Chicago’s Ugliest Building Gets a Facelift, Thanks to You

16 West Jackson before and after

The squat, nasty box that in was voted the ugliest building in Chicago has a brand new look.

It was the readers of the Chicago Tribune whose votes gave 16 West Jackson Street its dubious title back in 2005.  Now the building has a new look, thanks to a renovation paid for with your tax dollars.

16 West Jackson and two neighboring buildings known as 230 South State Street and 1 West Quincy Court have been undergoing major rehabilitation for well over a year now.  Together they are known as the South State Street Federal Buildings and are technically part of the complex that hardly anyone knows as Federal Plaza.

10 West JacksonRenovating all three buildings cost $25 million, and involved a lot of different challenges because each is from a different era.  16 West Jackson needed extra fire protection love because it’s a hundred years old and made from wood.  230 was originally a fantastic art deco department store called Benson & Rickson Company, built in 1937; and 10 West Jackson was The Bond Store, which went up in 1949.

All three have been brought up to LEED Gold standards.  Naturally there’s a green roof, but there are also sensors that determine the number of people in the building and adjust the HVAC as necessary.

So, who’s going into these spanking new gub’mint buildings?  The Department of Labor’s local office is going into 10 West Jackson.  The Department of Homeland Security has moved on to other digs.

The General Services Administration is so proud of the project, it even put together a little video that you can view here.


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. On two related notes, I like what Garrett’s did when they moved from State Street to a block west at 27 W. Jackson. The building they went into was nicely cleaned up, especially going from that “passport photos” store, and the Garretts looks great there. Secondly, is there any news on either of the government owned buildings north of technically Quincy Court? 1 Quincy Court/220 S. State, and 202 S. State are the official addresses. I had read somewhere a couple years ago that the government was going to keep 202, which is is rough shape and is a smaller building, and tear down 220, which is in really good shape and is a fairly substantial building, so that they could build a new tower. Maybe the economy and the stimulus that paid for these other buildings to be rehabbed saved both State buildings? I definitely love 202 S. State, even with that stupid awning they added a couple years back.

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    • Editor

      I think the move of Garrett’s into that building really breathed new life into it, though I don’t know how good it’s been for the popcorn company. In its old location it regularly had lines out the door. I haven’t seen any for the new location.

      202 South State (originally the Buck & Rayner Building, later the Home Federal Building, now officially the Century Building) is on a very long list of buildings to be rehabbed. It is still owned by the federal government, but the money for fixing it up doesn’t currently exist. The buildings in the article got fixed thanks to stimulus money.

      Why 202 didn’t get any stimulus love is hard to say. It’s possible that it’s because it’s in far worse shape than 230 was. In fact, 202 is in far worse shape than it looks. The upper floors have been gutted. All of the mechanical systems were hauled away. Much of it doesn’t even have electrical service. Even the marble paneling from the lobby is long gone.

      The feds won’t fix 202 until there’s a need to. That means either a big federal agency moves into or expands within Chicago, or it decides to lease out the space to a private company. But to make it worth the expense of fixing up to lease, rates are going to have to climb significantly on State Street, and in the Midwest in general. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the building sold off for demolition, or collapsing under its own weight before anything positive happens.

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