Ugly Building Hides Immersive Art

Chestnut Place's Italian grotto

If you want to experience the immersive serenity and visual inspiration of a frescoed grotto, you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy.  You just have to get past the security guard at the Chestnut Place Apartments (850 North State Street).

That’s because just past his diminutive airlock is an antechamber decorated like a frescoed church.  Follow the fake inlaid marble floors one way to the  leasing office, the other way to the elevators.  In the center is a tower which shines light at the ceiling, which is painted like a sunny sky.  That light reflects down around the chamber and its fake windows and doors.  There’s even a little Juliet balcony above, so that fair maidens can call to their Romeos while keeping an eye on their laundry.

The art is the work of Richard Haas, who was inspired by San Miniato al Monte in Florence, Italy.  He painted his Chicago homage for Weese Hickey Weese Architects in 1980.

Chestnut Place is such a boring building outside, so why does it have this masterpiece of quirk inside?  We asked a leasing agent, who said she had no idea, and hadn’t heard any theories.  The leasing agents at a competing building who tipped us off about the languid loge said people either love it, or hate it, and that it has been both a deal breaker and a deal maker for a number of residents.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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