Nighttime walks are interesting because you can usually catch a brief glimpse of someone’s kitchen or living room – the inside of a building you pass every day. I’m convinced that this shared curiosity must have sparked the city-wide open house that is hosted each fall in Chicago. We all want to see inside spaces where we can’t usually go. And once a year, we’re allowed to satisfy that curiosity without being creepy.
The open house includes private businesses, buildings with architectural and historic significance, clubs, mansions, churches, and industrial spaces. With over 200 buildings on the tour, you can’t see all of them in one weekend, but over a few years, I’ve criss-crossed Chicagoland to see some beautiful and surprising things. A metal sculpture studio tucked under my neighborhood train stop; the Elks National Memorial (a stunning stone and marble edifice honoring members if the Order of the Elks who died in WWI); the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist (a pivotal scene of the Divergent movie was filmed there); and a quiet office where art conservators work to repair paintings, paper, textiles, and furniture. I strolled among giant wooden pieces destined to be part of a dozen Santa’s sleighs in mall holiday displays around the country (a local theatre set design company makes them), and used a password to gain access to a private speakeasy that I never knew existed.
This weekend, I visited two buildings that my mom and I admired from the outside during one of her visits. The coral pink Edgewater Beach Apartments look like it may have been transplanted from Miami to the lakefront. It’s the only surviver of an original three-building complex that included a hotel. Wow, this must have been the bees knees in the 20’s and 30’s!
In the same neighborhood is St. Ita Roman Catholic Church, an example of French Gothic architecture that originally caught my attention from the train. I’m always surprised when I find a church in the US that’s as beautiful and grand as those I’ve seen in Europe; St. John the Divine and the Washington National Cathedral qualify, certainly. Not only is St. Ita’s striking on the outside (gargoyles!) but it is filled with beautiful mosaics, tile, and stained glass. You just have to sit a moment to take it all in.
I’ll have to wait until next year to check a few more of the notable locations off my list. Meanwhile, I’ll keep track of buildings that intrigue me. I wonder if the Chicago Architecture Foundation takes suggestions?