Inside Chicago’s Stunning Architecture

Order of Elks domed rotunda ceiling in Chicago

When Chicagoist was abruptly closed this month, there was no time to reflect or post a final goodbye to the outlet I’ve contributed to for the past five years. It’s fitting that my last piece for Chicagoist was covering my favorite event in the city, Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago is a free architecture festival hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. For two days, over 200 architectural sites open to the public to explore. Many of these spaces are private and not normally accessible. It’s a wonderful opportunity to peek into hidden buildings in your neighborhood or check out unfamiliar territory across town.

This year’s weather was downright nasty, but that didn’t put a damper on attendees eager to gain access to Chicago’s secret spaces.

Read: Our Massive Gallery Of Jaw-Dropping Views & Architecture From Open House Chicago

Dog wearing raincoat and rain boots in Chicago
Attendees were ready to tackle Open House Chicago, rain or shine.

Elks National Memorial

The weekend began with a few sites that have been on my Open House bucket list for years. Perched on the edge of Lincoln Park, the Order of Elks memorial and headquarters is an intriguing space. The elaborate domed rotunda feels like it could be in a state capitol and the dining room is featured in the film Richie Rich!Order of Elks dining room ceiling in Chicago

Brewster Building

Around the corner, the Brewster Building is one of the city’s most distinctive residential spaces. Built in 1893, the building features a central atrium with glass-block walkways and one of Chicago’s only remaining manually operated elevators. It’s rumored that Charlie Chaplin spent time here during his brief stint 1915 in Chicago.

Interior of the Brewster Building in Chicago
Look familiar? The Brewster has had a supporting role in Child’s Play and Running Scared.

2650 North Lakeview

This 1973 residential building stands 42-stories above Lincoln Park, offering great views of the neighborhood and skyline.

View of Chicago from 2650 North Lakeview
A winning view, even on a rainy day.

Lawrence House

This former SRO was restored to its Jazz Age glory, with many original 1925 features appearing throughout. During its renovation into upscale Uptown apartments, workers uncovered an original mosaic-tiled pool.

An original mosaic-tiled pool was uncovered at the Lawrence House in Chicago
This pool was crammed with storage debris for decades.

Buddhist Temple of Chicago

The temple was founded in 1944, but this unique structure was constructed in 2006. The six-sided temple was built with the same shape and proportions as Kyoto’s Rokkakudo Temple. A small room called the Nokotsudo stores cremated remains for days or even decades, depending on the family’s wishes.Altar at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago

5040-5060 North Marine Drive Condominiums

Built in 1939, the Marine Drive Condominiums are dripping in Art Moderne. The Art Deco fountain may not be original, but one can only imagine the summer soirees that congregate around it.Art Deco delight at 5040-5060 North Marine Drive Condominiums in Chicago

The Lytle House

After spending decades as an auto repair shop, this structure was renovated and reopened in 2017 as an Edgewater events space. The Lytle House’s colorful courtyard is hidden behind a metal wall. Interior detail at the Lytle House in Chicago

Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Croatian Catholic Mission

Originally built for immigrants from Luxembourg and Germany in 1906, this church has served the Croatian community for decades. It’s named for Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Croatian Catholic Mission in Chicago

Edgewater Beach Apartments

Almost a century after it was built in 1928, the “Pink Palace” still stands out on Lake Michigan’s shore. The Edgewater Beach Apartments are the only surviving part of a colorful hotel complex. While its cheery exterior is instantly recognizable, views of the building’s Beaux-Arts pool is typically reserved for residents.Beaux-Arts pool at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Apartments

Kenar Studio

Jerzy S. Kenar may be best known for Shit Fountain, but much of his work deals with religious and political themes.  It was a treat to explore the artist’s Wonderland-like Ukrainian Village studio and experience his interactive sound-and painting installations.Inside Kenar Studio in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood

VCNA Prairie Material

One of my favorite sites of the weekend got to the source of the Chicago architecture we love. Yard #32 has created concrete for some of the city’s most famous buildings for over 60 years. The visit was a fascinating peek into the operation, from underneath its silos to the heights of the control room.

150 North Riverside

We saw VCNA Prairie Metal’s concrete in action at our next stop, a brand new skyscraper along the Chicago River. Attendees got to explore the unoccupied 26th floor of 150 North Riverside and admire its show-stopping views.

111 West Jackson

This office building delivers unbeatable views from its 25-floor rooftop deck. The space includes Gentleman’s Cooperative, a swanky men’s lounge.

Up close to Harry Weese’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.

231 S. LaSalle

What’s a Roaring Twenties bank without a basement vault? The Wintrust Bank Building was built as the Continental Illinois Bank Building in 1924. Back in 1883, a hotel stood on this site where the continental United States was divided into four standard time zones.

Inland Steel Building

Three architecture firms invited attendees inside the Inland Steel Building. The iconic Skidmore, Owings & Merrill structure was the first skyscraper built in the Loop after the Great Depression.

St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church

Unless you look up, you might miss the massive stone crucifix in the Loop or even realize you’re passing a church. St. Peter’s abuts the sidewalk and manages to blend in with its surroundings. The church may not have windows, due to buildings on both sides, but it does have an enviable Art Deco design.St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Chicago

Open House Chicago is a love letter to the form and function of the city. I’m happy to send off Chicagoist readers with these photos – thanks for reading along over the years.

Attendees in dinosaur costumes admire Chicago architecture during Open House Chicago
Open House Chicago is a celebration for architecture fans of all kinds.

For Further Exploration:
Step Inside Chicago’s Historic Architecture
Art Deco Delight at Open House Chicago
Open House Chicago Gives You the Keys to the City

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