architects have fought to protect the State Street towers, saying they represent an important era of Chicago’s architectural history. That message has reached the national level, as indicated by their inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list.

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“The fact that the (national) trust chose to include them on its list is a testament to not only how historically significant these skyscrapers are, but just how close they are to being erased forever from our skyline and one of Chicago’s most important retail and commercial corridors,” Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, told the outlet.

Preservation groups have proposed using the buildings as an archive center, as it would allow the government to maintain control of the properties without razing them, and it would serve a public purpose. The idea of boarding up the windows that have a line of sight to the Dirksen has also been suggested.

The GSA is undergoing a public engagement process to gather public opinion on the sites, which will last several more months.

—Quinn Donoghue 

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