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Instead Of Demolishing Century And Consumer Buildings, Let Us Turn Them Into A National Archive Center, Preservationists Ask Feds

Preservation groups said the national archive center would meet the security guidelines of the neighboring federal courthouse while serving as a major hub for archive-based research.

The Century and Consumers Buildings at 202 and 220 South State St.
Eric Allix Rogers
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DOWNTOWN — Chicago preservationists are hoping to save the Loop’s historic Century and Consumer Buildings by transforming the neglected State Street skyscrapers into a National Archive Center.

Built in in the early 1910s, the two buildings at 202-220 S. State St. have been neglected by the federal government who bought the buildings in 2007 for a potential office expansion that never materialized, preservationists said.

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. Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have named the buildings to their most endangered lists.

RELATED: Century And Consumers Buildings, Beverly’s Pike House Top List Of Most Endangered Historic Places In Illinois

The federal government plans to tear the towers down at a cost of $52 million. But the Chicago Collaborative Archive Center, supported by Preservation Chicago, JLK Architects and Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, is proposing that the buildings be turned in a national archive center. Preservationists argue that an archive center would meet the security guidelines while serving as a major hub for archive-based research.

Credit: Chicago Collaborative Archive Center
A proposal to save the Century and Consumer Buildings along State Street includes turning the two buildings into a national archive center – the first of its kind for Chicago.

Under their plan, most of the building would be used for archival storage, which requires limited light and a 24-hour climate-controlled environment. This allows for the west walls facing the Federal Center to be sealed and eliminate the possibility of a security threat to the courthouse. Additionally, the center would have less than 30 employees and visitors would require a reservation, according to a news release.

There are already four archival groups interested in the proposed development, including the Franciscan Central Archives, Order of Franciscan Minor, 6 USA provinces, Archives of the Episcopal Church and McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies, according to the group.

“A collaborative archive of this proposed size is rare in the country,” said Christopher Allison, a historian and Director of the McGreal Center at Dominican University, in a statement. “It would become a major hub for archive-based research and would consolidate precious sources in one space.”

The proposal also includes classrooms, a lecture hall and exhibit space on the lower levels specifically facing State and Adams streets away from the federal buildings. Part of the building’s ground floor could be used for commercial space at State and Adams streets. Each of these spaces would have security on site, according to the plan’s executive summary.

“We are building great momentum on a plan for reuse for these extraordinary buildings,” Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said in a statement. “Our challenge now is to stop the federal wheels of demolition motion and steer toward a viable reuse.”

The proposal acknowledges renovation costs will be a challenge, but Chicago Collaborative Archive Center officials plan to apply for grants and tax credits to help with the cost.

“There are certainly many challenges in making this vision a reality, but we are taking actionable steps forward to achieve the ultimate goal,” said Holly Fiedler, province archivist for Sisters of St. Francis.

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