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Helmut Jahn’s Thompson Center makes national list of endangered historic places

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This might help landmark the postmodern design

James R. Thompson Center
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The Loop’s James R. Thompson Center was named one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The annual list spotlights examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of being lost. This designation could serve as a powerful tool to prevent a looming demolition and help postmodern building finally achieve landmark status.

The Thompson Center, at 100 W. Randolph, has made local preservation lists too. For three years in a row, both Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have put the building on their lists and called for the protection of the Helmut Jahn-designed building.

Currently, the Governor J.B. Pritzker has put in motion a plan to sell the state-owned building. Preservationists are concerned it could lead to demolition. There have been petitions and rallies, even a documentary film, that push to landmark the structure.

The design for the State of Illinois building was intentional. The spaceship-looking structure stepped away from the aesthetics of traditional government buildings. And the impressive 160-foot wide, 13-story atrium was meant to signify an open, transparent government.

The Thompson Center, which was finished in 1985, is the youngest building to appear on the national list. The 11 other endangered sites include places like Nashville’s Music Row, D.C.’s Mall Tidal Basin, and the ancestral land between Bears Ears and Canyons of the Ancients in southeast Utah.

“This year’s list reflects both the diversity of America’s historic places and the variety of threats they face.” said Katherine Malone-France, interim chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a statement. “We know that this year’s list will inspire people to speak out for the cherished places in their own communities that define our nation’s past.”

More than 300 threatened sites have been identified by the preservation organization over three decades, and like the Thompson Center, many of them face neglect, financial insecurity, or demolition. Less than five percent of the sites listed have been lost, so the attention is sometimes garners enough public support to rescue a significant building, district, or community. The fate of the Thompson Center is in the hands of the state, but it’s clear that residents and preservationists aren’t going to let it go without a fight.

Exterior entrance to the Thompson Center.
Photos courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

James R. Thompson Center

100 West Randolph Street, , IL 60601 Visit Website