State Street’s Urban Decay: Your Tax Dollars Not At Work

A few days ago we ran an article about a trio of buildings on State Street, owned by the federal government, that were recently renovated thanks to $25 million in stimulus spending.  That led to a handful of e-mails from people inquiring about some of the other federally-owned buildings on State Street that are in a tragic state of repair.

Most notable is 202 South State Street.  Originally built as the Buck & Rayner Building, it gained most of its current look when it was renovated in 1951 into the Home Federal Building.  Although it is abandoned, it is officially known as the Century Building, and it’s a mess inside.

Right now there aren’t any plans to fix up 202 South State that we’re aware of.  The most recent time the government cared about the building was in 2008/2009 when it embarked on a minor mission to document the devastation and shore up the facade.  The photos from that assessment are presented in the slideshow below.

For those of you who don’t like slideshows, or want to see very large versions of the pictures, there’s a photo gallery below the slideshow.  And below that is the government’s official description of the building.

In all, unless there is a significant demand for this office space, there’s no compelling reason for the feds to spend millions of dollars fixing up this building, and in its current state of repair, selling it is also hard.  So don’t hold your breath waiting for this gem to start shining again.

202 S. State Street is located on the southwest corner of State and Adams streets. The 16-story steel-framed Commercial style building has two basements and a rectangular footprint with frontage of 42 feet on State Street, and a depth of 101 feet on Adams Street. The two street elevations are clad in cream-colored terra cotta, while the windowless rear (west) and south elevations are clad in common brick. The 16th floor ceiling reflects the pitched roof of the north and east sides, and a penthouse and tall brick chimney are situated at the southwest corner of the building’s flat roof.

The ground level has continuous, floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows and stainless steel trim along the north and east elevations. A recessed corner entrance with a revolving door is fronted by large, stainless steel columns supporting the entrance ceiling’s overhang. A secondary entrance with recessed plate-glass double doors surrounded by gray granite is located at the southern end of the State Street elevation. Metal lettering above this entrance states: “202 S. State Street Building.” A third entrance exists near the west end of the Adams Street façade, aligning vertically with the fire escape doors of the floors above. The second floor’s street elevations are clad in gray granite and once featured ribbon windows with large, fixed-pane windows divided by stainless steel mullions (likely alterations from the Home Federal’s 1951 remodeling). The windows have been removed, and corrugated panels installed in their place. Windows on the third 3rd to 15th floors remain and are original to the building.

The building’s north and east elevations have a strong vertical emphasis, with narrow, sharply molded piers alternating with strips of recessed windows and darker, fluted spandrels. The third floor features Chicago windows (one fixed pane of glass flanked by smaller operable windows) on both street elevations — two on State Street and four along Adams. Above the third floor, wide flattened piers visually divide the State Street elevation into two bays and the Adams Street elevation into five bays. Each bay is comprised of a grouping of four double-hung wood sash windows. The westernmost bay of the Adams Street elevation varies, featuring a grouping of three double-hung metal sash windows and a door with wired glass on each floor leading to the ornamental metal fire escape stairway. This fire escape is original to the building, and an important contributing element to the design of the north façade. Terra cotta spandrels situated above the third floor feature Gothic-inspired motifs, such as shields with dragons, while spandrels above the 12th, 13th, and 15th floor windows are ornamented with curvilinear, naturalistic designs. The 16th floor features a profusion of flamboyant ornamentation in terra cotta. The upper levels of the rear (west) elevation feature a six-story sign advertising Home Federal Bank, painted directly onto the brickwork, which was located in the 202 S. State St. building from 1952-65.

202 S. State Street has been vacant for a number of years and the first floor’s interior exists in a deteriorated state. This floor has an open plan, with mezzanine level dividing its height in the western portion of the plan and a full two-story height near the northeast corner entry. An elevator core with 4 passenger cars lines the south wall. The main staircase, which accesses all floors, is located directly to the west. An additional passenger elevator was added on the west wall in 1951 and accesses a limited number of floors. At this date (December 2008), piles of debris and patches of fallen plaster reveal exposed clay tile walls in various locations. Remaining decorative elements include the main original marble staircase with corroded bronze newel posts and railings on the lower floors, and cast iron railings above in the southwest corner of the building. A winding staircase, with decorative Moderne handrail and balusters from the 1951 remodeling, leads to the basement near the first floor corner entrance at State and Adams. The decorative wall panels and cove ceiling above this more recent staircase and the marble cladding covering the south wall and central column are also notable decorative elements in this space. Nickel-plated elevator doors featuring American eagle medallions, nickel-plated building directory and mailbox, and glass and nickel-plated handrails and balusters (mezzanine level) from the 1951 remodeling are the only other extant decorative features in this area.

Upper floors are currently in a mostly deteriorated state and largely gutted. Almost all previously-existing partition walls and light fixtures have been removed. Remaining historic material includes paneled mahogany closet doors in the southwest corner of each floor, decorative wooden moulding above each elevator bank, radiators on several floors, a few remaining light fixtures, decorative ceiling beams, and fire escape doors.

Many of the mechanical systems have been removed or are non-operational. Some electrical power is still active.

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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