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City Wants To Sell State Street Buildings That Aren't So Great

 The city is trying to sell these two vintage towers near State and Adams streets. The federal government bought the towers years ago but never used them.
The city is trying to sell these two vintage towers near State and Adams streets. The federal government bought the towers years ago but never used them.
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City of Chicago

THE LOOP — City Hall is trying to bring developers to a stretch of State Street that's not so great. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that the city aims to broker the sale of four vacant, vintage buildings near State and Adams streets owned by the federal government. 

The feds acquired the buildings — including two terracotta towers at 202 and 220 S. State St. — in 2005 with plans for a new office complex near the Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. But that complex was never built. Emanuel's announcement marks a renewed effort to sell the property.

“For more than a decade these buildings have stood as monumental obstacles to development on an entire block of one of Chicago’s marquee streets,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Today we are taking the first step to ensure this corridor reaches its potential to thrive and support jobs that reach every part of Chicago.”

Emanuel said the two towers would be retained and restored after any redevelopment, providing good news to local preservationists. The towers made Preservation Chicago's list of most endangered buildings twice: in 2011 and 2013. 

Along with other Loop buildings, the towers are part of an informal "terracotta district" that made up Chicago's "real White City," in reference to the legendary makeshift city constructed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, said Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago.

"The Century and Consumers buildings have been really, really important to us for quite some time," Miller said. "We would love to see those buildings preserved and redeveloped." 

A postcard showing the towers in their heyday. [Chuckman Collection]

The Century Building was built in 1915 at 202 S. State. Designed by Holabird & Roche, the 15-story tower has an ornamental facade featuring shields with dragons and other motifs offering a rare example of the Portugese-inspired Neo-Manueline style, according to Preservation Chicago. The building's thick vertical lines "portend the transition from the Chicago School buildings of the late 19th Century to the Art Deco of the 1920s," Preservation Chicago said. 

The tower was home to an eclectic mix of offices and shops run by furriers, tailors, lawyers and dentists. It got its name when Century Trust and Savings Bank signed a 20-year lease for the second floor in 1917, Preservation Chicago said. 

The Consumers Building next door was built in 1913 at 220 S. State St. Regarded as an example of the Chicago School, the 21-story steel-and-terracotta tower has less frills on its facade than the neighboring Century Building, but its lobby featured terrazzo floors and Italian marble walls and ceiling. 

The building designed by Jenney, Mundie, & Jensen featured a "high-class" restaurant called Winter Garden in the basement and a men's clothing store on the corner, Preservation Chicago said. The Consumers Company occupied the tower's top floors, and a big electric "Consumers" sign used to sit on the roof, Preservation Chicago said. 

The vacant towers are better known now for their a large mural at the corner of State and Adams. 

In addition to its office plans, the federal government reportedly acquired the buildings in 2005 in an attempt to better protect the Dirksen courthouse in the wake of September 11, Preservation Chicago said. The government even used its eminent domain powers to acquire them after failing to reach an agreement to buy one of the buildings.