The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Open House Chicago event happens this weekend (October 15-16, 2016). If you’re new to town, it’s a two-day event where dozens of the city’s interesting buildings and other spaces are open to the public. Many of them are private places where the public isn’t normally welcome.
The good news is that the list of participants is very long this year. The bad news is that there’s no way you can squeeze it into a two-day weekend. So that’s why we put together this list of the ten best places to hit during OHC. We’ve only listed places we’ve actually been, so newcomers like MILA and Moment don’t make the list, even if they’re spectacular. We’re not going to recommend something we haven’t tried. Homie don’t play that.
- Aon Center — 200 East Randolph Street, The Loop: An entirely different city viewing experience than the ones you get at the Hancock Center or Willis Tower. Epic views of Maggie Daley Park, Grant Park, Millennium Park, and The Loop that help you understand the way the city interfaces with Lake Michigan. Make this the first stop of the day. People start lining up hours in advance.
- Columbia Yacht Club — 111 North Lake Shore Drive, The Loop: How often do you get to see the inside of an actual Canadian ferry right in downtown Chicago? Not very.
- LondonHouse Chicago — 85 East Wacker Drive, The Loop: Social media has been on fire for the last few months with pictures taken from this new hotel’s rooftop bar. Now it’s your turn to show off your Instagram chops. This one is new this year, but expected to a huge, so it’s another good candidate for first stop of the day.
- The Sky-Line Club — 307 North Michigan Avenue, The Loop: Even though The Cliff Dwellers Club a few blocks down Michigan Avenue is a members-only location, it’s still mobbed because of its epic views of Grant Park, Lake Michigan, and the New Eastside. So, this is the consolation prize. The views are still very interesting, but in an urban way, not in a lake-and-park way. And the interior is pretty much the same.
- Kemper Building — 1 East Wacker Drive: Kind of a one-trick pony, the Kemper Building is a quick get-in, see-the-view, and get-out kind of place. That’s good because it’s close to a bunch of other sites, and because the view is really quite excellent. See the Chicago River and Marina City from a new angle.
- The Original Sears Tower — 906 South Homan Avenue: Great city views and a ton of Chicago history in this tower that rises over the buildings that once made up the catalog empire. If you go via CTA, use #82 bus. You do NOT want to walk Kedzie to the Blue Line. Last year the place was under construction and you had to walk up the stairs to the top. This year should hopefully be better since the CAF marked it wheelchair accessible. As a bonus, you’ll get to see Homan Square next door. It’s the Chicago Police Department facility known by human rights activists around the world as “Chicago’s Guantanamo.” If you’re lucky maybe Sting and Amnesty International will be outside protesting.
- Holy Name Cathedral — 735 North State Street: A series of unfortunate incidents a few years ago means that today the interior of the cathedral is all shiny and new, and it’s never looked better. Holy Name is a VERY busy parish, especially on weekends so plan your trip carefully; it’s only open a few hours each day.
- Saint James Episcopal Cathedral — 671 North Wabash Avenue: Get your Hogwarts on at this wonderful 1875 cathedral that’s as Victorian as Holy Name is Prairie. If you miss it during Open House Chicago, try to make it over for the blessing of the animals. I brought my cat there twice. The first time didn’t seem to stick.
- Elks National Memorial – 2750 North Lakeview Avenue: One of Chicago’s great monuments, even if you can’t get there during OHC, you should stop by at a later date.
- Glessner House Museum — One of the few opportunities to dodge the somewhat steep admission fee at this wonderfully preserved Prairie Avenue District mansion.
There are a number of newcomers this year that we’re looking forward to. Among the standouts:
- CTA Skokie Shops — 7519 North Paulina Street
- CTA Control Center — 120 North Racine Avenue
- WGN Flag and Decorating Company — 7984 South South Chicago Avenue
- University of Illinois at Chicago University Hall – 601 South Morgan Street
- City Hyde Park — 5105 South Harper Avenue
- River City – 800 South Wells Street
- Moment — 545 North McClurg Court
Want to know more? Here’s the official press release:
Open House Chicago offers a look inside Chicago’s most iconic and little-known spaces during a FREE two-day event
Chicago Architecture Foundation’s sixth annual architecture festival opens
20 neighborhoods and more than 200 sites, October 15 & 16
CHICAGO— One of the largest architectural festivals in the world will take place in Chicago, October 15-16. Open House Chicago is part of the worldwide Open House movement and modeled after popular programs in 32 cities, including New York, London, Vienna, Oslo and Tel Aviv. Each year, Open House Chicago draws tens of thousands of people to the city from around the globe to visit more than 200 of Chicago’s greatest spaces in 20 different neighborhoods. This free public event offers participants behind-the-scenes access to many areas that are rarely, if ever, open to the public. Architecture buffs, history enthusiasts, design appreciators and people looking for a unique festival all participate in this weekend event, ideal for every kind of adventurer.
