My favorite time to be in Chicago rolled around once again this past weekend: Open House Chicago! This was my third year taking advantage of Open House Chicago, but unlike 2012 and 2013, this year I actually had time on both Saturday and Sunday to go exploring. I hit up a personal record nine venues this year, so get ready way too many photos ;)
Like always, I combed through all 150 sites open during Open House Chicago and narrowed it down to 43 places I wanted to visit. Since that’s impossible, I then went through my list of 43 places and found the ones I wanted to see the most and came up with a geographically-convenient order in which to see said places. We begin our journey in what I think is one of the most under-appreciated areas of Chicago (and one of its most hidden gems), Prairie Avenue.
Second Presbyterian Church
Second Presbyterian, admittedly, has not had the best press lately, after a freak accident involving a falling gargoyle killed a woman on the sidewalk back in September. The church’s current building at 19th and Michigan was built in 1874, when that was the place to live in Chicago — it was the Gold Coast before the Gold Coast became a thing. All sorts of wealthy people–Pullmans, Blackstones, Armours–attended Second Pres in its heyday.
The church’s original interior was destroyed by fire in 1900, and the current interior reflects the Arts and Crafts style of architecture, a reaction to the industrialism. The interior features repeating motifs throughout, including angels, grapevines, pomegranates, and thistles. It also boasts nine Tiffany windows and beautiful murals throughout.
After my time at Second Pres, I walked over to the Clarke House, the oldest structure in the city of Chicago. The house has moved three times since its construction, but now sits at 18th and Indiana, right in the heart of what used to be the insanely wealthy Prairie Avenue area. As I mentioned, this was the place to live from the 1870s pretty much into the 1890s/1900s, when Bertha Palmer built a mansion in the 1300 block of Lake Shore Drive that gave birth to the still-insanely-wealthy Gold Coast. Prior to that, though, many millionaires, including a certain Marshall Field, lived in this area. (Then almost all their mansions got torn down, because the 20th century was terrible.) Anyway, the Clarke House is now a museum furnished in a style similar to how the Clarkes likely lived.
Presidential Suite at the Blackstone Renaissance Hotel
Confession: I had no idea this hotel existed. I’ve been past it plenty of times, but I was totally clueless that it was a hotel. Now I know!
The Presidential Suite, as the name suggests, has hosted many current or future presidents while they’ve stayed in Chicago, including Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman. They had to endure miserable views like these:
Imperial Suite at the Hilton
I’ve been to the Hilton many, many times, but this was actually the first time I didn’t go to the Hilton for marathon- or triathlon-related activities. Whenever I’ve been to the Hilton for those occasions, I’ve walked through the lobby, but spent most of my time sequestered in the shockingly-plain-considering-it’s-the-Hilton basement. The Imperial Suites are the opposite of the Stevens Salons downstairs.
I imagine staying in one of these suites requires the soul of your firstborn, so needless to say I’ll never have the means to actually spend the night in this kind of opulence, but the views, once again, were gorgeous. I suppose that was a theme of my Open House Chicago adventures this year: gorgeous views I’ll never have the means to afford seeing otherwise :P
190 S. LaSalle
Though perhaps if I could find at job at 190 S. LaSalle, I would have the means to afford suites on Michigan Ave. To be honest, I have no idea what kind of work goes on in 190 S. LaSalle, but given its location in the heart of the financial district, I assume it’s a lot of stuff I know nothing about that yields annual salaries I can only dream about. Anyway, the 40th floor of 190 S. LaSalle features a law library with floor to ceiling windows that make for some outstanding views.
The library itself is also beautiful, if you can manage to stop staring out the windows for a second.
I kicked off my Sunday Open House Chicago-ing with a place I know all too well, Union Station. Since there are so many places to see during Open House Chicago, I try to only go to locations I wouldn’t be able to see under normal circumstances. While the Great Hall of Union Station is always open to the public (and is where I will inevitably spend several hours of my life I’ll never get back when it’s time for me to go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas), the rooms off the Great Hall aren’t. In fact, I didn’t know these rooms even existed–which, considering the amount of time I’ve spent in the Great Hall, is really saying something. I first visited the Union Gallery, which, if you enter the Great Hall from the concourse (where all boarding and ticket sales take place), is to your left.
