Thompson Center, ‘Green Book’ sites named to annual list of Illinois’ most endangered historic places

Statewide, there’s a total of nine culturally significant sites that have been found to be “threatened architecturally” by Landmarks Illinois, which released its annual list Wednesday.

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An Illinois Department of Central Management Services spokesperson confirmed Saturday that two potential buyers have submitted their plans to acquire the Helmut Jahn-designed Thompson Center.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The James R. Thompson Center and “Green Book” sites were named among the most endangered places in Illinois by an organization dedicated to promoting and preserving historic sites across the state.

Statewide, there’s a total of nine culturally significant sites that have been found to be “threatened architecturally” by Landmarks Illinois, which released its annual list Wednesday. Four are in the Chicago area.

Landmarks Illinois’ goal in releasing this list is to bring attention to historical buildings it believes are in need of saving.

“Communities are passionate about their historic and culturally significant places, yet too often lack the resources necessary to maintain and preserve them,” Landmarks Illinois president and CEO Bonnie McDonald said in a statement. “Our 2021 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois demonstrates the demand for creative solutions, partnerships and incentives to give places of our past a chance for reuse and renewed life. Landmarks Illinois proudly serves as a resource to those trying to overcome these barriers.”

This is the fourth consecutive time the Thompson Center has made the list. Gov. J.B. Pritzker put the state-owned building on the market earlier this week and called on developers to submit proposals for the downtown place that could need more than $500 million in repairs.

The “Green Book” sites, which are located statewide, stem from the “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide published during the Jim Crow area that listed places that provided safe accommodations and services for African American travelers, according to Landmarks Illinois.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said little is known about the vast majority of Green Book sites, which were Black-owned or known to be non-discriminatory places, such as restaurants, hotels and homes. Many have been demolished over the years.

The Landmarks Illinois list doesn’t mention a specific “Green Book” site in Illinois by name or address, but many were located near Route 66, according to a 2018 report from Fever River Research, a cultural resource management firm based in Springfield. Springfield had 22 properties located in various issues of the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, the report said. Two noteworthy places that are still standing are Bernie Eskridge Tourist House and Helen Robbins Tourist House, the report said.

Another Chicago site in need of restoration is the Altgeld Gardens shop building and school buildings C and E, which were designed by John C. Christiansen and built in 1944 and 1950, respectively. Landmarks Illinois said both buildings are in need of “major rehabilitation.”

Suburban sites on the list include Klas Restaurant in Cicero and Scott Foresman Headquarters in Glenview. Klas Restaurant is an important piece of history for the Chicagoland Czech community, and the Scott Foresman Headquarters is an award-winning Mid Century Modern design from the architecture firm Perkins & Will, according to Landmarks Illinois.

Both places are for sale and unprotected, with Scott Foresman being “marketed as a residential redevelopment site,” the organization said.

Other sites on the list are Illinois Terminal Interurban Station in Decatur, Broadview Hotel in East St. Louis, Havana Water Tower in Mason County and Joliet Steel Mill Main Office Building in Will County.

For more information on this year’s sites, go to http://www.landmarks.org/.

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