As the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is home to stunning skyline views and unusual vantage points. There’s no better weekend to explore the city’s dynamic architectural heritage behind-the-scenes than Open House Chicago, an annual celebration of Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities is hosted by the Chicago Architecture Center.
The free event drew thousands of Chicagoans and visitors to 30 neighborhoods and two suburbs on October 13 and 14. This year, the neighborhoods of Beverly, Morgan Park, and Austin joined the program, as the eighth annual festival featured 250 sites including private homes, design studios, industrial facilities and sacred spaces.
We discovered incredible new views and toured historically significant spaces across the city. Check out some of our favorite Chicago cultural finds, from a Hollywood set to the birthplace of Gospel music.
Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart
This all-girls Catholic school on a leafy Wicker Park street is hiding all sorts of Mid-century cool. While Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart has had roots here since 1890, the current building was designed by Michael Gaul and constructed in 1960. Modernist highlights inside include floor-to-ceiling block glass in the cafeteria and gymnasium and a light-filled library featuring patterns created by a geometric concrete screen. Stylish touches like these put your high school to shame.
Old Chicago Main Post Office
After watching this behemoth sit empty for two decades, Chicagoans couldn’t wait to get inside. The former main branch of the Chicago Post Office is slated for a $600 million transformation into 2.8 million-sq.-ft. of office space, making it the largest adaptive reuse project in the country. Restoration of this Art Deco icon began with the lobby, which features decorative references to the postal service in sumptuous white marble, brass and gold glass mosaics. The space will soon include Walgreens corporate offices, a food hall, rooftop terrace and river walk, but you may recognize the lobby from its appearance in The Dark Knight.
151 North Franklin
One of the Loop’s newest towers offered visitors dazzling views from its 35-floor sky garden. The playful space is just one respite for office workers in this sleek building—Chicago architect John Ronan designed 151 North Franklin to feature collaborative spaces and lots of light throughout. The second-floor terrace provides another outdoor sanctuary, complete with a light installation that changes based on weather patterns, and a mesmerizing reflection of the nearby Randolph City Tower Apartments.
First Church of Deliverance
Just when you thought you knew church architecture, you encounter Chicago’s only Streamline Moderne church. First Church of Deliverance was built in 1939 by the first licensed African American architect in Illinois, Walter T. Bailey. The Bronzeville church is known worldwide for its 80-year-old gospel broadcast, the longest such continuous program. Inside, the familiar sounds of gospel are greeted by a distinctive lime green interior accented by curved surfaces, glass block windows, Fred Jones murals and a multi-colored illuminated cross.
300 East Randolph
One of the weekend’s most jaw dropping views is typically reserved for tenants of 300 East Randolph Street. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Tower opened its 30th floor event space to Open House Chicago, delivering enviable views of Millennium Park, Lake Michigan and Lakeshore East. Even more unique is the story of the tower’s construction: the first 30 stories were completed in 1997, and 24 more were seamlessly added on top in a second construction phase from 2007-2011.
WGN Flag & Decorating Co.
You’ve admired the Bulls and Blackhawks banners hanging proudly in the United Center, but how did they get there? You have one family and this Neo-Baroque building to thank. Since 1916, WGN Flag & Decorating Co. has been creating flags, banners and bunting for Chicago and beyond. WGN decorated the Marshall Field’s exterior for V-Day and dressed the city streets in flags when Queen Elizabeth visited Chicago in 1959. Visiting the workshop behind the scenes allows you to see Chicago history in the making.
How often do you get to visit a fortress-like mansion? The Glessner House’s design was a bit radical when it was built in 1887, but the South Loop structure is now recognized as one of Chicago’s most iconic residences. Architect H. H. Richardson’s last surviving work in Chicago was nearly demolished, but In 1966, it was saved from the wrecking ball and converted into a museum. Admire the numerous arts and crafts furnishings inside, and imagine how the other half lived in Chicago’s early days.
Windsor Beach Apartments
If you’ve never been invited to a private beach, this is your chance. Residents of the Windsor Beach Apartments boast their own beach, and every unit has a view of Lake Michigan. The 13-story South Shore building was constructed in 1928 with Italian design touches like terracotta, patterned brickwork and a loggia. While there’s no central air, residents say that falling asleep to the lake breeze makes up for it.
Solstice on the Park
Hometown architect Jeanne Gang’s newest building is more than just a pretty face. The 26-story apartment building is named Solstice on the Park for the slanting windows on its southern wall. On the day of the summer solstice, the 72-degree slant of said windows will match that of the sun’s rays. The angled windows will minimize bright light in the summer and increase it in the winter. Solstice’s perch in the heart of Hyde Park is the perfect place to soak in views of Lake Michigan, the skyline and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church (1899)
Standing in the choir loft at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist church recalls not only the decades of gospel music that have filled the space, but the birthplace of gospel itself. Constructed by Dankmar Adler in 1899 as a synagogue, it was purchased by Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in 1921. A decade later, musician Thomas Dorsey and director Theodore Frye founded the first known gospel choir. Ebenezer’s barrel-vaulted auditorium and original stained-glass windows have resounded with celebrated musical performances and visiting dignitaries, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.