‘Open House Chicago’ grants entrance to exclusive spots


From the Saturday, Oct. 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

At some point you’ve strolled past an interesting building in Chicago and thought, “I really wish I could see what’s inside.”

Well, this weekend, you actually can.

Through Open House Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is offering today and Sunday a free, behind-the-scenes look at more than 150 of the greatest places and spaces in neighborhoods across the city.

The venues opening their doors include repurposed mansions, hidden rooms, sacred spaces, private clubs, iconic theaters, downtown offices, posh hotels and even a vintage Airstream trailer perched atop a roof on the North Side.

If you can make it up to Chicago, most buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day with the full list of sites available at openhousechicago.org. If you can’t make it up to Chicago, here are some of the venues open to the public that I find most intriguing.

Original Sears Tower

The Sears Tower that we all know may not be around any longer – by name, at least, since it’s now called Willis. But at 900 S. Homan Ave. in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, another Sears Tower still stands.

The original one.

Erected in 1906, this 14-story brick building was the centerpiece of the world’s largest commercial building and formerly broadcast WLS-AM radio from its 11th floor. Today, the tower’s ground floor is newly renovated as the structure is being transformed into a community center.

Blackstone Hotel

Built between 1908 and 1910, the 21-story Blackstone Hotel at 636 S. Michigan Ave. is named after Timothy Blackstone, who served as the founding president of the Union Stock Yards, president of the Chicago and Alton Railroad and mayor of the town of La Salle.

The luxurious hotel, which underwent a $128 million renovation in 2008, is most famous for hosting enough U.S. presidents that it was known as the “Hotel of Presidents’ for much of the 20th century.

Open to the public, the hotel’s presidential suite has welcomed 12 Commanders in Chief: Presidents Roosevelt (Theodore and Franklin), Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Carter.

Chicago Temple (First United Methodist Church)

A 568-foot skyscraper that was the tallest in the city from 1924 to 1930, the Chicago Temple building at 77 W. Washington St. is still the tallest church building in the world.

The city’s oldest congregation, the First United Methodist Church of Chicago, calls the Loop tower home. And open to the public is the “Sky Chapel,” an intimate space that offers seating for 30 worshipers and includes access to an outdoor patio beneath the church’s soaring steeple.

Foundation Room at the House of Blues

Located on the fourth floor of the House of Blues theater at 329 N. Dearborn St. near the Chicago River, the Foundation Room is an exclusive club with members that range from corporate CEOs to rock stars.

The highly eclectic space, complete with plush furniture, luxurious carpets and ornate décor, features three prayer rooms – Divinity, Buddha and Ganesh – devoted to a figure represented by a statue that’s the focal point of the space.

Sky-Line Club

Perched atop the Old Republic Building at 307 N. Michigan Ave., the Sky-Line Club is one of the oldest – and most fascinating – private membership facilities in Chicago.

Originally an ale house located in the Sussex region of southern England, the club was carefully dismantled, transported overseas and reconstructed almost 100 years ago at its current spot high atop one of Chicago’s early office high-rise buildings.

As one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the Sky-Line Club includes an open-air terrace with 360-degree views of downtown Chicago.

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