Thompson Center heads endangered buildings
Landmarks Illinois releases annual list of threatened architecture, including Rock Island County Courthouse
By Ted Cox
The state-owned Thompson Center in Chicago heads the annual list of Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois released Wednesday by a leading architecture-preservation group.
Landmarks Illinois released a list of a dozen threatened buildings or areas of architectural interest at a news conference in Springfield. The Thompson Center and the Rock Island County Courthouse were the only sites repeated from previous years.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill setting up the sale of the Thompson Center, known as the State of Illinois Building when the postmodern structure designed by Helmut Jahn was completed in 1985. Landmarks Illinois is calling for the building to be retained even if it’s sold.
“Landmarks Illinois is not against the sale of the building,” said Bonnie McDonald, the group’s president, at Wednesday’s news conference. “We advocate that the state should include adaptive reuse” in its plans for the sale, to be conducted over the next two years.
The Rock Island County Courthouse, a Spanish Renaissance building dating from just before 1900, also makes a return appearance on the Landmarks Illinois list, after it was replaced by a new courthouse at the end of last year. Landmarks Illinois already announced its intentions to save the structure by filing suit to preserve it, charging that Rock Island County had violated state law on preservation with its move to have the old courthouse demolished.
That suit is now in appellate court, but McDonald said, “The demolition equipment sits on the courthouse property right now,” ready to roll in the event of a ruling. “We strongly believe this building can and should be reused,” she added. “To demolish it now would be a significant mistake.”
Landmarks Illinois’s 2019 list of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois included 10 other sites:
The Washington Park National Bank in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
The Chancery and Piety Hill buildings owned by the Catholic Rockford Diocese.
Hill Motor Sales in Oak Park.
The Booth Cottage, a 1913 Frank Lloyd Wright home in Glencoe.
The Hoover Estate, a Tudor Revival mansion owned, yes, by the vacuum magnate, also in Glencoe.
The Sheffield Avenue area in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
St. Mary’s School, an 1865 building in Galena.
Greek housing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Ray House in Rushville, where Abraham Lincoln gave a speech during his 1858 U.S. Senate campaign.
The Millstadt Mill and Feed Co. building in Millstadt, which has a flour mill dating to 1857 and a still-operating grain elevator built in 1880.
McDonald drew special attention to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Booth Cottage in Glencoe, calling it a “teardown target,” with the Hoover Estate “a teardown as well.” Buildings dating from the 1800s along Sheffield in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, she added, were part of “a teardown epidemic,” with an estimated 275 out of more than 1,000 notable buildings in the area having already been demolished.
She said St. Mary’s School in Galena was emblematic of “neglect” many buildings in that otherwise well-preserved community are suffering, adding that they show that “historic buildings need maintenance and repairs.” That too, she added, was the fate of too many fraternities and sororities at UIUC, which have “suffered from deferred maintenance,” and also from increased property taxes.
“A troubling trend with this year’s Most Endangered sites is the number of historic places that face demolition despite strong and active community support for preservation,” McDonald said. “People all over Illinois are working to save special places that help tell the unique stories and history of their neighborhoods despite the many challenges that stand in their way.”
McDonald described the Landmarks Illinois mission as “people saving places for people.” First formed in 1971, the group has put out its annual endangered list since 1995, making this the 25th edition. According to McDonald, more than half of the 242 buildings that have been listed have been preserved, with 113 saved and more than a dozen others pending.