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Thursday, July 15, 2004 10:06 am

“Uglier than ugly”

State employees may hate the Stratton, but they’re stuck for now

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it seems architectural historians alone find reason to swoon over the massive William G. Stratton Building, located directly west of the Capitol.

Lawmakers and state workers whose offices are in the Stratton have long complained that the '50s-era building is outdated and inefficient, blocks views of the Capitol, and is aesthetically offensive.

"I think it's uglier than ugly," says state Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, whose district borders the Capitol complex.

On May 30 the Illinois House passed a resolution that opens the door to the building's demise.

The resolution cited the discovery of asbestos and lead paint in the building's floor tiles and ceiling pipes. It also referred to a 2001 recommendation from a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team to demolish the Stratton as a way to beautify downtown.

The Stratton's eight floors and nearly 450,000 square feet provide office space to some 900 employees. State representatives, legislative staffers, and the lieutenant governor all work at the Stratton. The Department of Central Management Services, the Public Building Commission, and the Property Tax Appeals Board are among the many state agencies based there.

Some with offices at the Stratton bellyache about its poor ventilation and lack of electrical outlets. Brauer notes that one of his legislative aides "has a power strip plugged into another power strip."

Despite the lengthy list of grievances, Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, says the state is too financially strapped to take action. A rehabilitation of the Stratton would reportedly cost some $75 million; replacing the building could cost twice that amount.

"It's likely that until the state's fiscal condition improves nothing will happen," Brown says.

Although that may cause state workers to grumble, preservationists are pleased.

The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois this year considered nominating the Stratton to its annual 10 most endangered historic places list.

Whereas Madigan once derided the Stratton as "Stalinesque," LPCI lauds it as a "pristine representation of 1950s office buildings," with its granite exterior and marble interior still intact.

"It looks like Doris Day could walk out the front door wearing her pillbox hat," says LPCI director of advocacy Lisa DiChiera.

She says the group opposes demolition of the Stratton, and is heartened that the state's hands are tied.

The Stratton will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening in 2006, DiChiera notes, enabling the group to nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places.

"We need to help people understand why it's so unique."

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