Report: $10M needed to stabilize portions of old Joliet prison

The historic Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, will need at least $10 million worth of repairs in the next five years to stabilize six key structures within the long-closed complex.

The Klein & Hoffman architectural and structural engineering firm gave the estimates to shore up the prison’s administration building, east and west cell blocks, chapel, hospital and powerhouse smokestack.

Immediate repairs, or Level 1 fixes, needed for current walking tours would cost only $64,000.

Level 2 repairs that would cost $1.92 million would mean access through the administrative building’s main north/south corridor or the west corridor to the west cellblock. The east and west cellblock would have access to the main level only and no access to the stairs or upper levels. The hospital would have access to the first and second floors only. Level 2 fixes would restore full access to the chapel.

Other fixes in the next one to three years would require $3.3 million worth of work. In three to five years, it would mean another $5.5 million in repairs.

The entire report may be read here. It’s 123 pages, with lots of pictures of collapsed or cracked structures. It becomes apparent quickly why it’s going to cost so much to shore up the prison’s vital areas.

The Herald-News reported that local officials aren’t daunted by that number.

“We have no expectation that the City or JAHM will have the resources to accomplish all restoration efforts mentioned,” states the staff memo to the council. “However, we do have expectations that a combination of State resources, foundation grants, private donors, tour/event-generated revenues and continued volunteer resources will allow for continued progress on achieving the ultimate goal of making this site the Alcatraz of the Midwest.”

The memo also states the city holds no plans to do anything with the unsafe areas of the prison and will simply avoid them during walking tours like it already does. It will look for revenue sources “from outside sources” for the recommended fixes, plus prison-generated revenues. Tickets for prison tours may be purchased here.

The report will be given to the Joliet city council during its regular meeting today.

Joliet Correctional Center’s distinctive limestone walls were built in 1858, and the state of Illinois closed it in 2004. The city signed a five-year lease with the state in December 2017 to use the prison.

The city seeks to eventually open a hotel, restaurants and gift shops in the prison grounds. The prison remains a popular photo op for Route 66 travelers.

The prison has been used in many film and television productions over the years, but it remains best-known for the opening scene of 1980’s “The Blues Brothers.”

The old Joliet Correctional Center shouldn’t be confused with Stateville Correctional Center, which sits in nearby Crest Hill, Illinois, along Illinois 53 (aka Route 66) and still is being used for its original purpose.

(Image of the Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, by JymPolranges via Flickr)

10 thoughts on “Report: $10M needed to stabilize portions of old Joliet prison

  1. A ten dollar tax on every inmate in a US jail would go a long way towards reaching the sum needed.

  2. This structure fails the test of a “historic” structure and is not worth saving. No significant historical event ever occurred here. This property is not nearly on the level of status of Lincoln’s home, or a former state capitol, or and old settlement like Nauvoo. $10,000,000 would go a long ways towards preserving multiple other genuine historic properties. The Route 66 community would not be worse off if this property was torn down and the site redeveloped from scratch.

    1. In case you didn’t know, a historic structure isn’t deemed historic simply because something significant happened there. One of the criteria for “historic” is distinctive architecture, which Joliet Correctional Center has in spades with its limestone structures.

  3. A UK TV station has a series called “Abandoned Engineering”. Many of the structures featured are WWI and WWII sites, most with “distinctive architecture”, others are old industrial sites, again with “distinctive architecture”. All played important parts in the history of the areas involved. The same goes for mundane buildings such as prisons. In fact, it is often the ordinary buildings that get demolished, while they are part of a country’s history as much as a house lived in by someone famous.

  4. A UK TV station has a series called “Abandoned Engineering”. It features industrial, military and other structures crumbling away from abandonment. Indeed, one structure was a panopticon type prison. They all have “distinctive architecture” and deserve degrees of maintenance, because they are part of world history. For a building to be “historic” it does not have to be linked to anyone famous or any famous event. The mundane deserves recognition too.

  5. I am allowed the opinion that this property does not merit $10,000,000 of investment no matter what criteria is used.

  6. An intrinsic part of any country’s history is its system of law. And how lawbreakers are dealt with is part of that system of law. In the USA, prisons form part of how lawbreakers are dealt with. Therefore prisons form part of American history. That makes the Joliet Correctional Center a historical building. The amount proposed to be spent on it is a separate matter.

