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The James R. Thompson Center, formerly known as the State of Illinois Building, houses 54 state agencies, including the Offices of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor on the highest level. That is why visitors go through airport-like security to enter the central glass elevator to the top. Architect Helmut Jahn designed the building, which was completed in 1985. The colors used (salmon, blue and white) closely mimic the patriotic trio of red, white and blue. The wide-open spaces encourage building users to think of state government as open and available to Illinois citizens. The building was renamed the James R. Thompson Center in honor of the former Illinois Governor when he retired in 1993.
The building is Post-Modern, which means that its motifs draw on historical precedents or metaphors. In this case, the 230 foot atrium is topped with a truncated cylinder which echoes the domes of the U.S. Capitol dome or the Roman Pantheon. The center sits on a full city block, bounded by Clark, Lake, LaSalle and Randolph Streets.
The CTA opened the Clark/Lake tri-level “super-station” here in 1992 and it connects to almost all downtown lines, including the Blue Line to O’Hare Airport and the Orange Line to Midway Airport. It is the second busiest station in the transportation system.
In addition to getting your driver’s license, you can do some convenience shopping, get your nails done, buy insurance, and dine on a variety of fast-food choices. The first two floors of the building and the lower level are known as the Atrium Mall.
The atrium’s lower level is a big space and it can be a little confusing to find the Pedway entrance. You will be looking for the Pedway that leads to the City/County Building. Look for the Secretary of State’s Department of Motor Vehicles Facility near the Sbarro’s pizzeria. Keep going and you will see “Pedway to City Hall/County Building” on a white background above a set of revolving doors. On the doors are a series of small square stickers with a compass rose, the symbol of the Chicago Pedway.
As you move through the Pedway tunnel towards the City/County Building, you will walk down a ramp. This is the site of the famous “vertical misalignment”. Workers began digging south from the Thompson Center in 1985, while workers began digging north from the City-County Building two years later. The project was plagued with delays and because of bothersome sewage lines, the two failed to meet. The resulting cost overruns included this ramp, an elevator stop and a stairway to correct the mismatch.
At this point, to continue on the Pedway, you will need to go up into the first floor of the City/County Building. Take the stairs up one level, go left at the vending machines and up the escalator (don't go through the doors into Marriage Court). Take a sharp left through the door to the City/County Building, and walk to the large clock in the center of the building. The building to your left with fancier brass detailing is the County Building, while the slightly plainer building to your right is City Hall.
Cover photo credit: sharon.dobben via Instagram.