Downtown’s endangered Century and Consumers buildings deserve landmark status
The city is making the right move by standing up to the feds and formally arguing that the towers are historically and architecturally important.
We’re glad that two early downtown skyscrapers marked for demolition by the federal government might take a significant step toward landmark status this week.
City planning department staffers are set to ask the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday to grant a preliminary designation to the Century and Consumers buildings, 202 and 220 S. State St.
The long-vacant early 20th century skyscrapers owned by the U.S. General Services Administration were put in demolition’s path last spring when U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., earmarked $52 million to replace the towers with a security plaza aimed at protecting the nearby Dirksen federal courthouse.
The decision to demolish the buildings was made after federal judges at the Dirksen raised concerns that the structures, if reoccupied, created a security hazard.
On its face, landmark status alone might not automatically block the federal government from razing the buildings.
But the city is making the right move by standing up to the feds and formally arguing the towers are historically and architecturally important, and, once redeveloped, are worth more to State Street and downtown than a glorified vacant lot posing as a security feature.
The landmarks commission will be asked to vote on two separate designations, one for each tower.
The Century Building designation would cover all outside elevations of the 1915 building designed by Holabird & Root, including first- and second-floor exteriors that were remodeled in 1952.
The Consumers Building designation would also cover exteriors and rooflines, but also the interior main entrance vestibule and elevator lobby of the building, built in 1913 and designed by Jenny, Mundie & Jensen.
A lobby staircase to the second floor and a marble-detailed, barrel-vaulted staircase to the basement would also be included in the designation.
Meanwhile, a planning department spokesperson remained mum on the city’s aims in seeking landmark status for the structures.
And this is a potential good sign: A federal GSA spokesperson said the agency “is formally neutral on the Commission’s proposal to designate the buildings as landmarks,” but added “such a designation is not inconsistent with the manner in which the buildings are characterized and protected under the [National Historic Preservation Act].”
The act requires the GSA to conduct studies and seek alternatives to demolition for federally-owned historic properties.
If the landmarks commission votes in favor of the designations, the GSA has between 45 and 120 days to respond.
That response, we hope, will be something that ultimately helps save the two buildings.
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