Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Spring 2022 Issue
Saved: The James R. Thompson Center
After a decade-long effort by Chicago’s preservation community, the James R. Thompson Center, a government-owned 1985 structure designed by the late German-born architect Helmut Jahn, appears to have secured new life. In December of 2021, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced that the state had agreed to sell the building for $70 million to developer The Prime Group, which intends to preserve it. Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago both included it multiple times on their “most endangered” lists, and the National Trust named it to its 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Originally dubbed the State of Illinois Center, the curved building was meant to serve, essentially, as the Prairie State’s second capitol, and it was quite the architectural feat for its time.
“The building is just quintessential Postmodern [architecture] at its best,” says Landmarks Illinois Director of Advocacy Lisa DiChiera. It was also noted for its airy, 17-story atrium and outdoor plaza. Jahn rose to international stardom afterwards, but his signature Chicago work hasn’t always been well received by the press or the people working inside, who often struggle to adjust to temperatures that are either too hot or too cold. But its supporters view the structure as a work of art. “Even if it isn’t your favorite,” says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, “you have to admit it’s unique, special, and rare.” Although the renderings by Jahn’s firm of the revamped building are only preliminary, it looks as if many of the most prominent architectural features will remain intact, alongside new features (including glazing on the windows that should address the heating and cooling issues).
(Editor's Note: Get the latest—good news—update on the Thompson Center in our update on past 11 most sites.)
Restored: Cielo Place
In 2018, historic Riverside Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, closed its doors for good after years of struggling financially. A developer planned to demolish the 1924 church building and build a mixed-use, market-rate housing complex, but ultimately backed out. It sold the property to Saigebrook Development, which took on the project with O-SDA Industries as a consultant. The two Texas-based, woman-led development firms partner to construct affordable housing projects, mainly along the Texas I-35 corridor. Utilizing low-income housing tax credits and historic tax credits at the state and federal level, they turned the building into apartments, including 80 income-restricted and 11 market-rate units.
The transformed church, which
Saigebrook’s Alice Cruz describes as a beloved structure within the local
community—serving not only as a house of worship, but also as the site of
school dances, neighborhood meetings, and Boy Scout gatherings—retains its
original facade, doors, and many of its windows. Several rows of pews remain in
the common areas, the baptismal font and sanctuary archways were kept in place,
and the stained glass was restored by its original manufacturer. The vault door
that once protected the tithe collections hangs in a hallway. Fort Worth’s
preservation community and local historians have had high praise for the
project, Cruz says, and many came out in a show of support for the official
ribbon-cutting last December.
Threatened: Great Northern Grain Elevator
The Buffalo preservation community is fighting to save the Great Northern Grain Elevator, which faces demolition after sustaining damage during a windstorm in December of 2021. The city granted the structure’s owner, Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM), permission for demolition, but as of press time plans are on hold after the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture obtained an injunction from the state appellate court, which will hear the case as soon as this spring. While the windstorm left a gaping hole in the brick facade, Preservation Buffalo Niagara Executive Director Jessie Fisher says the damage is being exaggerated to increase structural concerns.
She explains that the brick exterior was added primarily
for insulation purposes and does not play a role in upholding the steel
structure, which is otherwise well supported. Repairing the storm damage would
alleviate any danger the building poses to the public, Fisher says. The
building is intrinsically tied to Buffalo’s history—grain elevators, a
world-changing innovation, were invented there. Fisher notes that the
elevator’s future depends either on the court’s decision or Buffalo Mayor Byron
Brown unilaterally blocking demolition, a choice she believes he might make
thanks to an outpouring of local, grassroots support. There are potential plans
for the site if it is ultimately preserved. Developer Douglas Jemal has offered
to purchase the building from ADM, and BCTGM Local 36G (a bakery,
confectionery, tobacco workers, and grain millers’ union) has proposed using it
as office space and a museum.
Threatened: Thicket Ruins
Remnants of an early 19th-century sugar mill and rum distillery along Carnochan Creek in McIntosh County, Georgia—known as the Thicket Ruins—were named to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” list for 2022. Despite efforts from the land’s owners and residents to save the ruins, which were likely built by enslaved Africans, climate change poses a significant threat to their existence. Mark C. McDonald, the Georgia Trust’s president and CEO, says the site—which was converted to a cotton plantation following an 1824 hurricane—bears witness to the contributions of enslaved people to Georgia’s built environment, overall settlement patterns in the state, and the historical importance of the American rum trade.
The buildings were constructed out of tabby, a concrete-like mixture
of ground oyster shells, sand, and water that is characteristic of the
southeastern coast of the United States. “Any time we have an opportunity to
save tabby, we take it seriously,” McDonald says. Additionally, the efforts to
save the ruins could raise more awareness about the effects of climate change
on historic places. McDonald says options include conventional methods, such as
implementing a new drainage system or installing a levee. But, he says, there
may also be an opportunity to try more innovative solutions. Either way, the
Thicket Ruins are yet another example of how “we are in a race against time,”
McDonald says. “And we need to be as active as we can to … make these resources
Threatened: Dumas Drug Store
The Mississippi Heritage Trust named the Dumas Drug Store, a brick building on Franklin Street in Natchez’s local historic district, one of the state’s 10 most endangered sites in October of 2021. The building is an important piece of Mississippi’s Black history; first built in 1906, it eventually became the site of a medical practice run by a Black doctor, A.W. Dumas, as well as a pharmacy managed by his brother, Henry Dumas.
The Dumas brothers were pioneering Black medical professionals in the area, and they provided equitable and accessible medical treatment to African Americans. A.W. Dumas ran his practice from the building for nearly 40 years, during which time he served as president of both the National Medical Association and the Mississippi Medical and Surgical Association. One of his nine children also became a doctor and later ran the practice. Part of a National Register–listed district, the structure has sat vacant for decades and is deteriorating, threatened by a leaking roof, rotting wood, and missing windows and doors at the rear.
The immediate goal is to stabilize the site, says Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Carter Burns. His organization is advising the property’s current, preservation-minded owners on future steps, including technical aspects of stabilization. Burns hopes the building could become a prime location for an adaptive re-use project, but there are no solid plans as of now.
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