Open House Chicago

As I’ve said many times in the past, Open House Chicago is my favorite weekend in the city. Free access to buildings, history, and views? Don’t mind if I do. My biggest problem with Open House Chicago, historically, has been narrowing down my list of places I’d like to see to a reasonable number. After coming up with 55 (lulz) buildings I wanted to see this year, I whittled my short list down to 28, and, in all, made it to 18 of them! Get ready for a lot of pictures…

Aon Center
The Aon Center is the third-tallest building in Chicago (at the moment), and was far and away my top priority for Open House Chicago 2015. I got there right around 9 a.m. Saturday, and, after a short wait in line, headed up to the 71st floor.



The 71st floor of the Aon Center is used as a demo floor for potential tenants. The whole space is completely open, providing 360 degree views that, on a crystal clear day like Saturday, where absolutely stunning.


I’ve never gone to architecture firm offices during Open House Chicago, because quite frankly, I just…didn’t care. But when I saw Gensler on the list, I knew I had to go. Genlser’s offices are on the third floor of the Sullivan Center, which, until 2007, was the home of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co.’s flagship store. When I was a kid, we came to Chicago to go to Carson’s for mom. Every single trip to Chicago, without fail, began with a prolonged stop at Carson’s – in particular, on the third floor of Carson’s: the shoe and purse floor. I didn’t need anyone at Gensler to tell me the third floor was the shoe floor. I remember that just as clearly as I remember the eighth floor being the children’s floor (with the Tommy Hilfiger clothes next to the escalators, located in the middle of the building). I haven’t been in the Sullivan Center since Carson’s closed (I refuse to go to the Target in that building on principle), so the opportunity to go back–to go back to the third floor, no less–was extremely personal to me.


We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the office, which made me a bit sad because I wish I could show you the view from the third floor rotunda. Looking out those windows again almost made me cry with nostalgia. I remember looking out those windows as a kid, across State Street to Toys R Us (later Urban Outfitters, now Forever21), waiting for my mom to decide which shoes or which purse she wanted (an endless process, or so it felt) and being back in that space was so powerful.

Palmer House
This hotel is so opulent and beautiful. For Open House Chicago, you could visit the Red Lacquer Room.


I’m not entirely sure how they decided to name the place.

There’s a ton of history behind the Palmer House which I won’t go into here, but this hotel is really a sight to behold.


Holabird & Root (Marquette Building)
Though I’ve considered myself to be a Chicago architecture nerd for quite some time, over the past couple of months or so I’ve gotten more into it, to the point where I could name drop a fair number of prominent local architects and tell you a bit about their contributions to the city, because learning about these things is fun for me (I KNOW, I KNOW. This is like a flashing red neon nerd alert.). In addition to your Daniel Burnhams, your Louis Sullivans, your Mies Van der Rohes, one of the biggest architecture firms it the city throughout its entire history has been (what is now called) Holabird & Root. (It’s had several names in its 135 years, but Holabird & Root is where we are now). To the firm’s credit: the Chicago Board of Trade, the Palmer House, the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, Soldier Field…and that just barely scrapes the surface. This firm made an enormous contribution to Chicago, and to see their offices was amazing.


The offices are located in the Marquette Building, which the firm (of course) designed many, many years ago. While it’s dwarfed by everything else in the Loop today, at the time it was considered a skyscraper. The mosaics in the lobby are simply stunning.

Sky-Line Club
One of the sites I missed last year, the Sky-Line Club is located in the Old Republic Building on Michigan Ave. This private club features gorgeous views from its terrace…


…and an ale house, shipped over from England and reassembled in the club. Crazy, huh?


Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist
Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist was designed by Harry Weese, whose work you may know if you’ve taken public transportation in Washington, D.C., as he’s the guy who came up with the design for the Metro. You may also be familiar with his work at the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, as its auditorium was apparently featured in Divergent. Being firmly anti-Divergent, I can’t tell you much about this, but the scene where Kate Winslet is talking to everyone before they take their test? It was filmed in the auditorium.


The Virgin Hotel
The Virgin Hotel is one in a string of hotels that have opened or will soon open in repurposed buildings downtown, this, in particular, being in an old bank. It also has an outdoor terrace with terrible views.


I don’t really know how I’d describe the Virgin brand–excessively sensual, maybe? But you know how you just know what the Virgin brand entails? I’d say the hotel fit that branding perfectly, from what I saw of it.


First United Methodist Church (Sky Chapel)
I had actually been to this church when I did my internship a lifetime ago. Located in the heart of the Loop, the church is part worship space, part office building, and at its top it holds the Sky Chapel: the highest church above street level in the world at 400 feet above Washington.


A few staircases down from the chapel itself is an outdoor patio, giving me my fifth opportunity of the day to take in the city from hundreds of feet in the air.