  7. Jerry, have you ever worked with a group of foreign travelers, traveling Route 66?

    The Joliet prison is much like the Square here in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. The Square is where the first documented shootout of the Old West occurred between Wild Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt in 1865. While I personally don’t understand the fascination with our Square because it is not as it was when this shootout occurred in the 1865, foreign 66 travelers are always wanting to know where the shootout occurred. I direct them to two round 8″ bronze markers embedded in the roadbed around our Square. To me, they aren’t that noteworthy, just rust colored round discs set in the middle of the road that runs around the inside of our Square. And I am always a bit amazed that any 66 traveler wants to see something related to an event that occurred 60 years before the area was 66.

    But it is impressive to see an entire 50-plus member tour group lay down on the pavement around them and have their picture made, simply because they are hot about the American West and they feel that those bronze plaques are like visiting the Holy Grail.

    The Joliet Prison is much the same. It was made famous by the opening scene in the Blues Brothers film. While you may think it unworthy of saving and apparently don’t think that the place being in a film is noteworthy, the lore of that place attracts a lot of people to travel Route 66. The fact that it is a limestone structure done in style that is no more is just icing on the cake when it comes to reasons for preservation in my opinion. And the fact that, as I understand it, most of their tours are booked out, tells you it is a popular place to visit.

    To say that the “Route 66 community would not be worse off if this property was torn down and the site redeveloped from scratch” shows that you are oblivious to what draws a lot of travelers to Route 66. A lot of travelers come here to Route 66 because it is the LORE of the road and America itself that draws them in. It is James Dean, Betty Page, Elvis and Marilyn all rolled up in one. My dad is fond of saying a lot of people want to travel 66 by motorcycle because doing it by horse these days is not practical. Additionally, most 66 tourist do not travel 66 wanting to see new things but what was out there in the past that has given 66 the reputation it has worldwide. Saying that a place isn’t worth saving because you know of no noteworthy event that happened there tells me you have not done a lot of research on the place nor probably ever visited it either.

    Yes you are entitled to your own opinion as I am mine. But please, in the future, do a little research before being negative. You might find out the reasons for saving all that we can save along 66 are not always because something happened there but more because of the reputation of a place, the mystique of something that makes someone want to see not just it, but all of 66. On some level, most any place on Route 66 is worth saving if it draws people to the road and helps other places on 66 continue surviving in today’s world.

  8. Well put Tonya. If the Joliet prison ought to be demolished and YET ANOTHER shopping mall built in its place, why not raze Alcatraz – like Joliet, a former prison – and build billionaire flats in its place? There’d be no end of takers.

  9. Tanya, I have driven the entire Route and studied it as much as most people including you. I am completely aware of what draws a lot of travelers to Route 66, since I am one of those travelers. I have encountered busloads of foreign tourists at Angel’s store in Seligman, at Roy’s, at the Grand Canyon, and the Gateway Arch. I have eaten at Steak-and-Shake, the Rock Cafe, Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket, Berghoff’s, The Palms, Cozy Dog Drive In, El Rancho Hotel (Gallup), Johnny’s (El Reno, OK) and many other Route 66 restaurants. I have waited for the girl in the flatbed Ford in Winslow. I have spent the night at the Wig Wam Motels in Rialto and Holbrook, as well as the Blue Swallow, the Safari Inn, Skyliner (Stround OK), El Capitan (Gallup), and the Route 66 Casino (Puerco. NM). I saw the pin-striped water tower in Commerce, OK. I bought soda at Pop’s 66 Soda Ranch in Arcadia, OK. I drove both directions through Cajon Pass. I visited the Painted Desert when flowers were blooming. I am deeply familiar with much of the Route.

    I don’t have a problem with preserving historic structures. I have a severe problem throwing an out-of-scale amount of resources at a marginal property, whether on Route 66 or anywhere else. There is no Route 66 mystique to the Joliet Prison other than its appearance in the Blues Brothers movie.

    I’d prefer that $10,000,000 be spread around for the greater good of Route 66. Your example in Springfield MO (I have visited that place) is the sort of project that costs comparatively little yet enhances a Route 66 experience. Let’s preserve the Blue Whale and the Twin Arrows Trading Post. Let’s repair the washed-out bridges in western California. Let’s save the Harvey houses and the depots along the Santa Fe Railroad. Let’s make lots of grants to restore neon. Let’s fix the Gasconade bridge.

    Let’s not spend a disproportionate amount of money on the Joliet Prison just because it was in a movie.

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