On October 19 and 20, you have the chance to peek behind those facades you’ve always wondered about and discover the unusual artists’ space within, or the collection of antique printing materials, or the idiosyncratic handcrafted details of a building – plus some outstanding views of the city. That weekend, more than 350 locations across Chicagoland throw open their doors for the Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago for free admission.
The choice of sites is overwhelming, so we’ve chosen a few highlights, with an emphasis on uniqueness, fascinating occupants, and locations that offer stunning vistas. Most are new to Open House Chicago this year. While some intriguing sites, such as the Chicago Harbor and Lock at the mouth of the river or Frank Lloyd Wright’s recently restored Unity Temple in Oak Park, require RSVPs and are already full, you can walk into most sites without any prior notice – although you may have to wait in a line, especially at some of the more popular locations. Pick a few and create your own tour around them.
1020 W. Sheridan Rd.
With its Art Deco ornaments, including stylized statues of angels framing the entrance, you might expect this building to be downtown or in Hyde Park – it’s the only Art Deco skyscraper on the North Side. Built in 1931 to a design by Joseph W. McCarthy and Narine Fisher, it originally housed the Catholic women’s Mundelein College and included a pool, auditorium, gymnasium, and more. Now owned by Loyola University, it includes theatre, dance, and music spaces added in a major renovation – and offers a splendid view of the lake.
6018 N. Kenmore Ave.
This Edgewater mansion from 1910 is utterly unique. When a burst pipe exposed the original skeleton of the house during renovations a century after it was built, the owners decided to leave the structure exposed and turn the space into an “artist-centered, sustainable, nonprofit platform and venue” featuring experimental art installations that take full advantage of the space. Visitors will be asked to sign a waiver.
4827 N. Kenmore Ave.
While American Neoclassical buildings, with their impressive colonnades, are common in the East, they’re much less so in Chicago. St. Thomas of Canterbury, from 1917, may be the only Catholic church designed in this style. It continues to be quintessentially American, in its multiculturalism: it includes twelve separate shrines, each to different global saints, and has services in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Eritrean.
4636 N. Ravenswood Ave. #103
The Streamline Moderne façade of this building, along the Ravenswood former industrial corridor that is now taken up by breweries, start-ups, artistic organizations, and more, might suggest an era in the first half of the twentieth century. But Starshaped Press, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, uses some equipment even older than that: antique metal and wood types that are 75-150 years old. Open House visitors can watch one press in action, and purchase some of the prints focusing on the art and architecture of Chicago.
4025 N. Ravenswood Ave.
If you’ve ever been on the Brown Line by the Irving Park stop, you’ve probably noticed this unusual building, with its quarter-circle, glass-encased top floor. A former billboard factory from 1921, that top floor allowed workers to flip billboards as they painted them. Now an event space, the bottom floor houses a striking collection of vintage cars and neon signs.
4380 N. Elston Ave.
Once a 1,300-seat movie theater, this 1923 building became a banquet hall and ballroom before entering its current iteration as the Muslim Community Center of Chicago in the 1980s. The exterior has been altered, but it retains the original, elegant arched window above the doors as well as some original details on the inside. The Center, established in 1969, is one of the oldest and largest Muslim organizations in Chicago. Visitors will be asked to remove shoes before entering prayer areas.
4 W. Burton Pl.
This turn-of-the-century Prairie-style mansion designed by Richard E. Schmidt in the Gold Coast shows the influence not just of Frank Lloyd Wright but Louis Sullivan as well, especially in its ornamentation by Hugh M. G. Garden. After a restoration in 1963, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, which seeks to investigate architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society, moved in. Not only do you get to see a stunning home that includes a library, ballroom, and sculpture garden; you can also explore the Foundation’s current exhibit.
155 W. Burton Pl. (Chicago Architecture Center members only)
This extraordinary collection of artist studios, courtyards, and residences was the work of the idiosyncratic Edgar Miller, Jesús Torres, Andrew Rebori, and others, under the financial backing of Sol Kogen. Between 1927 and 1940, they carved up this 1877 mansion and decorated in eclectic style, in a variety of media. Chicago Architecture Center members can explore the beautiful gardens and courtyards during Open House.
1118 N. Noble St.
There are numerous grand Polish Cathedral-style churches in Chicago, including this 1906 pastiche by William Krieg. The baroquely ornamented column-free interior is typically only open for Mass, most of which are still conducted in Polish. You can also explore the catacombs below the sanctuary during Open House.
401 N. Armour St.
If you visit Ignite Glass Studios during Open House Chicago, you can watch glass artisans in action – and potentially try your own hand at glass-working, making or buying your own season-appropriate glass pumpkin (available on a first-come, first-served basis for a fee). You can also view work in the gallery space and enjoy both an outdoor garden and a rooftop deck.
400 N. Wolcott St.
The Conservation Center, the largest private art conservation laboratory in the country, was founded in 1983, and recently featured on Chicago Tonight. Their state-of-the art West Town facility, designed by Studio Gang and completed in 2012, allows their staff to work on everything from paintings to textiles to furniture. Open House visitors can see the specialized equipment and hear about projects on a guided tour. You will be asked to sign a waiver.
3410 W. Lake St.
The non-profit Revolution Workshop helps train unemployed and underemployed adults for careers in construction, training them in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical wiring. At the Garfield Park workshop, you can view model houses and watch demonstrations of all of those skilled trades in action.
210 W. 69th St.
This is one of the newest buildings in Open House Chicago, having opened in February 2019 on the former site of Kennedy-King College. You’ll find all of the city’s largest service vehicles here, in various stages of repair, from fire trucks to snow plows to dump trucks and other vehicles, all being stored or undergoing maintenance.
Looking for a stunning view?
On the top floor of the Old Republic Building (307 N. Michigan Ave.) from 1925, you'll find the Sky-Line Club, one of the oldest private membership facilities in the city. Not only can you catch views up and down Michigan Avenue and up-close glimpses of buildings like the filigreed Carbide and Carbon Building, you get to do so from an open-air terrace or the environs of an English pub dismantled and shipped to Chicago almost a century ago.
Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects (180 N. Stetson Ave., Suite 3100) relocated to the 31st floor of One Prudential Plaza this year, a space offering views of Millennium Park – plus a glimpse at the firm's ongoing projects. In the same building, you can head down to the open-air 11th floor roof deck of Prudential Plaza (180 N. Stetson Ave.).
To see downtown and the skyline from the opposite end, visit the rooftop farm of McCormick Place (2301 S. Indiana Ave., Gate 41, SE corner of Cermak & Indiana), a green roof and terrace that yields 8,000 pounds of produce for the convention center each year while mitigating the building's environmental impact.
Park Heights by the Lake is a 16-story neo-Gothic building on the south edge of Jackson Park. From the newly renovated penthouse units and skydeck, you can catch sweeping views of the lake and Jackson Park.