Can’t stop won’t stop.

House of Blues (Foundation Room)
The House of Blues has been on my to-see list every single year, and every single year I’ve opted out of viewing it to stop somewhere else instead. Not this year! I finally made it to the Foundation Room and smokes.


Never in my life have I seen anything so…decorated? We’re talking fabric on the walls here, people. May no surface go unadorned.

Oriental Theatre
I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time in the Oriental Theatre, having seen RENT and Newsies there, and, perhaps more significantly, spending eight hours of my life I’ll never get back in the auditorium while auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance in 2014 (true life. I didn’t make it past the pre-pre auditions, in case you wondered.) Despite having a fairly good grasp on what this place looks like, it’s still absolutely gorgeous, and I hardly minded seeing it again.


Chicago Cultural Center
I’ve been here many times as well, but can you possibly visit the Cultural Center too many times?


I think not 🙂

Old Chicago Inn
A three-flat turned into a bed and breakfast with a speakeasy-themed club in the basement. Obviously. You actually had to have a password to get in, which I thought was fun.


Atheneum Theater
I’ve seen a couple of shows here in the past, but it was really cool to just explore the building. The guy in the front specifically said the entire building was open and I was free to walk around, so obviously I did just that.


St. Alphonsus Catholic Church
After the Aon Center, St. Alphonsus was my other main priority for Open House Chicago. St. Alphonsus is ENORMOUS, and I’ve always wondered what it looked like on the inside. This weekend, I got to find out.


My gosh. It was one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever been inside. I asked my mom if she would disown me for becoming Catholic for the exclusive purpose of attending St. Alphonsus every Sunday 😛

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
I couldn’t take many pictures here because they were having mass when I arrived (at like 2:00 in the afternoon! I didn’t realize anyone had mass at that time). But a really cool fact about this church: right now, it’s on the corner of Ashland and Leland, with its front facing Leland. When the church was built, it was built on the other side of Ashland. The city decided to widen Ashland, and instead of tearing down the church and rebuilding it, the congregation lifted the ENTIRE church off its foundation–and trust me, this is no country church–moved it across Ashland, rotated it 90 degrees (it had been facing west. Now it faces north), split the church down the middle, and added something like 30 feet in length to the middle. Oh, and by the way, this all happened in the 1910s. Insane!


I couldn’t get into the church, but I was allowed to see the grotto.


American Indian Center
I first saw the American Indian Center two years ago while warming up for Ravenswood and was so curious about it, and since Our Lady of Lourdes is only a couple blocks away, I definitely checked it out. It serves as a community center for native people of all of the North America, including Canada and Mexico, and also welcomes non-native community members as well. The complex is surprisingly large and has a lot of gorgeous artwork throughout, and an indoor archery range!


1807 W. Sunnyside (The Airstream)
If you take the Brown Line north of Montrose, you may notice an Airstream just casually chilling on top of a building. Kind of a weird thing, but the architect who renovated the building in 1989 wanted to add a “whimsical element” to it, and, well, here we are.


Ravenswood Event Center
If you take the Brown Line to Irving Park, you may notice a large glass wall on the buildings along Ravenswood just a tiny bit north of Irving Park itself. This space used to be used by an advertising company that made billboard artwork, but since then has been renovated into an event space. An event space that has zillion dollar cars hanging out along its perimeter.


Don’t mind the 1960s Maserati. Ain’t no thang.


There are three floors in this event space, and I have now decided where I would like to host my (extremely hypothetical) wedding reception. You can all keep your non-CTA friendly Lacuna Lofts in Bridgeport. I’ll be up here in Ravenswood taking photos in my wedding dress with vintage Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes, etc.

And that’s that! As always, it was an awesome weekend, and I can never recommend this enough. I’m headed to Seattle tomorrow for a few days, so you likely won’t hear from me until I get back, but hopefully this is long enough to hold you over until next week 😉

7 thoughts on “Open House Chicago

  1. Love this! I did not get to go to nearly as many locations as I wanted to but I loved all the ones I visited. I posted a recap like this one on my blog yesterday! 🙂

  2. Fabulous! You got to experience such a diversity of neighborhoods! I pretty much stuck to downtown due to the close proximity of so many sites there. However, I was dying to get to the Ukrainian Village for some of the churches, etc. I have pretty much the exact same pictures as you do for the Skyline Club and AON building. My favorite this year was the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. It is the boys club of all boys clubs!

    • I was *thisclose* to going out to Ukrainian Village this year, but I ended up staying downtown for the same reasons as you said – it’s so easy to hit up a lot of places downtown! I’m SUPER bummed I missed the Chicago Athletic Association! I really wanted to see it, but the wait seemed sooooooo long when I got there that I bailed. Sigh. Hopefully next year!

  3. Pingback: What’s Next | accidental intentions

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