Last Updated on May 21, 2020 by JaimeSays
My absolute favorite weekend of the year is fast approaching! It’s Open House Chicago, October 19-20! Open House Chicago is the one weekend of the year where over two hundred architecturally significant sites open their doors to the public. Can you imagine anything better?
After missing Open House Chicago 2017 for a wedding in New Orleans–one in which I still haven’t received a thank you card after spending $1200+ combined between expenses and gifts for the bride––I am delighted that I will be in town for Open House Chicago this year! While it is in its eighth year, I only discovered the event five years ago. The first year, I was able to visit 23 different places…and then promptly collapsed until Monday morning. Each year, I try to map out my schedule ahead of time to maximize the number of sites I can see. Since many of the sites I featured are still active, I’m including them at the end of this post. But for 2019, I will gladly give you my recommendations for my 15 Open House Chicago must-see sites.
A Quick Run Down of Open House Chicago Must-See Sites
What: An Open House of Private and Public Spaces
Who: Anyone in Chicago!
Where: All over Chicago, but I focus on Beverly/Morgan Park, Uptown, Rodgers Park, the Southwest Side, and the Gold Coast.
How Much: Free! Goose Egg! Nada! $0!
When: October 13-14, 2018––9AM-5PM both days
Planning to have a midday nosh? Consider BYOB with these corkage fees in Chicago.
Now, this is my formula to successfully conquer Open House Chicago: I plan to go both days from opening hours until just about closing. I typically ride my bike and bring a backpack full of protein rich snacks, a book, and water. If you are more of a casual participant, visiting 15 sites may be a little ambitious for one day. It should be very manageable over the course of the weekend. Remember these tips:
- Go early to sites you expect will be big draws like any Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and the Aon Center. While these sites may be open at 8 AM, I’d consider getting in line at 7:30AM. Two years ago, Eddie and I waited in line for 90 minutes to tour the Studio Gang offices. I had a book and he listened to music. Although the wait was long, it was definitely worth it!
- Access to these places are 100% free. It won’t cost you a dime, but some places require reservations.
- Chicago Architecture Foundation members get fast pass access to the sites. There is usually a discount to join CAF during Open House Chicago so if you are considering a membership, this weekend is a good weekend to buy.
- Many places are open the whole weekend, but some are only open Saturday or Sunday. Check the schedule to make sure you don’t miss out on one of your preferred locations.
I took a walking tour of Beverly this past summer with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Holy moly. I did not know that there was such a ritzy, historically significant, nearly suburban neighborhood atop a hill on the South Side. Even if you don’t hit all of the spots I recommend, just a walk North on Longwood Avenue will give you a view of some incredible homes.
-Did you know Chicago has a castle? Not the current location of Tao, but instead the Givins Castle. We don’t know who built this 1886-7 beauty, but we do know it was a gift from Robert Givins to his wife.
-Beverly lays claim to the highest elevation point in Chicago. Annexed into the city in 1890, Beverly brought with it a 672 foot above sea level elevation point. This spot, the Blue Island Ridge, is also home to the Ridge Historical Society. This group is responsible for preservation of the Beverly Hills, Morgan Park, Washington Heights and Mount Greenwood communities.
-Did you know that Chicago has a meadery and honey winery? Me neither! If I were to guess, there may be free samples available during Open House Chicago 2018.
-Who wants to walk inside a private home built in 1874? This is one of my favorite parts of Open House Chicago!
-Anyone who has stepped inside a private school knows that sometimes these places often have some incredible interiors. Without being a student or going on a tour, it’s nearly impossible to get inside. Take a peak at Morgan Park Academy’s Alumni Hall.
Uptown/Rodgers Park/West Ridge
-Do you remember the big brouhaha about the seven Chicago Public School closures of 2013? Well one of those schools, Graeme Stewart Elementary, was converted into loft apartments. With elements of the school on full display, Stewart School Apartments is one I’m especially looking forward to exploring.
-Anyone who drives north on Lake Shore Drive up to Sheridan has seen the beautiful stone mansion on the lake, right before Loyola University. Take a tour of this building, Loyola’s Piper Hall, on Saturday only.
–Working Bikes is a shop that refurbishes and sells old bikes. It also has created pedal powered Rube Goldberg machines at its Pilsen warehouse.
-Have you noticed a brand new glass building right along the Dan Ryan? X Chicago‘s brand new apartment building allows you to rent a dedicated room in a building for 9 months at a time, perfect for UIC students. I’m intrigued to see this dorm-style apartment building.
-In an attempt to avoid highway traffic, I’ve been taking Ogden Avenue home after work, all the way from Downers Grove. In the past few months, I’ve noticed this giant greenhouse on the corner of Ogden and Central Park. It’s Farm on Ogden, and I’m looking forward to a chance to explore it at Open House Chicago 2018!
-Year round, the Driehaus Museum is open to the public for a fee. With the latest 1893 Chicago’s World Fair exhibit opening just this month September, it’s a great time to visit.
-Originally built in 1901, Bush Temple was renovated in 2017 for micro apartment rentals. I don’t think I’ve seen a boxing ring in an apartment building before, so I’m looking forward to it.
Of course you could visit an observation deck too! Check out who wins in the battle of 360 Chicago vs Chicago Skydeck.
