The Century and Consumers building downtown is a landmark in every way.
Built in 1913, Century 16 floor facing upward at 202 S. State St. designed by prestigious firm Holabird & Root and provides a glimpse into the Art Deco building style that would become popular a decade later.
The Consumer Building designed by Jenny, Mundie & Jensen at 220 S. State St. is a terra cotta-clad tower built in 1913. It is a surviving example of an early high-rise that helped give fledgling State Street —and downtown itself — its many prominences.
All that history and architecture would be destroyed and forgotten, if the building's owner, the federal government, wanted it to. Judges at the nearby Dirksen Federal Building—along with the FBI, US Marshals Service, and other agencies—wanted to demolish the 100-year-old skyscraper and two smaller buildings in between to make room for a secure square to protect the courthouse.
The Chicago Landmarks Commission will decide Thursday whether to recommend initial landmark status for the Century and Consumer buildings. The vote will be taken as the US General Services Administration conducts the necessary series of federal hearings designed to determine whether the building is indeed historic.
We strongly encourage the city commission to recommend initial landmark status for the building, a measure that could set the tower on a path to permanent designation.
Even if the federal government had the power to waive such a designation and demolish the building anyway, it would be an embarrassment to face a credible argument by the city that the Century and the Consumer are not only fit for preservation, but can also be reused without endangering a judge at Dirksen. .
Rebuild, not tear down
The vacant buildings have been in peril since being purchased by the federal government in 2005, then left to rot.
But things got worse in March 2022 when US Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., allocated $52 million to replace the site with a landscape safety buffer for a courthouse.
We never believed that demolishing the building would make the courthouse any safer.
That's because Dirksen and the two other buildings that make up the center of the Federal Center are surrounded by busy streets and other buildings. Dearborn Street runs through the center of the complex.
And given that State Street — like most of downtown's commercial corridors and North Michigan Avenue — needs all the help it can get, destroying rather than rebuilding the site makes no sense.
Indeed, the Century and Consumer building was actually due to be put back in use in 2017, when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved CA Ventures' $141 million plan to rehabilitate and rebuild the property.
Under the offer, the city will acquire the site from the federal government and turn it over to CA Ventures. The company will transform Consumers into 270 micro-apartments, while converting the Century Building into 159 studio and one-bedroom units.
But in one of the early blunders of her administration, Mayor Lori Lightfoot in December 2019 canceled the deal, citing FBI security concerns.
If the error is completely reparable, a landmark status recommendation for Century and Consumer is an important first step.
Search landmark status now
The city's landmark status will hopefully force a dispute between the city and the FBI that can be resolved – according to this editorial board – with a deal in which the GSA can contribute a $52 million demolition allowance towards plans to rebuild and reuse the building, taking into account the judges' safety concerns.
That's the only outcome that benefits the economic health of State Street and downtown.
And if the fight should happen, it's a shame it couldn't happen sooner, than in the waning days of Lightfoot's reign.
But the landmarks commission last November refused to vote on the designation, claiming further study of the matter was needed.
One step, considering the condition of the building. But the commission can get it right this week.
Meanwhile, the sidewalk on State Street was fenced off in front of Century and Consumers – ordered by the FBI last month after inspectors found structural weaknesses in two buildings between the towers.
The federal GSA said demolition of a pair of smaller buildings could begin this week. And it must feel like a harbinger of the future for Century and Consumer building if some type of evasive action isn't taken — fast.
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