Showcasing the diversity of Chicago’s architecture, sites include uncommonly seen and “restricted access” areas of theaters, historic mansions, private clubs, sacred spaces, skyscrapers, roof top gardens, professional offices and cultural institutions, among others.
“Open House Chicago is such a special event in the way that it showcases the city’s communities and encourages locals and visitors to explore new neighborhoods; this year, we’re excited that Englewood, Oak Park, West Town, Jefferson Park and Portage Park are participating for the first time,” said Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of CAF. “OHC does more than open the public’s eyes to Chicago’s world-renowned architecture. It’s an event that raises awareness to the wider community of the role design plays in creating a vibrant and livable city.”
In 2015, the fifth OHC event attracted more than 85,000 guests from all 50 states and 90 countries around the world. The economic impact of that event weekend was $7.9 million. Using a printed event guide or openhousechicago.org, OHC guests can select the sites and neighborhoods they want to explore and create their own self-guided experiences.
Program Manager of Open House Chicago, Garrett Karp, and his team spend the better part of the year identifying and partnering with new sites and communities for OHC. “One of the best things about managing this event is the constant exploration and discovery process while we work year-round to locate, research and reach out to Chicago’s most unique architecture and behind-the-scenes interior spaces,” he explained. “It’s year six of OHC and we’re still bringing new and fascinating locations into the event for the very first time. This year I’m particularly thrilled about featuring Colvin House in Edgewater, and Yale Building in Englewood. The Colvin House is an ornate, Prairie-Style mansion with décor that is reminiscent of the 1920s movie palaces. It will be open to the public for the first and we know that area residents have been waiting a long time for an opportunity to see inside. The Yale Building is a historic apartment building from 1892 which now serves as affordable senior housing. It has an incredible sky-lit atrium with hanging vines, walkways and balconies; it almost resembles the New Orleans French Quarter. The most amazing part is that almost nobody in Chicago even knows about it–even neighbors in Englewood are surprised to learn about this architectural gem in their own community.”
This year, visitors can take self-guided tours throughout the following Chicago neighborhoods:
Bridgeport / Back of the Yards
Garfield Park / North Lawndale
Gold Coast/Near North Side
Jefferson Park / Portage Park
Near West Side
South Loop / Prairie Avenue
For a complete list of participating sites, visit www.openhousechicago.org. Get the latest news and fun facts about OHC too by following Chicago Architecture Foundation on Facebook (facebook.com/chiarchitecture) and Twitter (@chiarchitecture). You can also sign up to receive the OHC newsletter for updates on venues and the latest information on special programming.
Access to OHC sites is free and does not require a reservation, but participants are encouraged to sign up to receive event newsletters and last-minute announcements. Sites will accept visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to free access, OHC offers activities in various sites all weekend long, including cultural performances, lectures, workshops and more.
Become a CAF member at architecture.org to receive a “CAF Member Priority Access Pass” which grants you preferred access to OHC sites. Similar to last year’s event, there are a select handful of Members-Only Sites. Consider volunteering over the weekend. It’s fun, easy and provides special benefits including priority access to all OHC sites!
OHC is a celebration of Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities. The community partners helping make OHC 2015 happen are: 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar’s Office, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman’s Office, Archdiocese of Chicago, Bronzeville Area Residents and Commerce Council, Building Owners and Managers Association, Chicago Loop Alliance, Chicago Park District, Chicago’s North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau, City of Evanston, Design Evanston, Downtown Evanston, Edgewater, Chamber of Commerce, Edgewater Historical Society, Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Evanston Community Foundation, Evanston History Center, Foundation for Homan Square, Glessner House Museum, Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation, Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce, Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, Magnificent Mile Association, Northwest Chicago Historical Society, Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation, Pleasant Home Foundation, Public Media Institute, Quad Communities Development Corporation, Rogers Park Business Alliance, Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, Six Corners Association, South East Chicago Commission, South Shore Chamber, Inc., Theater Historical Society of America, Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association
Uptown United, Visit Oak Park, West Loop Community Organization
OHC is presented by the James S. Kemper Foundation. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and ComEd. OHC partners include Choose Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority, Divvy and Open House Worldwide. Media sponsors include the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and WBEZ. Oak Park’s participation in Open House Chicago is sponsored by Vantage Oak Park.