Chicago Cultural Center | The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago with Geoffrey Baer
Chicago Cultural Center
If you sat here during the day and watched people’s reaction walking in here, they almost all fall over….There’s that moment of joy. It’s actually an emotional reaction that people have to architecture, which is important.— Gunny Harboe, restoration architect
Geoffrey Baer visits the dazzling Chicago Cultural Center.
Once dubbed “The People’s Palace,” the Chicago Cultural Center is an opulent landmark in the Loop with all manner of ornament and vintage glamor. It was completed in 1897 and was originally designed to be the city’s first permanent, central public library (after the first one that was created in a recommissioned water tank), according to the city. Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed the building – the same architects behind the Art Institute. It’s a sturdy structure, with exterior walls that are three feet thick. But the building’s interior contains the real showstoppers: two dazzling, stained glass domes. Preston Bradley Hall is home to one dome, which is 38 feet across and made of Tiffany glass. Its cast-iron frame holds roughly 30,000 pieces of glass in a shape resembling fish scales. A careful restoration was completed in 2008. The Grand Army of the Republic Hall and Rotunda houses the other dome, which is 40 feet wide. In the 1940s, a cement and copper cover was placed over the dome to prevent further water damage. But in 2022, a restoration was completed, which replaced the cover with one that is transparent to allow natural light to pour into the hall once more. The effort was led by restoration architect Gunny Harboe with work by Daprato Rigali Studios. Harboe told Geoffrey Baer that the approximately 60,000 pieces were carefully documented and cleaned by hand. Today, the building hosts various public, arts-related events and programming, including music, dance, theater, art shows, and more.