The Century and Consumers Buildings

The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago
The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky / Esto
The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky / Esto
Century Builsing Cornice. The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky / Esto
The Century and Consumers Buildings, a 2024 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. The Century Building, 1915, Holabird & Roche, 202 S. State Street. The Consumers Building, 1913, Jenney, Mundie & Jensen, 220 S. State Street. Photo Credit: Preservation Chicago Historic Postcard Collection

Century & Consumers Buildings

The Century Building
Address: 202 S. State Street
Architects: Holabird and Roche
Date: 1915

The Consumers Building
Address: 220 S. State Street
Architects: Jenney, Mundie & Jensen
Date: 1913

Neighborhood: Loop
Style: Chicago School Skyscrapers

Overview
Two of State Street’s terra cotta-clad skyscrapers, known as the Century and Consumers Buildings, remain in danger of demolition, threatening the visual character of this prominent block of the South Loop.

Comprised of two structures representing the last of the tall buildings of the Chicago School of Architecture, these steel-frame early skyscraper buildings are part of a special group of structures which placed Chicago on the world stage of architectural and engineering achievements. Their potential loss and proposed demolition, would adversely impact the visual character of State Street, the Loop Retail National Register District, and would be considered by some to be an act of cultural, architectural and urban vandalism to destroy in the 21st century.

Preservation Chicago has long been concerned about the deferred maintenance, vacancy and deteriorating condition of the Century and Consumers Buildings, fronting State Street, Adams Street and Quincy Court, in the heart of the Chicago Loop and Central Business District. These buildings, owned for 17 years by the General Services Administration (GSA), the real estate arm of the Federal Government, continue to languish, despite being spotlighted on our “Chicago 7 Most Endangered List” multiple times.

These two early 20th-century skyscraper structures were included as a Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2012, 2013, 2022, 2023. And now for a fifth time in 2023, both have again been selected due to a significant threat of demolition.

Preservation Chicago learned that in 2022, a $52 million expenditure had been earmarked in the Federal Infrastructure Appropriations Bill, in Congress, specifically for the demolition of the Century and Consumers Buildings. It appears that the decades-long advocacy efforts to save these significant buildings is once again reaching a critical stage. In 2022, Preservation Chicago had two meetings with the GSA, Federal officials and parties interested in a reuse vision for the structures. During those meetings, alternative plans were discussed. However, in late 2022, it was announced that Federal Section 106 Hearings would take place to determine a plan of action. All along Preservation Chicago has been there to encourage new fresh ideas and a vision for these remarkable structures of the Chicago School of Architecture.

These two remarkable buildings, the 16-story Century Building by Holabird & Roche (1915) and the 22-story Consumers Building by Jenney, Mundie & Jensen (1913), were once principally occupied by small businesses, attorney offices and showrooms. These types of multi-use structures along State Street and Wabash Avenue, with small stores located on their upper floors were also referred to as “shops buildings.”

Due to the close proximity of the courthouse and courtrooms, the Federal Government and the General Services Administration (GSA), exercised its power of eminent domain in 2005-2007, to take control of these State Street buildings based on increased security concerns following the events of September 11, 2001. Since that acquisition by the GSA, the buildings have been stable but slowly deteriorating due to deferred maintenance and prolonged vacancy.

Security concerns and a reduction in required office space in the Loop appeared to have halted the GSA’s initial plans for renovation and reuse. In 2017 after an extensive advocacy effort by Preservation Chicago, the City of Chicago issued a Request For Proposals for the adaptive reuse of the Century and Consumers Buildings. Preservation Chicago was delighted by the City of Chicago’s selection of CA Ventures in partnership with Cedar Street Companies. Their $141 million renovation proposal planned for a preservation-sensitive adaptive reuse of the four-building cluster, with the two terra cotta office towers as residential apartments and the two adjacent low-rise buildings as State Street retail with a tower above. Despite a strong developer team submitting a solid adaptive reuse for a residential plan, it was halted by a federal judge citing security concerns due to the proximity of the rooftop deck and rear windows to the courthouse.

