Open House Chicago

With only one day of my weekend free and over 250 places to choose from, I had to pick wisely.

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This past weekend was jam-packed, so I’m glad to say I have at least the next four weeks of my blog planned out! In this post I will be looking back at my time at Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago is an annual festival put on by the Chicago Architecture Center. More than 250 buildings across the city and neighboring suburbs are opened up to the public for 48 hours, giving people access to some of the most inspirational architecture Chi-Town has to offer.

With only one day of my weekend free and over 250 places to choose from, I had to pick wisely. I preemptively picked two stops based off of their descriptions on the Open House website and ended up at two other locations serendipitously.

My first location was…

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie Street

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This was the only location that I ventured into that had a line out the door. The Driehaus Museum was a mansion during the American Guilded Age that was converted into a museum highlighting the grandeur of the era.

While waiting for my turn to walk inside, I got chatting with the docent directing the line. I asked him how the day was going and he nonchalantly said, “It’s been a bit slower, but good. We had 30,000 people come through yesterday. We’re at about 15,000 now for today.” That was at 1:00 PM and they would be open for another four hours. Sometimes I truly forget how large the city I live in really is. The thought that 15,000 people was a “slow day” just threw me for a loop (some pun intended).

Our little chat turned to the nice fall weather and soon I was inside. I put my headphones on and turned on a Spotify 1930s playlist once I walked through the door to make it a true Guilded Age experience. Even without the addition of music, when you walk into the Driehaus, it’s as if you’re standing inside the pages of a Fitzgerald novel. There’s a level of fancy in every detail in this house, from the two fireplaces on the first floor, the ornate marble statue, personalized painted portraits; down to the doomed stained glass ceiling. This house screams extravagance.

 

My favorite tidbit that I picked up from one of the museum docents was in regards to the mansion’s reception room. The walls of this room are decorated with an ornate wooden paneling on the bottom half and an embossed dark teal tile on the top half. Tile seemed an odd choice for such a predominate room in the house, but as the docent explained the family did this on purpose. The choice of tile was the family’s way to show their innovative nature and social affluence. It was as if they were saying, “I’m rich AND progressive. Take that old money. Nouveau riche in the house!”

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I don’t feel like much has changed in regards to people who have money and the ability to flaunt it. Now a days our investments might be more centered around what shiny piece of technology you can get your hands on instead of what painter does your personal portrait, but the overall motivation is still the same.

My second stop was based on its proximity to the Richard H. Driehaus Museum. It was on my walk to my next scheduled stop, so it only felt right to go inside…

St. James Episcopal Cathedral, 65 E. Huron Street

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…it was a Sunday after all.

There were quite a few churches listed on the Open House Chicago website and I was originally trying to avoid them.  I know I’m going to sound like a snob for typing this, but once you’ve seen the inside of at least two cathedrals, you’ve seen them all.

 

With that said, the stained glass in this church was quite breathtaking. I also really appreciated the stonework on the outside of the building. It really was a decent impromptu stop on my way to…

The Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior Street

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I didn’t completely notice the foundation when I first got there. The building is very modern and minimalist in nature. With skyscrapers surrounding it, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I walked right by. The courtyard of this building is one of my favorite landscaping jobs I’ve personally seen in a big city setting. When you walk towards the foundation’s entrance there are a spattering of trees planted within the concrete paved walkway.

 

Once I was in the courtyard, I was surrounded by trees in their autumn transition. The one suggestion I can give while your standing in the foundation’s courtyard is to look up. When you do that, the sparsely placed trees around you combined with the skyscrapers above instantly places you in a minimalist interpretation of a concrete forest.

The walls of the building were only decorated with the foundation’s current poetry exhibition and built-in bookshelves stocked with poetry as decoration. The choice of leaving the walls as white blank canvases felt purposeful. It left you with nothing else to focus on outside of the art. Now that I truly start to think about it, I don’t know if a poetry foundation should be done any other way.

 

The current poetry exhibit was “…to take root among the stars.” by Krista Franklin. According to Franklin, the poetic mural is a depiction of “Afrofuturist and Afrosurrealist preoccupations of space travel and mysticism in the black imagination.” It was a thought-provoking piece that incorporated past and present struggle. While, as a white female, I can’t fully relate to the original source of inspiration, I found Franklin’s work with paper, font, and historically significant pictures and news articles inspiring.

While they weren’t available for reading while I was at the foundation on Sunday, I found out that the many books that line the walls of the foundation can be read throughout the week, Mondays through Fridays 11 AM to 4 PM. I’m going to have to go back soon some Friday so I can dive into the foundation’s collection.

I hopped on the Red Line at Grand and State after the Poetry Foundation. I was on a bit of a festival high, but knew I should head home. I had been out and about since noon and wanted to have some downtime before the new week rolled in. As I took in my thoughts on the L, as I often do, my curiosity lead me back to the OHC website. I started to look at the sites located in my neighborhood, Edgewater. That was when I saw a featured location was on the same street as my apartment.

Firehouse Chicago, 1545 W. Rosemont Street

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…the firehouse is an unassuming building. It blends right in with the brick apartment buildings and townhouses that line Rosemont because, on the outside, the build is really just an old firehouse. It isn’t until you walk inside that your mind is completely blown.

 

The firehouse in question was built in 1906 and was a functioning fire station up until 2008 (102 years!). When the firehouse officially disbanded, the building was purchased and turned into an event venue. The man who now owns the location has transformed the firehouse into a truly beautiful and modern event venue while keeping the classic charms of the firehouse intact.

Take the fireman’s pole for example. As long as you sign a waiver, you’re allowed to take a ride down the pole from the second floor to the first. The owner of the building was showing all of the visitors a picture of a bride making her grand entrance on the Fireman’s pole as proof.

The second floor of the firehouse, which was once the living quarters of the firefighters that worked there, has been transformed into a hospitable and rustic wonderland in the heart of Chicago. I’m honestly shocked the owner doesn’t AirBNB the place during the wedding off-season, or even rent out the second floor as a honeymoon suite.

 

I loved everything about Firehouse Chicago, from the beautiful garden area surrounding the building to the balcony that looked out onto Edgewater. My favorite accessory to the whole place, however, had to be the owner’s very tired and apathetic puppy.

This unexpected location turned out to be my favorite place of the day. It was quirky, filled with history, and completely Chicago. Best of all, it was quite literally an adventure that happened right down the street.

I can’t wait to see what new and innovative architectural feats are featured in 2019. Dates for next year’s Open House Chicago have yet to be released, but keep an eye out for any updates on their website. Also consider donating to the Chicago Architecture Center so the festival can stay fantastically free for the community.

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