THREATENED: Section 106 Hearing to Consider Demolition of Century and Consumers Buildings on November 10, 2022 (Chicago 7 2011, 2013 & 2022)

“The Commission on Chicago Landmarks delayed a vote on the preliminary landmark designation of the Century and Consumers Buildings during its recent monthly meeting on Thursday. The vote would’ve set up a battle between the city and the federally run General Services Administration (GSA), as they seek to spend $52 million in federal funds to demolish the towers, citing security and safety reasons for the Dirksen Courthouse.

“With an extremely thorough and detailed presentation, city historic preservation staff outlined how the two buildings each meet three landmark designation criteria, as well as the separate integrity criterion.

“The GSA provided a statement to the commission that they will be impartially conducting the Section 106 process from the National Historic Preservation Act, which directs them to consider viable alternatives to the proposed demolition. They remain officially neutral on the proposed landmark designation.

“The landmarks staff has been directed to work with the relevant city and federal agencies to identify specific safety issues that the buildings pose while the GSA proceeds with their Section 106 process. The GSA will be setting up public meetings in the next few weeks as part of that procedure. (Kugler, Urbanize Chicago, 9/11/22)

The Century Building, 202 S. State Street. Photo credit: Chicago Architectural Photographing Company, State Street, 200-298 S. Folder 1177, Sheet 13, CPC_04_D_1177_013, Chicago – Photographic Images of Change, University of Illinois at Chicago. Library. Special Collections Department

“Maurice Cox, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, said there was little doubt the “properties are meritous of landmark status” but argued that no action should be taken without a more thorough understanding of the broader issues at play.

“Ultimately the commission’s chairman, Ernie Wong, declined to call a vote on whether to confer preliminary landmark status on the buildings. Citing the ‘highly unusual circumstances’ surrounding the buildings, he said additional study is needed into the specific safety issues at hand and potential solutions. (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 9/8/22)

Preservation Chicago along with other preservation partners provided powerful testimony at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks hearing in support of the Century and Consumers Buildings. This represents the culmination of an intensive campaign to save these important buildings from demolition by securing the strong support of the public and City of Chicago. The campaign included a Chicago 7 Most Endangered designation, dozens of media stories detailing the history, circumstances, threat, and alternatives, discussion of the UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination, the Chicago Collaborative Archive Center press conference, a Change.org petition with over 23,000 signatures, a B1M short film with over 900,000 views and extensive high-level advocacy.

This preservation effort succeeded in profoundly shifting the public discourse and earning a ‘spot at the table’ for preservation partners with the GSA and the Federal Court to directly discuss opportunities and challenges. On September 12, 2022, key preservation leaders and Chicago Collaborative Archive Center leaders met with representatives of the GSA and Federal Court for over two hours. The meeting was cordial, constructive and comprehensive. A second meeting was held on October 25, 2022.

The ultimate outcome of these efforts remains uncertain, but the preservation effort is well positioned for the upcoming Section 106 hearings, scheduled to occur in the coming months.

The advocacy campaign has sought to anticipate and address all potential concerns. We continue to reinforce the architectural significance of the buildings, the viability of the Chicago Collaborative Archive Center and its comprehensive solutions to the security concerns, the risk to the UNESCO nomination, and the importance of these terra cotta skyscrapers to Mies van der Rohe’s overall vision for the Chicago Federal Center.

Key preservation and Chicago Collaborative Archive Center leaders following the two hour meeting on September 12, 2022 with representatives of the GSA and the Federal Court. Rolf Achilles, Architectural Historian and Professor Emeritus, The School of The Art Institute of Chicago; Kevin Harrington, Professor Emeritus of Architectural History at The Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago; Sr. Mary Navarre, O.P., Director of Archives, Dominican Sisters, Grand Rapids, Michigan and CCAC Board Member; Malachy McCarthy, Coordinator, Archival Resources for Catholic Collections and CCAC Board Member; Christopher Allison, Director and Adjunct Instructor at The McGreal Center, Dominican University and CCAC Board Member, Ward Miller, Executive Director, Preservation Chicago and CCAC Board Member and Holly Fiedler, Community Archivist for the Sisters of St. Francis, Denver, Colorado, FCA Initiative Working group and CCAC Board Member. Photo Credit: Preservation Chicago
The focus is increasingly shifting to the buildings’ existing conditions and cost to restore. Despite 17 years of deferred maintenance during the period of GSA ownership, we believe that the buildings are in stable condition and can successfully be restored. Many examples of buildings in far worse condition have been successfully restored including the Old Chicago Post Office, Cook County Hospital, Reliance Building, and many others.
Regarding cost, we believe that if the $52 million federal earmark for demolition were reallocated to restoration, it would cover a significant portion of the rehabilitation cost. For perspective, Lane Tech is Chicago’s largest public school at 607,000 square feet. It’s more than double the square footage of Century and Consumers Buildings combined. In 2017, Lane Tech was comprehensively restored, inside and out, including restored parapets, replaced terra cotta, new windows, new roof, and interiors for a total cost of $52 million.

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