In addition to a cool ceiling, the gallery featured historic photos of Union Station, many of which were from World War II. For those of you who haven’t been to Union Station, the setup is a little odd. While the Great Hall is hands down the most beautiful (or, some [*cough*me*cough*] would argue, the only beautiful) part of Union Station, all the action takes place across the street and underground, where the waiting terminals resemble that of your standard airport and are not much of anything to look at. Based on the pictures I saw, I imagine this wasn’t always the case–there used to be a lovely building where there is now an office building–but once upon a time, the Great Hall was also where travelers actually waited for their trains. If interested, women could wait for the train in their own room on the right side of the hall, the Women’s Lounge.
I’d say seeing the Women’s Lounge was the highlight of my Open House Chicago adventures this year. The decay…! Oh, I just loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. I loved imagining what it must have been like when the lounge was functioning and what it must have been like to travel by train back then. I was also wildly amused by this:
since those decorations keep me company every Thanksgiving and Christmas:
Chicago Board of Trade Vault
This was another location on my Open House Chicago bucket list that never previously worked out for me. I almost bailed on seeing the vault again this year when I was met with a long line, but I figured since I had waited years to see the vault, I could manage to wait another 45 minutes or so.
Since we’ve established I’m no Wacker Drive finance bro (or, uh, girl? What’s the appropriate semi-derogatory term for a girl who works in finance?), I’ve never been in the Board of Trade, but I loved its Art Deco interior and resulting Gatsby/Capitol of the Hunger Games vibes.
I’ve also never been inside a vault (though then again, how many people have?), so that in and of itself was a pretty cool experience.
The only negative aspect of my Board of Trade experience was the fact that the four people behind me in line were all drunk, horribly obnoxious, and had no concept of personal space. Who gets drunk for Open House Chicago?! People are weird.
The former Illinois Athletic Club’s ballroom now belongs to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve decided I’d like to get married here, thanks.
While I may not be a finance bro, I am ABSOLUTELY a journalism nerd, and as far as I’m concerned, people who work for the Chicago Tribune are celebrities. The Trib Tower has also been on my Open House Chicago bucket list for quite some time, and while I once again debated whether or not it was worth standing in line just to see the lobby of the Trib Tower…it’s the Trib Tower, you guys. Cool people work there!
We could only see the building’s lobby, buttttttt a managing editor of the Tribune told us all about the lobby, which in and of itself was enough for me. I don’t know what exactly I expected out of the Trib Tower’s lobby, but I didn’t expect something quite so pretty.
Plus there are all sorts of pro-journalism quotes engraved on the walls, which reminded me of the Newseum. Perhaps my favorite quote, though, was the one that had a typo they later had to correct:
See the ‘S’? Yeah. They forgot it the first time around. Oh, the irony!
Tip Top Tap at the Allerton Hotel
As far as lines are concerned, the line for the Tip Top Tap DEFINITELY took the cake. I don’t know exactly how long I waited, but I’d estimate that I stood in line for close to an hour to see the Tip Top Tap. Sadly, this was my biggest letdown of the entire experience.
Don’t get me wrong: the views from the Tip Top Tap are great, and the ballroom itself that takes up the space formerly occupied by the Tip Top Tap as beautiful. I, however, perhaps did not do proper research, and was under the impression that this would be like other closed spaces, such as the Women’s Lounge or the Studebaker Theater at the Fine Arts Building I saw last year: opened just for Open House Chicago after laying in disrepair and disuse for decades. That wasn’t the case at all, so instead of seeing the rundown former bar I hoped to see, I saw a pretty polished ballroom. Not that the ballroom wasn’t nice, of course, but had I paid better attention and known that’s what I would see, I probably would’ve skipped the Tip Top Tap.
All in all though, I, once again, had an AWESOME time traipsing around Chicago. I think next year I need to make more of an effort to get out of downtown, where I imagine the crowds are much smaller. I seriously think this is the best event in the city of Chicago (even better than the marathon, because at least this is free ;) ), and, as always, cannot recommend it enough.