Endangered History: Joliet steel mill building

1891 structure on Collins Street included in Landmarks Illinois list of ‘Most Endangered Historic Places’

Landmarks Illinois on Wednesday included the main office building at the old U.S. Steel mill site on Collins Street in Joliet on its 2021 list of “Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.”

The list came out a day after a city planner reported to the City Council that Joliet is making some headway in discussions with U.S. Steel on stabilizing the structure, which was built between 1886 and 1891 out of Joliet limestone.

But the Landmark Illinois report notes a history of neglect as the city and neighborhood groups have sought to restore and preserve the building

“The Main Office Building is symbolic of Joliet’s industrial heritage and is an architectural and cultural landmark on Collins Street,” The Landmarks Illinois report states. “Many buildings that once represented the city’s industrial heritage have already been demolished, heightening the importance of preserving this structure.”

The Joliet building is one of nine Illinois buildings on the list, which includes the Gov. James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.

The building at 927 Collins Street is part of the 16-acre Joliet Steel Works National Register Historic District, the report notes.

“Despite the designation, U.S. Steel has neglected the historic building, with proper maintenance largely ignored since the early 1980s when it was vacated,” the report states.

A Joliet report this year on the condition of the building “noted extensive roof damage, evidence of water infiltration in the basement and collapsed rafters between the second and attic levels,” Landmark Illinois said. “Joliet officials have not seen the building interior for over six years and conditions inside are expected to have deteriorated as well. "

City Planner Jayne Bernhard, however, said the city is now talking with U.S. Steel, and the company plans to make repairs.

“They committed to us that they would replace the roof and fix gutter fascia and downspouts,” Bernhard said. “The most immediate concern is the roof. There are holes in multiple places in the roof.”

The Joliet Area Historical Museum nominated the steel mill building in January for the Landmark Illinois list in a concerted effort with the city and the local neighborhood group, the Collins Street Neighborhood Council, to draw attention to the issue, Bernhard said.

“We wanted to raise awareness,” she said. “The goal was to motivate U.S. Steel to stabilize the building as well as to sell it to a preservation minded developer in the future.”

Landmarks Illinois describes the administration building as “an excellent example of Neoclassical/Romanesque architecture executed in rusticated Joliet limestone. The building’s distinguishing features include layered Neoclassical pediments and a large Romanesque arch over the entrance.”

The report encourages people to get involved in preservation efforts for the building by signing an online petition and reaching out to local advocates, including Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The museum partnered with the city in restoration efforts that led to the opening of the former Joliet Correctional Center, now called Old Joliet Prison, to tours and events. The prison on Collins Street is located just north of the steel mill property and also had been left unmaintained for years before city involvement.