A Federal Case: The US Government Shouldn’t Destroy Two Loop Skyscrapers in the Name of Safety
The federal government has given Chicago some great buildings, from the giant Art Deco Old Main Post Office – now enjoying reuse – to the superlative Mid-Century Federal Downtown.
So why would the United States General Services Administration now back paw on this legacy by tearing down the Century and Consumers Buildings, two early 20th century skyscrapers located at 202 and 220 S. State Street?
The senses. Americans Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., last month earmarked $52 million for the GSA to demolish the terracotta-clad towers and two small buildings between them, replacing the set with a security buffer to protect the Dirksen Federal Building, located one block west of Dearborn Street.
The GSA has owned the buildings and been calling for demolition since 2019, about two years after then-Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin of his concerns that Century and Consumers sat near the east side of the Dirksen.
But is that reason enough to send the towers to a landfill – when the federal center is surrounded by buildings and through streets? The Berghoff restaurant buildings, 17 W. Adams St., almost touch the northern edge of the Dirksen, but the GSA tells me they have no plans to attack these or any other structures.
The federal government will not create a moat around the federal center, but will replace the Century and Consumers with a “safe landscape”.[d]“Site, as the GSA spokesperson put it, isn’t good either.
Demolishing the buildings would create an economic and pedestrian dead zone on State Street that neither the street nor the city can afford.
And that would be a shameful waste of very good Chicago architecture.
Preservation agreement removed from the table in 2019
The Century and Consumers buildings appeared to be repurposed in 2017, when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved CA Ventures’ $141 million plan to rehabilitate and redevelop the properties.
As part of this effort, the city would have purchased the buildings from the GSA and sold them to CA Ventures. The 22-story Consumers Building would become 270 micro apartments, while the 16-story Century Building would be transformed into 159 studio and one-bedroom units.
What a beautiful second act for two historic buildings made by the greatest architectural firms in the city. Jenny, Mundie & Jensen designed the Consumers Building, completed in 1913. Holabird & Roche’s Century Building came two years later.
Do you see how the city and the federal government were partners then? In a weird way, they still are. When the GSA decided to demolish the buildings following an FBI security assessment following Castillo’s position, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s Planning and Development Department upheld the decision in 2019 by withdrawing their support for the CA Ventures agreement.
“It’s just disappointing, because these are buildings that historically contribute to everything State Street is,” Michael Edwards, president and CEO of the Chicago Loop Alliance, told me.
“We protect these things. We don’t shoot them.
At least the demolition won’t happen suddenly and under cover of darkness, like some other thing that happened around this time 20 years ago.
And buildings owned by the federal government are subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires the GSA to “identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings… [and] consider public opinions and concerns regarding historic preservation issues when making final decisions about the project. »
Public meetings on the demolition will begin this summer and continue through 2023, the GSA said. Demolition would not take place before 2024.
So it’s time for the Lightfoot administration to step in and make some noise. Maybe even be bold enough to tag buildings and challenge the feds to tear them down.
Meanwhile, the FBI has not made its safety assessment public, so we don’t know what dangers to the Dirksens would be avoided by demolition, or if destroying the structures was the only suggested solution.
Could adding ballistic glass or eliminating windows on the Dirksen side of buildings help? We do not know.
“We wrote a letter [to the mayor’s office] who I think went to the GSA, saying that for $52 million you could have [made up] lost revenue [of not having] all windows on [Dirksen] side of the building,” Edwards said. “And we would have the historic fabric of Chicago that makes State Street this ‘Great Street’. We protect those things. We don’t tear them down.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the GSA made its buildings open, transparent, but security sensitive.
This is because colder, more sensible heads have prevailed. And they still have to now.
Lee Bey is the architecture critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and a member of the Sun-Times editorial board.
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