One of the joys of my job is the privilege of exploring some of Chicago’s most beautiful buildings up close, from the inside and out, so that I can show them to viewers like you. Open House Chicago, which is on October 15 and 16 this year, is the perfect time for everyone to explore those places and make their own architectural discoveries.
There are more than 150 sites across Chicago and some of its suburbs opening their doors to the public that weekend, so it’s worth planning ahead. Here are a few of my favorites.
150 N. Riverside Plz.
A towering high-rise that seems to come to a point at the bottom, defying gravity! This was a creative engineering solution to the problem that the building is built on air rights above multiple railroad tracks with very little room for a foundation. And it made the required public space along the river’s edge possible. Architects Goettsch Partners seem to delight in skyscrapers with creative and original treatment at the base—just look at their Bank of America Tower, which is my next choice.
110 N. Wacker Dr.
Goettsch Partners are also behind this skyscraper with a highly unusual base that is supported by gargantuan “tridents” so as to provide open public space along the Chicago River. (Goettsch’s BMO Tower at 320 S. Canal St., also part of this year’s Open House Chicago, features similar three-pronged supports.)
332 E. 51st St.
Boxville is a shipping container “mall” giving entrepreneurs an affordable way to start businesses. Since it’s located right off the Green Line, we got a tour of it in Chicago by ‘L.’ Watch the clip below:
4315 S. Wabash Ave.
This church was converted from a hat factory in 1939 by Illinois’ first licensed African American architect, Walter Thomas Bailey. It features unique early modernist design inside and out, and it also has a place in gospel music history, as a presenter of gospel music radio broadcasts.
324 E. 43rd St.
The Forum was an important center for music, meetings, and social events during the heyday of Bronzeville’s “Black Metropolis.” It has been vacant for decades, but is being redeveloped into a cultural center for performances.
Illinois Institute of Technology
The campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which was designed by the influential architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is an architecture lover’s dream. During Open House, stop in to Mies’ “God box” (IIT Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior at 3630 S. State St); his iconic, minimalist classical temple, IIT S.R. Crown Hall at 3360 S. State St.; and faculty member John Ronan’s IIT Kaplan Institute at 3137 S. Federal Ave., with its environmentally friendly design including walls made out of inflatable foil cushions.
1645 E. 79th St.
Architect John Eberson festooned this auditorium in eye-catching Moorish Revival design that may have distracted from whatever show was taking place—I know I would be craning my neck to take it all in as an audience member!
2216 S. Wentworth Ave.
This Chinatown building is encrusted with Chinese iconography, but it was designed by two Norwegian architects because there were no licensed architects of Chinese descent in Chicago in 1928. It was featured in my Chicago by ‘L’ special.
3121 W. Jackson Blvd.
One of three basilicas in Chicago, Our Lady of Sorrows is a beautiful place—in fact, it shows up in my upcoming special The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago, coming in spring 2023!
2625 W. Division St.
A true hidden gem, this one-of-a-kind outdoor space is a small community garden filled with Puerto Rican art and a statue of the Puerto Rican nationalist hero Pedro Albizu Campos, all reflective of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community and history.
3015 W. Division St.
This museum is housed in an incredible former stable in Humboldt Park that was built to look like a German country house, in a nod to the many German immigrants who once lived nearby. I explored it and its new identity as museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in my Biking the Boulevards special around 1:14:00.
1525 E. 53rd St.
The restoration and renovation of this Classical Revival building by Florian Architects tastefully added bits of modernity to the ornate, historic interior.
5039 S. Greenwood Ave.
The home of the oldest Jewish congregation in the Midwest, this Moorish and Byzantine-inspired synagogue is a wonderful space, another site featured in the upcoming The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago.
1301 N. State Pkwy.
Glamorous stars of the mid-twentieth century stayed in this Gold Coast hotel and dined at the legendary Pump Room, where the eager public sought to catch glimpses of them. Both the hotel and the restaurant still operate, although they have gone through numerous iterations and re-designs.
510 N. LaSalle St.
Do you see an animal face on this façade? The mischievous late architect Stanley Tigerman designed it to look vaguely like a floppy-eared dog.
3535 W. Roosevelt Rd.
Another grand old theater that is now being restored to become a community and performance space, this theater was originally a movie palace serving North Lawndale and its significant Jewish population (it was known as the “Great Vest Side”) in the early part of the twentieth century. It was the first of a number of spectacular theaters built throughout Chicago by developers Balaban & Katz and architects Rapp & Rapp.
3622 W. Douglas Blvd.
Stone Temple Baptist Church is one of many examples throughout Chicago of Black churches converted from synagogues—you can still see the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew on the façade. Martin Luther King, Jr. later spoke at the church, which is now a Chicago Landmark.
2500 W. Lunt Ave.
The name of this park is a sobering reminder of the cruel treatment and coercive treaties imposed upon Native inhabitants of the land by European settlers: it refers to a line established by the Treaty of 1816 that prohibited Native Americans from living near the Chicago River. The park’s fieldhouse has all sorts of Native iconography, which today might be considered cultural appropriation. While you’re there, it’s worth checking out the neighboring Park Castle Condominiums, with its turrets, towers, and indoor pool
217 Home Ave. in Oak Park
Sure, Frank Lloyd Wright gets the lion’s share of attention for architecture in Oak Park, but he’s not the only one who designed noteworthy homes in the suburb. George Maher’s Pleasant Home is an early Prairie Style residence that more than holds its own with nearby Wright homes.