Long-vacant grain silos in Chicago up for auction, future uncertain

Architecture Development Midwest News Newsletter Preservation

One of Chicago‘s most visible rust-belt remnants is up for sale, just in time for its cameo in the Transformers 4 movie. The derelict Santa Fe grain elevator has been a favorite hangout for squatters, graffiti artists and ruin-porn enthusiasts since 1977, when a fire and explosion ended 70 years of industrial history there.

Crain’s reports the state of Illinois is going to sell the riverside collection of concrete silos at 2900 South Damen Avenue in an online auction beginning November 2. Seven years after a previous attempt to sell the abandoned property for $17.3 million, Rick Levin & Associates (acting on behalf of the state Department of Central Management Services) has dropped the minimum ask to $3.8 million.

The derelict Santa Fe Grain Silos at 2900 S. Damen Ave. in Chicago. (darius norvilas via flickr)

The derelict Santa Fe Grain Silos at 2900 S. Damen Ave. in Chicago. (darius norvilas via flickr)

The long-defunct monolith has become one of Chicago’s unsung landmarks—a particularly visible beacon of industrial grit in an area of the southwest side with no shortage of such relics. Lynn Becker has a thoughtful analysis of the property’s significance on Architecture Chicago Plus, and in 2010 David Witter wrote a modern history of Chicago’s grain elevator for NewCity.

As anyone who has read William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis knows, Chicago’s explosive growth in the late 19th century is due as much to its grain elevators as to its famous railroads and stockyards.

Remains of the Santa Fe Grain Silos near Damen Avenue. (Kenneth Spencer via Flickr)

Remains of the Santa Fe Grain Silos near Damen Avenue. (Kenneth Spencer via Flickr)

It’s likely this particular link to Chicago‘s industrial heyday will be razed if it finds a new buyer, but given residential and retail development has picked up in the nearby neighborhoods of Bridgeport and Pilsen, it’s possible other uses could be considered. Its position along the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects to the Chicago River, may prove a valuable selling point—and not just as a means to convey grain in and municipal waste out.

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