Thompson Center and Other 'Endangered' Chicago Buildings

John Hill
27. February 2020
James R. Thompson Center by Murphy/Jahn, 1985 (Photo: vincent desjardins/Flickr)

Preservation Chicago has released its annual "7 Most Endangered" list. It includes numerous repeats, most notably Helmut Jahn's James R. Thompson Center, which the State of Illinois is currently selling and could be demolished.

Prominently located across from Chicago City Hall, Jahn's 17-story Thompson Center opened as the State of Illinois Building in 1985. (It was renamed in 1993 for James R. Thompson, who commissioned the building when he was governor.) The spaceship-like form was an alien addition to the Loop, and soon after it opened it was criticized for the noise and smells wafting into the office spaces open to the full-height atrium, and the excessive heat that was attributed to the design, materials (single-pane glazing), and an ineffective mechanical system. 

Although many Chicagoans came to love — or at least tolerate — the building's attention-getting Postmodern design, the building was increasingly expensive to operate. With a 2016 analysis indicating it would cost $325 million to bring the building into working order, billionaire Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill last year to sell the building. But without any landmark protections in place, the sale could result in the PoMo icon's demolition. Accordingly, the Thompson Center has been on Preservation Chicago's "7 Most Endangered" list three times — four times with the 2020 list.

Other repeats on the list include Jackson Park, laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1870s and now the site of the planned Obama Presidential Center; Chicago Union Station Power House, threatened with demolition by Amtrak; Central Manufacturing District, an early-20th-century industrial park; and Washington Park National Bank Building, which was sold to a developer who plans to demolish it. New to the list are Chicago Town and Tennis Club Building, which might be demolished and replaced with housing; and Roseland Michigan Avenue Commercial District, once considered the "jewel of the South Side" but has been in decline for years.

Visit Preservation Chicago for details on the "7 Most Endangered" list and WTTW Chicago to vote for the site most in need of preservation.

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