Commanding an imposing presence on the 200 block of South State Street, two historic terra cotta buildings, located at 202 and 220 South State Street respectively, could be lost to future redevelopment by the Federal Government. Listed on the Chicago’s Most Threatened list only 2 years ago, these two buildings remain vacant and no reuse plans for either structure have been proposed. In 2012, unsecured terra cotta detached from the building, reigniting concern about the future of these properties.
The 202 S. State Street Building was designed by the noted firm Holabird and Roche. It is historically unique for two important reasons. First, the distinct vertical expression of the exterior elevations of this building portends the transition from the Chicago School buildings of the late 19th Century to the Art Deco of the 1920s. Emphasis of verticality is achieved with strong, deep verticals with understated recessed spandrels. Second, the overall design of the façade ornament is a rare example of Neo-Manueline, which was inspired by the historic Portuguese style. The proliferation of complex ornament around building openings, such as windows and doors, features shields with dragons, botanical motifs and pinnacles. This 15-story office building is listed as a contributing structure to the Loop Retail Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been determined by a GSA (General Services Administration) study that it may be eligible for an individual National Register listing according to a March 2006 Cultural Resources Survey. It also received an Orange rating in the 1996 Chicago Historic Resources Survey.
The firm, Jenney, Mundie, and Jensen designed the 220 S. State Street Building, completed in 1913. This iconic building represents the last of the Chicago School designs, also known as the Commercial style, along with its neighbor the Century Building. Typical of the school, the building is constructed with a steel-frame and boasts minimal ornamentation. Overall, the building stands at 21 stories and is clad in a white terra cotta facade. One week after the building permit was granted, a new Chicago building code limited the height of buildings to 200 feet. Windows adorn all four sides so that light reaches all parts of the floor plates, precluding the need for an interior light well. Floors two to four show the typical Chicago window, while the remaining floors are aluminum double-hung windows. The street facades are recognized for the tripartite design, which consists of a base, shaft and capital separated by simple, conservative cornices. The spandrels are detailed either with a centered rectangle and a diamond on each side or just a simple rectangle. In contrast, the interior spaces are highly ornamented. The lobby features terrazzo floors and Italian marble walls and ceiling. Several alternations have been made to the facade of the building. The bronze canopy over the State Street entrance was removed along with two storefronts and the original roof that included a frieze band and cornice with lights was also removed.
The history of 202 S. State began when Buck & Rayner, a pioneer Chicago drug firm, later absorbed by Liggett Drug stores, commissioned the noted Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Roche in 1913 to design a modern commercial skyscraper. Completed in 1915, the Twentieth Century Building is an excellent example of a tall shops building. Its upper floors were occupied by a wide variety of tenants through the years including tailors, furriers, beauty shops, clothes shops, lawyers, brokers, and dentists, reinforcing the commercial district within the Loop. The Twentieth Century Building’s name was later changed to just the Century.
The irreparable damage that demolition of these historic buildings will have on South State Street cannot be underestimated. Their facades provide an important anchor for the existing street-wall. If demolished, not only will Chicago lose two important early Chicago School-influenced skyscrapers by two of the most important architecture firms, it will also create a lifeless void that will suck the energy out of one of downtown’s most vibrant intersections. Chicago does not need another vacant lot or windswept plaza, nor does it need any more lost historic buildings. Every effort should be made to repurpose these buildings and get them back on the tax rolls. Moreover, there are also concerns regarding the impact that demolition of 202 S. State St. would have on two neighboring buildings that compose the historic Berghoff Restaurant at 17 W. Adams St. A recent structural survey has concluded that the Berghoff buildings would lose significant structural stability that they currently received from the structural frame of 202 S. State.
Every effort should be made to preserve both 202 and 220 S. State Street. Since the buildings are already owned by the federal government, they should be rehabilitated for government use. In an era of ever-shrinking tax dollars, now is not the time to use public dollars to destroy historic buildings. If properly repurposed for government use, these two buildings could serve the citizens for another 100 years or more.