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Lawsuit Tries to Stop Demolition of Historic Illinois Courthouse

A coalition of preservation groups, and one angry western Illinois bondholder have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the demolition of the historic Rock Island County Courthouse.

The groups, led by Landmarks Illinois, allege that Rock Island County is trying to illegally demolish the 1896 building after building a new Justice Center Annex a couple of dozen feet away.

The old Rock Island County Courthouse and construction for the new Justice Center Annex (Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois)
The old Rock Island County Courthouse and construction for the new Justice Center Annex (Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois)

The lawsuit asks the PBC [Rock Island County Public Building Commission] to be held accountable for violating state preservation law, state law governing the authority and actions of public building commissions, as well as the terms of publicly funded bonds issued to construct the new Justice Center Annex.

That last part claims that money raised through a bond offering was supposed to only be used to build the new Justice Center building, and not to tear down the old courthouse.

The old Rock Island County Courthouse (Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois)
The old Rock Island County Courthouse (Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois)

The lawsuit comes just days after a Rock Island County judge ordered the old courthouse be demolished as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the building’s present condition poses a real and present danger to the 1,000 persons per week that enter the newly constructed Annex is [sic] located less than 40 feet away from the Courthouse…

The Rock Island County Board (County Board) owns the Courthouse and by Resolution dated July 17, 2018 (Exhibit 1) has determined it is in the best interest of Rock Island County that the Courthouse is razed.

Walter D Braud, Chief Judge of the 14th Circuit

The judge further wrote that the the state law that tries to preserve historic old government buildings for future generations (the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act) doesn’t apply to his ruling. The “tl;dr” version is “Because I’m a judge and I said so.” The long version is:

First, neither the Supreme, Appellate, nor Circuit Courts are an “agency” subject to the Act or the jurisdiction of the Department. See ILCS 3420/3(b) and 5 ILCS 100/I-20 for the definition of “Agency”.

Second, the Illinois Constitution Act Art. 6, § 7(c) vests the Illinois Supreme Court and the Chief Judge of the circuit with authority over where court will be held reading in relevant part:

… Subject to the authority of the Supreme Court, the Chief Judge shall have general administrative authority over his court, including authority to provide … for appropriate times and places of holding court.

Third, any review of a chief judge’s decision by the Department of Natural Resources (the executive branch of government) would violate the Separation of Powers Clause contained in the Illinois Constitution Art. 2 § 1 which reads:

The legislative, executive and judicial branches are separate. No branch shall exercise powers properly belonging to another.

Walter D Braud, Chief Judge of the 14th Circuit

If you’re preservation-minded and located in River North, the case is being handled by Jenner and Block for free, so you can buy someone there a Starbucks in appreciation.

The bright side of this is that even if the old courthouse is razed, the judge has ordered the county to “turn that area into green space.” Which is better than a lot of counties that knock down their history and put up concrete parking garages.

Location: 210 East 15th Street, Rock Island


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. How does that building, with such solid exterior structural skin, and visual lack of deterioration on the interior, “poses a real and present danger” to the public?! This wreaks if taking an opportunity when it presents itself to demolish a structure with minimal opposition. Here’s hoping that this lawsuit wins out.

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    • The powers that be say it would be cheaper to build a new courthouse then it would be to repair this beautiful piece of history.

      Post a Reply

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