I look forward to Open House Chicago weekend every year. Ever since stumbling upon it in 2012, I’ve made a point of attending, and generally try to attend both days. While I’ve gone in with a strict itinerary in the past, I decided to be more flexible about my Open House schedule this year. Unfortunately, that led to the poorest Open House experience I’ve had to date. Multiple sites I wanted to see were closed when I tried to visit them. I spent more time feeling frustrated and disappointed over Open House this year than I did enjoying it, which was a real bummer.
Regardless, here are the sites I did manage to see during Open House Chicago 2019.
St. Ignatius College Prep
I’ve wondered about the interior of St. Igantius every time I’ve passed it, so this was my top priority for Open House this year. It. Was. Insane. I cannot imagine going to high school (or any school, for that matter) in a building like this. The tour was a bit rushed and too crowded (a group of 14 arrived right after I got there, which bloated our tour groups. I think it would’ve been a much more pleasant tour with fewer people.), but we still got to see a ton of the school. I was particularly fond of all the architectural artifacts and the timeline gallery, which featured pictures of St. Ignatius and the surrounding area from its founding 150 years ago to the present day. There were two pictures taken at Blue Island and Racine–one in the 1950s, one in the 1960s–that were particularly striking. The neighborhood and built environment changed enormously in that time period, and both of them were really fascinating to see, especially in light of how the area looks now.
Chicago Children’s Theatre’s The Station
The Chicago Children’s Theatre, located at Racine and Monroe, is housed in a police station that closed in 2012. We got a tour from a woman who works for the architecture firm (Wheeler Kearns Architects) that handled the 2017 renovations that transformed the building into the Chicago Children’s Theatre, and it was really fascinating. Despite obviously needing to redo the space to change it from a police station to a building meant for child-friendly shows, the renovations managed to keep many of the original details from the 1930s design (thought 1940s construction – the design was finished pre-WWII, but construction wasn’t able to happen until after the war ended). It was a really interesting and informative tour.
150 N. Riverside
I make a point of avoiding repeat Open House sites (or avoiding sites I’ve previously visited during non-Open House times, which is why I didn’t visit the Nederlander Theatre, for example), so I didn’t originally plan to see 150 N. Riverside, as I went there in 2017. It made sense based on my route, though, and I’m glad I went! Instead of taking visitors up to an empty floor, this year we went down to the lower level conference room, which is only a few feet above the Chicago River. While there are ample opportunities to see the Chicago River from high up, it’s not often that you get that close to the river, particularly inside a building. It was fun to get a different perspective for a change.
Design Museum of Chicago
In honor of 2019 being the Year of Chicago Theatre, the Design Museum featured an exhibit with objects (costumes, props, set designs, etc.) from what had to have been every (or nearly every) theatre company in Chicago, from college programs all the way up through Steppenwolf, Second City, and Broadway in Chicago. It was really cool!
This was easily one of the highlights of Open House. The 11th floor tenant space was open, and boy, it was enough to make me want to slide my resume under the door of every office in the Prudential complex. My office downtown has a nice rooftop tenant space, but it is nothing compared to what they have at Prudential. The indoor area was beautiful, and the rooftop itself was out of control. The landscaping was lovely, the views were amazing, and the beautiful Saturday weather made me want to stay there all day.
Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects
I didn’t plan to see any architecture firms this year, but since I was already in the Prudential complex, I figured I may as well swing up to their office. They moved into the Prudential Plaza in April, so obviously the office was super fancy and modern. I’m used to getting tours at architecture firms, but we were allowed to just wander around at Sheehan Nagle Hartray. That meant I didn’t learn as much about buildings they’ve designed as I expected, but it was still fun to see their space.
Vista Sales Gallery
This was another highlight of Open House for me. The Vista towers are still under construction, but when it opens, those with substantially more money than I have will move into condos taking up most of the building. The sales gallery showed the available floor plans and finishes, which, since the condos start at about $1 million, were a bit nicer than what I currently have in my apartment (but I have more square footage and an additional bedroom for a lot less, so *shrug emoji*). Short of winning the lottery, I’ll never be able to afford living in a place like Vista, so it was fun to ogle at the kitchen and bathroom fixtures the one percent will have.
465 N. Park
The tenant space on the sixth floor of this brand-new apartment building was open for coveting during Open House. The indoor portion of the tenant space was lovely, but of course the rooftop was, once again, out of control, with private grilling areas, a pool, cabanas, and great views. After a long day of walking around the city, I actually hung out here for a bit, relaxing on one of the chaises by the pool before heading out to meet up with friends for dinner.
Elks National Memorial
The Elks National Memorial is one of the Open House staples, but I had never managed to make it there. I went Sunday, and it didn’t disappoint. Built initially to honor Elks members who died during WWI, the memorial now commemorates the lives of Elks who’ve died in subsequent wars as well and is a truly stunning building. The rotunda is amazing, but the Grand Reception Hall really surprised me. It reminded me of rooms I saw in the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, which is about as high of a compliment as a building in the U.S. can hope to get from me.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
I’ve been to the Lincoln Park Conservatory once before, but I went during Open House 1) because I was in the area and 2) because they were doing behind-the-scenes tours. We got to go into staff-only areas where we saw the administrative office, which is in the cottage that used to serve as housing for the conservatory’s caretaker. We also saw the former horse stables and greenhouses full of poinsettias the conservatory is growing for its and Garfield Park Conservatory’s holiday shows.
St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church
I didn’t plan to go to St. Chrysostom’s, but I stumbled upon it on Sunday and decided to check it out. It was a really beautiful building that made me miss going to church in a real church (as opposed to in another church’s basement, which has been my church’s setup for the past year and a half). The organist was playing (another thing I miss), and I enjoyed looking around and seeing a church unlike most of the churches I tend to visit during Open House.