On October 14 and 15, you can see things you’ve never seen before: the futuristic pipes in an industrial facility, the studio where architectural moldings are made, the repurposed bank vaults of that imposing building, spectacular views of the city from new vantage points. More than 200 locations across Chicago, Evanston, and Oak Park throw open their doors for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago that weekend for free admission.
The choice of sites is overwhelming, so we’ve chosen a few highlights, with emphasis on uniqueness, places that normally charge entrance fees or are closed to the public, and locations that offer stunning vistas that you typically can’t see. Most are new to Open House Chicago this year. Pick a few and create your own tour around them. See their locations mapped out here.
33 N LaSalle (Closed Saturday)
Built in 1929, this enormous Art Deco tower was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White (which also designed the Wrigley Building and Merchandise Mart, among other Chicago landmarks). Originally the Foreman State National Bank building and then the American National Bank Building, its basement vault has been adapted into a conference room, safety deposit boxes and massive vault door still in place. The basement is open for Open House Chicago.
Decorators Supply Corporation (Closed Sunday)
3610 S. Morgan St., Rear Building
This company, which manufactures ornamental architectural features, dates back to 1883. It created molding for the classical buildings of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and they still have wooden molds from the company’s first decade. Get a glimpse at how they make their historical ornaments on their shop floor.
3611 S. Loomis Pl.
If you like clutter and oddball objects, this is your place. Normally not open to the public, this 36,000 square-foot warehouse holds hundreds of thousands of items used for TV shows, movies, plays, and even restaurants, with an especially notable collection of doodads from the '20s through the '70s. Warning: probably not the best place for claustrophobics or neat freaks.
Schulze Baking Company Building
40 E. Garfield Blvd.
Ever wondered what an antique industrial building looks like on the inside? This bakery, built by John Ahlschlager in 1914, is currently a vast, vacant space with an intriguing interior. The exterior has some beautiful touches that got the building on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s due to be refurbished into a data center.
American Toby Jug Museum
910 Chicago Ave., Evanston
This museum always has free admission, but Open House Chicago is a good excuse to visit this oddity. It houses the largest collection of Toby jugs – glazed pitchers originating in the 18th century that look like famous people and characters – in the world, at more than 8,000. From the Wizard of Oz to presidents to cartoon characters to drinking men, there’s a whole menagerie here.
Frederick C. Robie House (Closed Saturday)
5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.
This home, by Frank Lloyd Wright, is one of the most iconic dwelling places in the country. The 1909 house is an exemplar of Wright’s Prairie Style and has been so influential on home design, with its open spaces, long rows of windows, and radical horizontal orientation, that it was one of Geoffrey Baer’s 10 Buildings that Changed America.
4950 S. Chicago Beach Dr.
Some might call this 1929 Art Deco apartment building, by Robert DeGolyer and Charles L. Morgan, excessive, but no matter your opinion the detailing is something to behold. Bright mosaics, etched mirrors, striking styling: there’s something to catch your eye at every turn. Visit the glorious lobbies and the elegant indoor swimming pool.
University of Chicago, South Campus Chiller Plant
6035 S. Blackstone Ave.
One of Helmut Jahn’s many Chicago buildings, this 2009 structure air conditions the campus of the University of Chicago by chilling water. Although it fulfills an industrial purpose, it’s also a work of art, with its glass and steel façade and brilliant pipes that recall Jahn's Thompson Center. It’s not a place you would normally get to see inside.
Richard H. Driehaus Collection at Chicago Vintage Motor Carriage (Doesn’t open until 1pm; Photo ID required)
700 S. Desplaines St.
This collection of vintage cars from the ‘20s through the ‘60s is usually closed to the public, so jump on this chance to see them. From futuristic oddities like the Woodill Wildfire to classic Pontiacs, Cadillacs, and Buicks, this is a car lover’s dream.
Hector Duarte Studio
1900 W. Cullerton St. (enter on Wolcott Ave.)
Duarte is a prominent figure in Pilsen; his murals can be found throughout the neighborhood, not least on his studio, where a giant Mexican immigrant struggles against binding barbed wire. Duarte’s more than 50 other murals around Chicago explore similar themes of identity, migration, and borders, and he himself will be on hand to discuss his work in his studio.
Chicago Scenic Studios (Closed Sunday)
955 W. Cermak Rd.
Established in 1978 to build and design sets for small theaters, Chicago Scenic Studios used to reside on Goose Island but now takes up a cavernous space in Pilsen. Tour the workplaces where Lyric Opera and TV sets, museum displays, and corporate visitor centers are built.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Closed Sunday)
951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park
Although not as influential as the Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio lets you see what the outsized architect’s home and work life was like. Explore the 1889 home and attached 1898 studio in Oak Park in the 150th anniversary year of Wright’s birth.
217 Home Ave., Oak Park
This Oak Park mansion, designed by George Maher in 1897, once had a carriage house and conservatory that have since been demolished, but it still exudes grandeur: carved wood, ornate windows, a magnificent fireplace. Considered one of the earliest examples of Prairie Style, it is now operated by the Park District of Oak Park.
Looking for a Stunning View? Here are some of the best vantage points in Open House Chicago.
The Aon Center (200 E. Randolph St., enter via the northeast side of the upper plaza) is the third tallest building in Chicago, and its 71st floor is the highest site in Open House Chicago. Is the line too long? Try across the street, at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Building, (300 E. Randolph St.) where the 30th floor – which used to be the top level before 24 floors were added – offers lovely views with less of a wait.
111 W. Jackson lets you get a close-up look at the upper levels of the Board of Trade from its rooftop deck as well as a view from the Loop. The Gentleman’s Cooperative and Penthouse 111, also an Open House Chicago site, is on the same floor.
Want to see down all three branches of the river from one place? You can from the 26th floor of 150 N Riverside, which was only completed in 2017 and stands near Wolf Point. This site also features a permanent display of video art on its first floor.
Want to see the city from the north? Look out over Lincoln Park from the 42nd floor of 2650 N. Lakeview, or venture even further and get a lookout from the 18th floor of Rotary International World Headquarters (1560 Sherman Ave., Evanston) in Evanston.