Once again it is time for one of our favorite events in Chicago, Open House Chicago. Every October over 200 buildings including high-rises, historic mansions, private clubs, World famous architectural firms and churches open their door to the public. Inviting them to come in and have a look around. Most of these places are normally off limits to the public so it is your chance to see them from the inside.
While the main areas of interest are of course architecture and interior design there are other interesting things to see. In the past the kitchen at the Drake Hotel was part of the event. While you would think that kitchens are normally not that interesting they are when they are one that can make enough food to feed over a 1000 people at one time, making it certainly something to see. Some of the building are only open to Chicago Architectural Foundation members.
The buildings included in Open House Chicago are spread out all over the city and some have waits of up to an hour to get in so you will be lucky to cover more than a small fraction of the over 200 options. The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a great website that lists all of the buildings by neighborhood along with a short description of each. The site also includes an interactive map. We recommend you plan out where you want to go rather than trying to pick places as you go.
Having regularly taken advantage of the opportunity that Open House Chicago presents to see some of Chicago’s best buildings we have developed a list of the best places to go.
Number 1 on our list is the Brewster Apartments. This Lincoln Park residence is one of Chicago’s most interesting buildings. The glass block cat walks and ornate metal stairs make it a unique and beautiful place. As a photographer I have tried to get in any of the other 363 days of the year, only to have the doorman send me packing. By this gatekeeper’s reaction, I do not think I was the first or even the hundredth person who has tried to get in just to look around. Happily, I found the Brewster Apartments on last year’s list and made seeing it a top priority.
The Clark House is the oldest house in Chicago. I doubt many Chicagoans, including myself 2 years ago, could tell you what the oldest house in Chicago was or where it was located. This is a museum so you can see it at other times, but there is a $10 admission fee, which is waived for this event. So going here is more about saving money than seeing something off limits the rest of the year.
The mansion on N Sheridan. There are two beautiful old mansion that can be toured on N Sheridan near Granville. The Gunder House and Conway House. You can see what lakefront mansions from a time gone by look like.
Studio Gang Architects. One of the World’s top architectural firms that is on the cutting edge of modern architecture. You can stop in and see what boundaries they are pushing now.
Lake Point Tower. A condo building that is the only building east of Lake Shore Drive. Their rooftop outdoor area has to be seen to be believed. It is over two acres of peaceful, manicured grounds right in the heart of downtown Chicago.
Almost all of the places are worth visiting but there are few more we have enjoyed. The Columbia Yacht Club, a private club, is a fun stop to see what that big ship on the lakefront looks like on the inside. The Fine Arts Building is always open to the public but it is so much fun it makes the list anyway. It is like going back in time with elevator operators and brass staircase railings. The Chicago Temple is a unique place of worship; a distinctive chapel 550 feet in the air. The Chicago Board of Trade Building is an ART Deco masterpiece and has an important place in Chicago history. Lastly, any of the architecture firms are worth a visit for a sneak preview of their latest in building design.
Open House Chicago is October 15 & 16 from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm and as always is completely free. Individual buildings set their own times so make sure and check each one before going. Some are only open on one of the two days and a few are only open to members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Photo credit to Chicago photographer Douglas Boehm.