THE LOOP — Two historic Chicago skyscrapers slated to be torn down by the feds top a list of the state’s most endangered historic places.
The Century and Consumers buildings, 202-220 S. State St. in the Loop, and the Eugene S. Pike House, 1826 W. 91st St. in Beverly, have been named to Landmarks Illinois’ 2022 Most Endangered Historic Places list. The list aims to draw attention to historic sites in danger of being destroyed in hope they can be preserved.
Statewide, this year’s list also includes Elks Lodge No. 64 in Rockford, Gillson Park in Wilmette and the Will County Courthouse in Joliet.
The Century and Consumers buildings in the Loop’s Retail Historic District have sat vacant for 17 years. The federal government plans to tear them down as part of a $52 million demolition.
Built in in the early 1910s, the creamy-white terra cotta exterior of the two buildings have been neglected by the federal government who bought the buildings in 2007 for a potential office expansion that never materialized, preservationists said. The Consumers Building was designed by architecture firm Jenney, Mundie & Jensen and the Century designed by Holabird & Roche.
A $141 million plan to build luxury apartments in the buildings was scrapped in 2019 over security concerns raised by judges at the Dirksen federal courthouse, which neighbors the buildings, according to the Tribune. At the time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote to the feds that the sale of the buildings would “create significant public safety vulnerabilities” for workers at the courthouse.
The federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month included $52 million for the demolition of the Century and Consumers buildings. That prompted Landmarks Illinois to include the skyscrapers on their 2022 most endangered list.
The historic buildings represent the Chicago School of Architecture, Landmarks Illinois leaders said demolishing the buildings would leave a hole in one of Chicago’s most active corridors.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois. “For a dense, urban downtown, you don’t allow half a block this size to be empty … from a development perspective it just makes absolutely no sense.”
Other preservation groups agree. On March 31, Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago and the National Trust for Historic Preservation sent a joint letter to a federal administrator calling on the agency to preserve the buildings.
“[The General Services Administration] is a leader in federal preservation and an innovator leading other federal agencies in the areas of security, design, and planning. We implore GSA, under your leadership, to continue to apply this level of attention and excellence to the State Street properties,” the letter said.
Preservation Chicago has recently called on the public to support saving the buildings by launching a Change.org petition. So far it has over 1,000 signatures. The organization also named the Century and Consumers buildings to its most endangered buildings list.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago told Block Club theremoval of the buildings, which are currently being considered for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, would be a “huge embarrassment” for the city.
Because of the buildings’ historic status, the federal government will have to go through a regulatory review before it makes a final determination on the site’s destiny, DiChiera said.
The section 106 regulatory review doesn’t guarantee that buildings will be saved, but gives consulting agencies and the state’s historic preservation office a chance to argue its cases for preservation, reuse and demolition.
Miller said he’d like to the see the buildings converted into collaborative national archive centers for religious groups and other organizations. The proposal would bring historic institutions together where researchers and universities could access the archives in one space, he said.
An archive center could also easily meet the federal security standards since historical records don’t need access to light, Miller explained, so blocking off windows with views of the courthouse could easily be done.
Chicago Architectural Center leaders are looking forward to hearing from the feds during the regulatory review process and are curious what reuse possibilities will be presented, said Ian Spula, Chicago Architectural Center content manager.
“If they do demolish … we hope they have a vision for the site. We don’t want it to sit vacant and underutilized for decades,” Spula said.
Based on previous experience, DiChiera said the section 106 process can take months or even years. A most recent example is the section 106 review for Jackson Park in response to the planned construction of the Obama Presidential Center, which took several years.
“The best case scenario is that they’re retained, and that the federal dollars that were allocated are used to stabilize them and to come up with a security solution that satisfies the courts,” DiChiera said.
Beverly’s Pike House
The Eugene S. Pike House, built in the late-19th century, sits at the southern edge of the Dan Ryan Woods in Beverly on Chicago’s South Side. The home is famously known for being used as a “watchman’s residence” for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
The house, located in the National Register-listed Ridge Historic District, has been vacant for six years. The home has deteriorated significantly and needs an outside user and investor in order to preserve it, Landmarks Illinois leaders said.
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