Thompson Center named one of 11 most historically endangered sites in US

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the James R. Thompson Center as one the nation’s most endangered sites.

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Interior of the Thompson Center

The James R. Thompson Center was designed by Helmut Jahn. It opened in 1985.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the James R. Thompson Center as one the nation’s 11 most endangered sites.

In announcing its list, the National Trust called the building “Chicago’s foremost example of grandly scaled Post-Modernism,” and the youngest building to ever appear on the list.

Local preservation groups have fought for years to save the Helmut Jahn-designed building.

Landmark Illinois and Preservation Chicago have placed the center on their own lists of endangered buildings.

The possibility of selling the Thompson Center to a private developer, possibly paving the way for demolition, has been discussed more than once over the years.

James R. Thompson Center.

The James R. Thompson Center has been named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 most endangered places in the United States.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In 2015, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed unloading it, citing looming maintenance costs.

Then, in April, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill — passed while Rauner was governor — that authorizes selling the 34-year old building at 100 W. Randolph St., across from City Hall.

Under the bill’s provisions, the sale, through sealed bids, would be completed in two years.

The buyer must agree to keep the Clark/Lake CTA station open. That multi-level location is one of the busiest and most complex in the CTA system.

Pritzker has said money from the sale could help address the state’s pension costs.

The building opened in 1985 as the State of Illinois Center; it was renamed in 1993 after Thompson, Illinois’ longest-serving governor, elected four times and serving 14 years between 1977 and 1991.

Jahn’s design, with pastel red, white, and blue stripes, was not universally loved, though Thompson called it “open,” “honest” and “friendly.”

Employees at the Thompson Center have complained about maintenance issues such as water leaks.

Clark/Lake CTA station

Any buyer of the Thompson Center would have to preserve the attached Clark/Lake CTA station under legislation authorizing the sale.

Sun-Times photo

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