The federal government has closed the sidewalk in front of buildings it owns at the southwest corner of State and Adams streets, citing a threat to pedestrians from deteriorating facades. The property includes two skyscrapers from the early 20th century that conservationists want to save.
Fences were erected at the site days after the group Preservation Chicago last week put the buildings at 202 and 220 S. State St. on its “most endangered” list for 2023. The group opposes the federal government’s plan to level the area as a security risk. The structures back up against the Dirksen Federal Building.
The General Services Administration, which manages federal property, acted after a contractor warned of a danger to pedestrians, agency spokeswoman Tanya Schusler said. She said the facade concerns mainly involve the 212 high-rise and a smaller neighbor at 208 S. State. The buildings are empty.
The federal government has allocated $52 million to demolish the buildings. But it cannot act unilaterally because the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
GSA, by federal law, has held hearings to consider alternatives to demolition. The federal government has owned the buildings since 2005. Scaffolding has stood in front of the buildings for years, but only now is pedestrian access cut off.
Asked what the agency will do next, Schusler said, “Once we receive recommendations from our contracted engineers, we will work within the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106, consultation process to confirm how GSA will carry out additional remedies.” She said the city’s transportation department issued a sidewalk closure permit.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said the closure reflects poorly on the GSA.
“They just haven’t been the best stewards of these structures. It seems like demolition by neglect,” he said.
A campaign to save at least the taller buildings has gained support from the downtown Chicago Loop Alliance business group. A petition calling for their preservation has garnered more than 23,000 signatures on Change.org.
Miller’s group has the support of 20 religious organizations and from Dominican University in River Forest to operate the buildings as a collaborative archives center. He said that kind of use could provide limited public access and alleviate security concerns for federal courts.
Last week, the US District Court said it was aware of the facade problems. In a statement from the court, Chief Justice Rebecca R. Pallmeyer said: “The safety of the public is of the utmost importance to me. I have requested that GSA keep me informed of their ongoing assessment of the property.”
At a July hearing by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Pallmeyer said the buildings should be demolished.
“Again, we recognize that this is an issue that attracts a lot of attention, but we really think there are benefits to a proposal that would eliminate these buildings, especially for State Street,” Pallmeyer said. She said the buildings have made the state block “somewhat moribund” and that their removal would provide better pedestrian access to the Dirksen building from the east.
The Landmarks Panel in July directed city staff to prepare a report on the buildings’ historic and architectural merits. Since then, it has done nothing to name the taller buildings as Chicago landmarks.
The terra cotta buildings point to the development of early skyscrapers. Holabird & Roche designed the 16-story Century Building at 202 S. State. Jenney, Mundie & Jensen designed the 21-story Consumers Building at 220 S. State.