202 S. State Street - The Century Building, Chicago, IL

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.

The 202 S. State Street Building was designed by the noted firm Holabird and Roche. It is historically unique for two important reasons. First, the distinct vertical expression of the exterior elevations of this building and others by the firm, notably the North American Building, portend the transition from the Chicago School buildings of the late 19th Century to the Art Deco of the 1920s. This change is prominently exhibited in the Tribune Competition of 1922, in which the first three places were won by architects who accented the vertical in their designs. Second, the overall design of the façade ornament appears to be of based on a design of unique origin, contributing to the diversity of the architectural environment within the Chicago Loop.

Mr. Robert Bruegmann, Professor of Architecture History, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of “Holabird & Roche/Holabird & Root,” has stated;

1. John Holabird and John Root came to the H&R office in 1913. (This follows their education at l’École des Beaux-Arts, Paris). John Root was extremely interested in obscure historic styles that had not been “discovered” and someone gave him a book on Portuguese Gothic (Manueline) architecture.
2. This team knew was familiar with Cass Gilbert’s design for the Woolworth Building in New York.
3. The North American Building, at the intersection of Monroe and State Streets, just predates 202 S. State Street and exhibits some verticality in the façade. Bruegmann feels the size of the property, 96’X120’ for the North American vs. 42’X101’for the Century, probably had something to do with accenting the verticality on the latter’s façade, i.e., the narrow bay spacing selected for State St. was carried through on Adams and the spandrels were set back.

It can be assumed that Root’s interest in obscure historic styles led him to the design of the façade of 202 S. State. Manueline and Neo-manueline styles feature a proliferation of complex ornament around building openings, such as windows and doors, and often feature botanical motifs and pinnacles, among other elements. Neo-manueline surged in popularity in Portugal at the turn of the 20th century. Therefore, it is likely that the program of ornament for 202 S. State was based largely on this unique historic style.

Emphasis of verticality is also seen in the design of 202 S. State. Comparison to earlier Holabird and Roche designs, such as the Marquette Building, which used strong horizontals in balance with verticals, it can be understood that this trend began with a strict derivation from preceding popular architectural forms. The motif of strong, deep verticals with recessed understated spandrels was also used in Holabird and Roche’s entry for the Tribune Tower Competition seven years later. Several other entries for the competition, including Howells and Hood’s first place design and, most notably, Saarinen’s second place design, also used this design technique. Then a radically new motif, it soon became a Chicago skyscraper standard. 202 S. State, constructed 7 years before the contest, was a precursor to the proliferation of this new vertically-focused style.

Louis Sullivan said of Eliel Saarinen’s entry for the Tribune Tower Competition, a design which also lauded a strong vertical emphasis:

“………it prophesies a time to come, and not so far away, when the wretched and the yearning, the sordid, and the fierce, shall escape the bondage and the mania of fixed ideas.
Qualifying as it does in every technical regard, and conforming to the mandatory items of the official program of instructions, it goes freely in advance, and, with the steel frame as a thesis, displays a high science of design such as the world up to this day had neither known or surmised. In its single solidarity of concentrated intention, there is revealed a logic of a new order, the logic of living things; and this inexorable logic of life is most graciously accepted and set forth in fluency of form. Rising from the earth in suspiration as of the earth and as of the universal genius of man, it ascends in beauty lofty and serene……until its lovely crest seems at one with the sky.

To summarize current (May 2009) levels of interior integrity: most interior partition walls have been demolished and few original finishes remain. Only the stairways (original) and main lobby (1951 remodeling) retain high levels of historic character. Overall, 202 S. State Street also has poor exterior integrity. The remaining original façade, while deteriorated, is important as a rare example of Neo-Manueline influenced architecture in the Midwest and as a very early precursor of the vertically-emphasized façade that became very popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s (as manifested in the 1922 Tribune Tower Competition). The overall form and detailing is very important to maintaining the significance of this building. Alterations at the storefront and second floor levels have completely altered their original appearance, but remain in fair to good condition and have contributed historically in their own right. The alterations are significant due to the rarity of remaining Art Moderne architecture in the area, and because 202 S. State Street acts as a testament to the multiplicity and diversity of styles popular in Chicago architectural design in the first half of the twentieth century. Therefore, major changes that occurred to the storefront and lobby during the 1950’s should also be considered as unique and important examples of the age that they represent.

Description Architect
1915 1915 Original Construction Holabird & Roche
1928 1928 Fire Escape
1934 1934 Replacement of 192 pieces of damaged terra cotta.
1934 1934 Changes to storefront
1944 1944 Storefront repairs
1946 1946 Erection of signpost for clock
1951 1951 General renovation of 1915 lobby
1951 1951 Installation of new front stairway and entrance/store front alterations.
1951 1951 Addition of passenger elevator
1951 1951 Repair of four elevators
1997 1997 Removal of loose masonry and repairs
1998 1998 Interior alterations to retail space on ground floor.
1998 1998 Interior alterations to retail space on ground floor
2000 2000 Replacement of existing six concrete lintels
2001 2001 Masonry repair at the NE corner, removal and replacement
2003 2003 Erection of eight modular swingstage scaffolds
Last Reviewed: 2021-08-20