Widely considered to be an impossible challenge to solve, Preservation Chicago redoubled its efforts to identify an adaptive reuse that could accommodate the rigorous courthouse security requirements. Eventually, we arrived at a highly unusual solution, a collaborative national archive center to be known as the “Chicago Collaborative Archive Center.”

At first, the notion of repurposing two tall, slender Chicago School skyscrapers into an archive center seemed unique and perhaps even improbable. In fact, this creative solution has many strengths and is very achievable. Recognizing the growing urgency to repurpose these buildings, Preservation Chicago has been working diligently over the past two years to build a strong coalition of critical stakeholders. There is now strong interest, support and enthusiasm for this adaptive reuse project. This coalition of partners has already engaged architects and engineers long before news broke of the $52 million demolition congressional earmark in February 2022.

Since that time, a Public Scoping Meeting has been held, along with two Federal Section 106 Hearings have occurred. At all of the meetings, there has been no public support for demolition, but only preservation and reuse of the historic structures. In addition there have been intense public interest in the buildings, representing the most public support that Preservation Chicago has witnessed in our 22 years of advocacy. The buildings were featured in a story by “The B1M” of London, capturing 1.4 million views, and their very first story on Chicago. In addition, a Change.org petition has garnered over 24,500 petition signatures encouraging preservation and a reuse plan from not only Chicago residents, but individuals across the nation and world.

Lastly, the Department of Planning and Development-Historic Preservation Division at the City of Chicago voted to approve the Preliminary Chicago Landmark Designation for The Century and Consumers Building. We are hopeful that this process will one day result in a Final Chicago Landmark Designation of the Century and Consumers Buildings.

Threat

The potential and irreparable damage that demolition of these historic skyscraper buildings will have on South State Street cannot be overstated. The Century and Consumers Buildings provide an important anchor for the existing street walls along both State Street, Adams Street, and the Chicago Federal Center, which Ludwig Mies van der Rohe felt it important to frame his buildings.

If demolished as planned by the GSA-General Services Administration, not only will Chicago lose two important early Chicago School skyscrapers by two of its most important architecture firms, it will also create a huge void and open site which will adversely impact and vacate the energy from one of downtown Chicago’s most vibrant thoroughfares and intersections. Chicago does not need another vacant lot or windswept plaza, nor does it need the shame of losing more of its early historic skyscrapers. Every effort should be made to repurpose these buildings, so they contribute to the vibrancy of State Street and the tax rolls.

Moreover, there are also concerns regarding the impact that demolition of 202 S. State St. would have on neighboring buildings that compose the historic Berghoff Restaurant at 17 W. Adams Street. A recent structural survey has concluded that the Berghoff Restaurant – Chicago’s oldest extant restaurant, comprising two historic 1870s buildings – could potentially lose the significant structural stability that they currently receive from the frame of the Century Building.

The potential loss of these skyscrapers will also adversely impact the consideration of Chicago’s UNESCO World Heritage Nomination of its “Chicago’s Early Skyscrapers.” Submitted in 2017 by a group of organizations and individuals from the architecture and preservation community, including Preservation Chicago, this is an elongated ten-year process. Many of us are very excited about this potential honor and recognition for our city. This nomination has the potential to bring tens-of-thousands of architectural and heritage tourists to our city each year, with the opportunity to add more “early Chicago skyscrapers” to this esteemed list over time

The $52-million dollar taxpayer earmark to demolish the Century and Consumers Buildings are a real threat and this has the potential to adversely impact the entire Chicago Loop and Central Business District. In an era where Downtown’s across the nation and world are recovering from a three-year Covid pandemic, new remote working lifestyles and standards, there is a need to reinvest in our urban areas and the built environment to attract people to the central core of our American cities. A demolition of such proportions is backwards and ill-planning for a vibrant city like Chicago. Are we again looking to wholesale land clearances of the 1950s and 1960s as a solution to the issues presented by the GSA? That’s 50 to 70 years old and often considered a misstep of the past, not to be repeated.

Recommendations

We believe that the time has arrived for the Century and Consumers Buildings to achieve Final Chicago Landmark Designation. We urge the City of Chicago to proceed forward with these two individual Chicago Landmark Designations and to both honor and encourage preservation of these two highly visible and qualified structures esteemed Chicago School of Architecture buildings.

