Open House Chicago

There are two October traditions I consider sacred:

  1. Running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on the Sunday before Columbus Day
  2. Traipsing around the city in pursuit of pretty buildings, historic buildings, and awesome rooftops the following weekend during Open House Chicago

Having finished the Chicago Marathon the weekend before this past weekend, it was obviously time for Open House! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is my favorite weekend of the whole year. Without further ado: a one(ish) sentence per site summary of my weekend!


Railway Exchange Building
I started Open House at the Railway Exchange Building this year, where I saw the offices of not one, not two, but three different architecture firms *dies* I only semi-secretly wish I were an architect, so going to offices of major firms and interacting with real life architects is amazing for me.

First, I visited SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill), which *flails wildly*


SOM is such a storied firm, especially in modern Chicago architecture. They’re responsible for small projects like the Hancock Building and the Sears Tower, so you might be familiar with their work. It is a LANDMARK firm in Chicago architecture history, in my opinion–right up there with Holabird & Roche, or Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Getting to see their office definitely necessitates more than one sentence šŸ˜› I attended Open House with a few friends, and I don’t think any of them quite grasped the significance of being in SOM’s office, but whatever.Ā IĀ thought it was an amazing opportunity.


The Railway Exchange building itself was also stunning, especially the interior atrium.

After SOM, I visited Stantec and Goettsch Partners. I…much preferred Stantec, mostly because IĀ muchĀ prefer their work, but it was still cool to see both offices and learn more about each firm.

An office building with a nice view from its top floor.


The National Building
Another building with multiple sites: WeWork (unpictured), and the Revival Food Hall, including its event space and outdoor deck on the sixth floor, which really could’ve used a tour guide to fill us in on the history of the space, because I will forever wonder about this fireplace and why it’s there.




Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Money Museum
The Fed had a beautiful grand hall, and at the Money Museum, I saw $2 million: once in the form of $20 bills and once in the form of $1 bills, both of which led me to think, “Surely this cash could be put to better use than just to show what $1 million physically looks like?” and also made me ponder how interesting it is that we assign value to pieces of papery fabric.




Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
This building has been on my bucket list for years, and it gets more than one sentence, too. I was interested both in the physical space itself and the history of Jane Addams’ work in Chicago, and the work of Hull House more broadly. Learning about all the services the organization provided for immigrants and their families was really interesting, and, per usual, I wish I had been alive 100 years earlier to see what it looked like during its heyday rather than just what’s left.



UIC, Richard J. Daley Library IDEA Commons
Another picture-free entry, this time for half of the first floor of UIC’s library that was recently-ish redesigned as a collaborative, flexible work space that I think I would’ve really liked for group projects in college, had I gone to UIC.

St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church
This church was originally built as a synagogue and has survived multiple fires to become the space it is today. I was super fascinated by this stop, mostly because I know absolutely nothing about Orthodox Christianity, and I loved talking to the guide and learning more about their services and traditions.




Brewster Building
I’ve been meaning to get to the Brewster Building during Open House for years and was SO excited to finally do so on Sunday. The building is fascinating for several reasons, but the main draw for Open House purposes is the interior atrium that replaces where you would expect hallways in any other similar building. All of the units open into this atrium, which was designed to help keep them cool during the summer. It also, unfortunately, basically functions as a gigantic chimney, so none of the windows to the atrium open anymore, nor does the glass at the top.



2650 N. Lakeview
I’m sure this is a nice enough condo building, but the real point of going here was for the 45th floor rooftop, which was everything you would expect a 45th floor rooftop facing Lincoln Park and the lake to be.



National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
This shrine is mostly hidden by a gigantic condo building these days, but the interior is certainly worth it once you find it. It memorializes St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who died at the location of the shrine and was the first United States citizen to be canonized.



Church of our Saviour
Church of our Saviour is an Episcopal church in Lincoln Park with a lot of interesting architectural features, including a bunch of terra cotta tiles throughout the interior…none of which are in this picture, naturally. Oops.


Cortelyou Commons
This stunning building on DePaul’s campus made me wish I had gone to DePaul for college.



DePaul University Holtschneider Performance Center
This is DePaul’s brand new music building (it literallyĀ smelledĀ new) and cow. I realize I was kind of roughing it in the music department at my alma mater–the music building I had was built in the 50s and hadn’t really been updated since, though they tore it down soon after I graduated and built a new structure–but this was truly incredible. I was particularly impressed by their jazz performance space. The student usher told us it was designed to absorb sound, since jazz tends to be so loud, and he wasn’t joking. When he turned his back to us, I could barely hear him talking, even though he was only feet away. It was amazing!


The Post Office
This was, hands down, the highlight of Open House for me. I became a member of the Chicago Architecture Center ahead of the announcement of this year’s Open House sites 1) so I’d have access to member-only locations and, more importantly, 2) because I believe in the work the CAC does. Best. Investment. Ever.

In case you’re not familiar with the Post Office, it was built in the 1920s and, at the time, was the largest building in the world. It was built, in part, due to the fact that both Sears Roebuck (… šŸ˜¦ ) and Montgomery Ward were headquartered in Chicago. Being mail-order businesses at that point in time, the city obviously needed a pretty substantial facility to handle all the shipping required, hence the gigantic post office. The building closed in the 90s and has gone through several failed proposals for adaptive reuse. Within the past couple of years, a viable proposal came through, and it’s currently being renovated into office space that will open next year. The public isn’t allowed in the building, but for Open House, members had access to the lobby, and you guys. ALL of the heart-eyed emojis.






It literally took my breath away. It is anĀ incredibleĀ space, and I felt like I passed through a time machine when I went through the doors. It was like being transported back to the 1930s. I couldn’t help but think about all the people who had been in that lobby, all the packages that had been shipped through that building (a bittersweet thing to think about, in retrospect, since Sears filed for bankruptcy the following day). This was definitely one of my all-time favorite Open House sites.

Wintrust’s Grand Banking Hall
Though this was a close second, and also made my membership more than worth it, because I got to skip the 30 minute line thanks to my Priority Access Pass.



111 West Jackson
I finished my Open Housing for the year at 111 W. Jackson and its two rooftop decks, one of which came with a delightful view of Ceres on her perch atop the Board of Trade and the Sears Tower.


6 thoughts on “Open House Chicago

  1. What an incredible experience, Bethany! What a wonderful yearly tradition. Are you a member of a society which alerts you to these events in the city? I have never heard of this before and I’ve lived in the state my entire life. lol.

  2. Pingback: Thursday Things | accidental intentions

  3. Ah, Cortelyou Commons. When I worked at DePaul I helped at or attended many events there. I also once set off the security alarm there when I couldn’t find the light switch in the women’s restroom. Oops!

  4. Pingback: Best of 2018 | accidental intentions

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