Open House Chicago

Without question, my favorite weekend in this city is the weekend of Open House Chicago. Open House Chicago is a totally free event presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation where 150 buildings across the city are open to the public for viewing. I went last year and saw several cool locations, so I had every intention of making the most of the weekend this year as well.

Just like last year, my best intentions to see an absurd amount of buildings were thwarted by life (UGH, LIFE), but I did manage to knock off six of the 13 on my short-short list (my original short list had 47…whoops) and had an awesome time checking them out.

I started at St. James Chapel at Archbishop Quigley Center in the Gold Coast/downtownish (Rush & Pearson).


I’ve walked past this place a couple of times and didn’t know much (anything) about it, but I never dreamed that there was such a beautiful building just steps off Michigan Ave. The chapel reminded me of cathedrals I saw in Scotland, and I think my jaw was on the floor the entire time I walked around.


The stained glass windows contain 20,000 to 45,000 pieces of stained glass each, and the effect is absolutely breathtaking.


The chapel was built in 1917, which obviously predates many of the buildings that dominate the area’s skyline today. I thought it was so cool to see the contrast between these modern high rises and the nearly 100-year-old seminary.


After St. James, I went downtown to see the Fisher Building, which you’ve probably seen if you frequently ride the El in the Loop near the Harold Washington Library/State/Van Buren stop.

To be honest, the building itself was nothing particularly exciting, and though I don’t understand why on earth they chose a 13-year-old website to “display” on the fake laptop, I do have to commend them on their website choice.


LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon! Holla! The view from the bedroom wasn’t too bad, either.


Next, I stopped by The Cliff Dwellers, a luncheon club located on the 22nd floor of the building with the Borg Warner sign, which is on Michigan Ave. right next door to the Symphony Center. THE VIEWS YOU GUYS.


Oh my gosh. I couldn’t handle it. I thought I was over being emotional about the marathon, but I’ll admit that I got a bit teary when I looked over Grant Park and thought about what I accomplished there last week.


Having the means to join The Cliff Dwellers is also now on my life bucket list. Because THE VIEWS YOU GUYS.

One of the sites I was particularly looking forward to was the Fine Arts Building. I actually spend a fair amount of time in the Fine Arts Building as it is (which, if you ever happen to be in the area, is a building worth visiting whether it’s Open House Chicago week or not. The building is very historic (the elevators are still operated manually, not by buttons! It’s crazy!) and so absurdly beautiful. Cannot recommend it enough.), but the areas of the building open were both totally new to me. First up: the Studebaker Theater.


This theater began its life as a performance hall before turning into a movie theater. It closed its doors for the last time in 2000 and hasn’t been open to the public since. I’ve stood outside this theater nearly every week for 10 months waiting for the elevator and had NO idea what kind of beauty was behind the locked doors.


Being able to see this was easily one of the highlights of Open House Chicago for me and further solidified my love for the Fine Arts Building.


There’s also a Venetian court in the Fine Arts Building. Because of course there is.


Again, this is something I’ve walked past so many times and had absolutely no idea existed because the door that leads to the court is always closed. I just can’t even handle it.

Later, I went to the Randolph Tower City Apartments. This building is at Randolph & Wells, and I’ve been interested in it for quite some time. When I did my internship in Chicago two and a half years ago, I often rode the El past this building and watched the renovation work take place, so I was very excited to see the results.

The building was originally the Steuben Club Building, and though it was renovated to be a residential building, some of the original Steuben Club features remain, including the ballroom.


Why the renovators decided to turn the old ballroom into a fitness center is beyond me, but I’ve gotta say, it’s WAY nicer than the gym in my building!

My last stop of the day brought me to the Kemper Building. At 41 stories, the building is among the top 75 tallest buildings in the city of Chicago and features  the city’s first 360-degree public observation deck on the top floor. The observation deck was open from 1962-1972 but since has been closed to the public…until Open House Chicago. This weekend was only the second time in 40 years that the top floor was open, and you better believe I took advantage of that opportunity.


The views were just insane. I’ve never been to the Sears/Willis Tower or the John Hancock Building, so this was the first time I’ve ever seen the city like this, and I was not disappointed (even though the windows were a bit cloudy).


I felt like I could see forever, and it was just such a cool way to view the city I’ve called home for the past 16 months.


I honestly cannot recommend Open House Chicago enough. I truly believe it’s the coolest event in the city of Chicago, and if you are in town during Open House Chicago weekend, go go go go go. Go by yourself, go with friends: just GO. You can’t possibly regret it.

Have you ever been to Open House Chicago or something similar?

8 thoughts on “Open House Chicago

  1. I also had a lot of fun! I went to the big old houses in the Prairie District and some buildings down my street. It was so crazy to see the inside of the cool buildings I [used to] run past everyday!

  2. Pingback: Open House Chicago | accidental intentions

  3. Pingback: Thursday Things | accidental intentions

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