A final Chicago Landmark designation would indicate that the City of Chicago has determined these buildings critically important to built environment, Chicago’s one-of-a-kind architectural legacy, as well as their importance to the international community, and worthy of preservation and reuse.

Every effort should be made in partnership with the GSA-the General Services Administration and Federal Government to preserve, protect, and reuse the Century and Consumers Buildings. Since the buildings are already owned by the federal government or General Services Administration, they could be rehabilitated for government use, or a creative solution like a collaborative and shared archives institution, as proposed by the Chicago Collaborative Archives Center.

Preservation Chicago hopes that the Consumers Building’s elevations on State and Quincy Streets will be restored to include the building’s original rooflines, frieze band, fascia, cornice and terra cotta, along with the storefronts and grand marble-lined lobby and arcade. This is essential and a forward path to a reuse of the two buildings, which have been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Preservation Chicago is currently engaged with a consortium of stakeholders for a collaborative Chicago Archives Center. To date, we have a group of religious archive collections which have joined together to explore the Century and Consumers Buildings as a national collaborative archives center, which could prove beneficial to many religious orders around the nation. Such an idea could also provide a center for religious studies and research, centrally located and under one roof, in an area of Chicago noted for its concentration of universities and university students.

With this collaborative archive project, many of the rear elevation windows on the Consumers Building, closest to the Federal Courthouse, could be blocked for the archives stacks which are sensitive to sunlight exposure. Other windows at the west end of the Quincy Court elevation, could potentially be blocked from the interior side, which would not impact the building’s southern elevation. The easternmost windows on Quincy, as well as those fronting State Street, could remain open but inoperable with special glass. The areas at the front of the building could be used as a research center for each archive, which could potentially be located on individual floors of the building and locked off with security as needed.

Of course, security would be of great importance and entry to the building would be by appointment only and via a security desk in the lobby of each building. This is an exciting opportunity and concept and could even house municipal, state and federal archives, as well. Dominican University, based in River Forest, Illinois has even proposed the idea of a new presence in the Loop for their library and archive departments. What a tremendous asset that could be to add another institution of higher learning to Chicago’s Central Area and State Street.

We at Preservation Chicago, along with other architecture, preservation, non-profit, civic organizations and community partners have all been part of ongoing discussions with the GSA and federal employees, at Section 106 meetings. These hearings, which offer public participation though Consulting Parties or established organizations, are required by law for buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places. As the buildings, are part of the Loop Retail National Register District, they are all to be considered as part of the Federal Section 106 process. They are to be determined for avoidance, minimalization and mitigation for properties listed, which may be impacted by an adverse action, such a demolition.

We also want to point to the urban planning mistakes and mishaps of the past in the Downtown central area of Chicago. Block 37, bounded by State Street, Randolph, Washington and Dearborn Streets, was a 30-year disastrous vacant parcel, which so adversely impacted the Loop and State Street. The same is true for the former Mercantile Exchange Building site at Washington and Franklin, which remains a vacant fenced gravel-filled lot. Also, Pritzker Park at State Street and Van Buren, which is to be redeveloped from a public park, as it’s had numerous issues and has not added to the vitality of State Street and the Loop. We would argue the same for the State Street-Adams and Quincy Court site of the Century and Consumers Buildings.

It appears at times by many observers and some of our partners, that perhaps the GSA has never really intended to reuse the Century and Consumers Buildings. Numerous proposals, from “a trade of services” for the site and buildings, to a residential reuse of the structures have been determined to be inappropriate by the GSA and Federal officials, after large investments have been made in plans and financing. So, what message does that convey? We need these buildings to be restored, repurposed and given Chicago Landmark designation.

In an era of ever-shrinking tax dollars, now is not the time to use $52 million of public taxpayer monies to destroy historic buildings for vacant lots or a small corner park on a historic and dense commercial street. If properly repurposed for government use, or as a Chicago Collaborative Archives Center, these two buildings could serve the people of Chicago and the nation for another 100 years or more.

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