THREATENED: $52 Million Federal Funds Approved to Demolish Century and Consumers Buildings

“The federal government has held a pair of century-old State Street buildings in limbo for 17 years and is now planning to spend $52 million to demolish them — a plan preservationists are trying to stop.

“The buildings are the 22-story Consumers Building built in 1913 and, a few doors north, Century, originally called the 21st Century, which is 16 stories and was built in 1915. Between these two handsome old high rises are two barely noticeable low buildings, a three-story and a four-story, at 212 and 214 South State St.

“Two slender high rises with nice architectural details, the Consumers and Century buildings are part of what made State Street that great street in the 20th century.

“Consumers, at State and Quincy, is clad in white terra cotta, with rounded corners and diamonds and bars emblazoned in the spaces between the layers of windows. It was designed by the architecture firm Jenney, Mundie & Jensen.

“Century, at State and Adams, is also clad in creamy white terra cotta, but it’s more detailed here. You can’t tell at street level, because the bottom floors have been completely changed, but the ornamentation, which includes knights’ helmets, coats of arms, lions, ropes and torches, is called Manueline or Neo-Manueline, named after a 16th-century king of Portugal, when and where the style originated. It’s not common in Chicago, but according to a profile by the Government Services Administration, the design may have come from the imagination of architect John Root of Holabird and Root, who was “extremely interested in obscure historical styles.”

In December 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that the federal government would spend more than half a billion dollars on expanding the federal center. “The mammoth project could be a boon to State Street, replacing a dreary stretch,” the Tribune’s Tom Corfman wrote. He quoted a commercial real estate executive saying, “It’s unlikely that someone from the private sector is going to come along to make that kind of investment,” and, “The decisions that are made on this block are critical to the momentum that the street has enjoyed for the last several years.”

“Not only has the federal government not redeveloped the buildings, it blocked somebody else from doing it. In 2017, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration announced that a real estate developer, CA Ventures, would pay $10.38 million in a three-way deal involving CA and the city and federal governments. In a $141 million project, CA would put 429 apartments in the two buildings and a new 15-story connector between them.

“That was almost two-and-a-half years ago. Earlier this month, when Preservation Chicago was preparing its annual list of the most endangered places in the city, they planned to include Century and Consumers to point out the buildings are still just sitting there waiting for a future use.

“But then, according to Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s executive director, ‘we found out it was much worse.’

“The federal infrastructure bill, they were told, included $52 million to demolish the Century and Consumers buildings, to create a secure plaza east of the Dirksen courthouse. It’s tucked into page 551 of a 2,741-page Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, passed by Congress on March 14 and signed into law by President Joe Biden the next day.” (Rodkin, WBEZ, 3/31/22)

Hear the full story at WBEZ Chicago

What’s that building? The Century and Consumers buildings; The federal government wants to demolish a pair of century-old State Street buildings — a plan preservationists are trying to stop, Dennis Rodkin, WBEZ, 3/31/22

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