6 Secret, Private and Otherwise Noteworthy Buildings to See During Open House Chicago
This year, take a look inside the city's coolest private spaces, including a bank vault and a basilica
Mark the calendar and start building your itineraries for Saturday October 19 and Sunday October 20: Open House Chicago — aka a literal key to the city’s coolest and most confidential spaces — is returning for its ninth edition.
You might start the day atop a skyscraper, then travel into a bank vault, stopping in churches, apartments and libraries along the way. (Did you know that Chicago has its very own national Basilica? It’s like you’ve been transported to Europe without leaving Garfield Park.)
From Wilmette to Morgan Park, hundreds of Chicago structures are opening their doors and letting guests peek inside. If you’ve participated in years past and think you’ve seen it all, think again. Among the roster of 350+ venues, you’ll find more than 130 new additions for 2019.
Most locations are free, but there are a few RSVP-only locations that cost $6 a person. With under two weeks to go, a good portion are fully booked, but a couple remain available and can be viewed here.
And one final logistical tip: more than 100,000 people participated last year, so assume that some sites will have lines. But since priority access is given to Chicago Architecture Center members, If you hate waiting, consider purchasing a membership to the Chicago Architecture Center, which gets you priority access.
Below, our picks for the stops you shouldn’t miss.
Coolest Office: Goettsch Partners
224 S. Michigan Ave., 17th Floor
Ever seen Grant Park through 17th-floor porthole windows? Didn’t think so. Architecture firm Goettsch Partners is on the top floor of the historic Railway Exchange Building. Built in 1904 by D.H. Burnham & Co., it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t forget to look up — there’s an incredible lightwell to gawk at as well.
Best Chance to Feel Like an Insider: Cliff Dwellers Club
200 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 2000
Fine and performing artists have belonged to Chicago’s private-membership Cliff Dwellers Club since 1907. Still an operational clubhouse today (with around 400 members) the location aptly looks out at the Art Institute. Enjoy a drink at the full bar and gather decor ideas for your study.
Most Interesting Place You’ve Seen But Never Noticed: International Museum of Surgical Science
1524 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60610
You might’ve glanced at this building heading southbound on LSD. Turns out it’s got quite a story. Previously the home of Eleanor Robinson Countiss, it was designed to imitate Marie Antoinette’s Le Petit Trianon, the famed chateau on the grounds of Versailles. Now it’s home to the International Museum of Surgical Science, allegedly North America’s only museum devoted to the field of surgery. Haven’t you always wanted to see what old X-ray machines looked like? This location is part of the Historic Homes sub-category, and we’ve got to say, the category as a whole includes some pretty wild spots.
Middle-School-Field-Trippiest: McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum
376 N. Michigan Ave. NW corner of Michigan & Wacker, Riverwalk Level
You might forget that Chicago’s bridges are operational, and in this tour you’ll get to see how massive gears open and close the DuSable. It’s a tight squeeze in the five-story 1,400-square-foot quarters, built in 1920, but it’s a view of the city you’ve probably never seen.
Best Gift Bag: Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624
According to CAC, when it opened in 1908, the Garfield Park Conservatory was the largest greenhouse in the world. Tours will have access to the entire place, including their new Cabbage Patch installation. Attendees can actually harvest, and take home, their own cabbage. I repeat, free cabbage!
Best in Show: Bahá’í House of Worship
100 Linden Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091
Photos usually aren’t permitted in the towering Bahá’í House of Worship, but OHC visitors can snap away. Built over four decades, the Wilmette structure was the first temple for the Bahá’í religion in the Western Hemisphere. Intricate, sweeping and tranquil, this is a must-see in the area (honestly, probably in the Midwest at large). It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and worth the trip to the north burbs.