Head to the bottom of the page for a copy of the map I’ve made for all of the sites listed for 2018 and 2017!
Other Favorites from Years Past:
Logan Square and Avondale
I am recommending anything in these neighborhoods because it is the first year they are appearing in Open House Chicago.
-If you haven’t been to a wedding at Stan Mansion (2408 N. Kedzie), you probably will never have an opportunity to check this venue out. The building is equally beautiful inside and out.
–L-Logan Square (2211 N. Milwaukee) is a modern apartment building with a decommissioned “L” car as part of the patio space. I love checking out apartment buildings that I normally would never have access to, but am especially curious to see what a clean “L” car looks like.
–Metropolis Coffee Corporate HQ and Roastery (3057 N. Rockwell). I’ve never been to a coffee HQ. When I was in Seattle a few years ago, I didn’t even bother to check out Starbucks because, personally, I don’t like their coffee. Metropolis, on the other hand, is velvety and never bitter. I’d be interested in seeing their operation for nothing other than a curiosity at the operation. I have to believe that you will be rewarded with a sample of coffee or the opportunity to purchase coffee
Downtown and River Views
High rises along the river all have beautiful views, but you don’t need to spend your time bouncing from one building to the next as the views aren’t much different from one building over. I recommend a plan to see one building on the south side of the river, one building on the west side of the river, one or two east of Michigan Avenue, and one near the point of convergence of the river branches. Pick a place where the industry of the office interests you. More than not, employees of the office you visit give informal tours of the office and explain about their processes.
–231 S. LaSalle Wintrust Bank Building not only has impressive Neoclassic and Gothic pillars inside, but a recently opened rooftop that has lovely views of the loop and the Board of Trade. The basement has giant bank vault doors so that top to bottom, this building has various points of interest.
–300 E. Randolph (BCBS of Illinois) This building is so interesting because while it was originally built in 1997, a 24-story addition was seamlessly added in 2010. You’ll get access to the 30th floor where you can learn about the construction and engineering of the addition, plus get stunning views of Millennium Park. (P.S. The line at the Aon Center next door is usually longer and the views are nearly the same.)
–Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture at 111 W. Monroe, Suite 2300, is an architecture firm located on the rooftop of an old bank building. With two rooftop courtyards and architecture models on display, it’s a neat place to learn about what the firm is working on and what designs may never have made it to completion.
–Capital One has one of the most interesting interiors of any office I’ve seen. Located on the 22nd floor of 77 West Wacker, the creativity in the office is not what I would expect from a financial giant.
–GEMS World Academy at 350 E. South Water Street is a multicolored muse in the River East neighborhood. Ever wanted to see what a $32,000 kindergarten education could get you? Check out this elite institution for the ultra-privileged.
– Holabird & Root is the 136 year old architecture darling of Chicago that recently moved its headquarters to 140 South Dearborn, a building that it built 111 years prior. Without Holabird & Roche, the architecture firm’s original name, there would be far fewer Open House Chicago must-see sites. This mecca of sorts, is the convergence of history, Chicago, and architecture, and is a can’t miss in my book.
–Optima Signature at 220 E. Illinois is a brand new, luxury apartment building. Check out what $2000/month can get you with the gold standard of luxury apartment rentals. I love getting access to places I’d never have an opportunity to see otherwise, which is why private buildings are always number one on my Open House Chicago must-see sites.
Bridgeport/Back of the Yards
–The Plant (1400 W 46th Street) is a 93,500 square foot former meat-packing facility that today serves as a vertical farm and food business incubator. You’ll see hydroponic and aquaponic gardening and get a peek at the future of urban food production.
–Stockyards Brick (4150 S. Packers Ave) at the former Union Stockyards provides reclaimed building material to new construction sites across the country. Brick, timber, stone, terracotta, and architectural artifacts, they’ve got them all. The tour includes a visit to the manager’s office where the most treasured and interesting items are located.
–Zap Props (3611 S Loomis Pl.) is a prop warehouse full of hundreds of thousands of items used in restaurants, holiday festivals, tv, and film.
–Kenar Studio (1007 N. Wolcott) was my favorite site visited last year. A stalwart of the Chicago art community, Jerzy Kenar appears to live and work in this massive compound on one of the lovelier blocks of the entire city. When we visited last year, the artist was there to answer questions and talk to us about what other pieces he envisioned moving forward.
–mHUB (965 W. Chicago Ave) is a product design, development, and manufacturing incubator in a 63,000 square-foot, state of the art facility.
–Studio Gang Architects (Polish National Alliance, 1520 W. Division) Jeannie Gang is changing the Chicago cityscape. See all the ways she is building the face of Chicago and the nation while one of her employees gives you a tour of HQ. Totally awesome and definitely an Open House Chicago must-see site.
I hope you are around the second weekend of October so that you can enjoy the Open House Chicago must-see sites I’ve listed. If you aren’t around, don’t forget that there is plenty to see in Chicago in the autumn. Now, if you are thinking this schedule is too much to remember or plan out, I’ve made a map of these sites, just for you! You can open it on your phone or print it out and plan your route for the weekend. This way, you can easily access my 15 Open House Chicago must-see sites.
Do you have any sites that are your favorite to visit over Open House Chicago? Let me know in the comments below.
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