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Chicago Historical Society to Become More Moderner Than Before

By Andrew Peerless in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 4, 2005 3:26PM

picture courtesy of chicagotraveler.comThe Chicago Historical Society may be our fair city's longest standing museum, but its age doesn't mean it's using a walker or eating dinner at noon or anything. In stark contrast, the museum will celebrate its 150th birthday next year with a $22 million rehab that will leave its exterior shell intact, but will transform the existing exhibit halls and public spaces into a vibrant representation of "the city's collective memory."

Construction work has already begun on the CHS's comprehensive transformation, with most galleries housing permanent collections already down for the count and curators scrambling to move precious artifacts from the paths of sledgehammer-happy construction workers. Though the renovation will affect 75 percent of its existing public spaces, the museum will continue to host special exhibitions through December of this year. After that, public programs and tours should continue throughout the process.

So, what can visitors expect when the museum unveils its shimmery new space in fall 2006? For starters, the massive front stairway and public event rooms will be moved to the back of the building, where they'll take advantage of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan views. In their place, the main Clark Street entrance will feature artifacts that represent the best of Chicago and U.S. history: 19th century daguerrotypes, Abraham Lincoln's White House carriage, the Steve Bartman Baseball... oh, wait, that's been digested. Never mind.

More on the new CHS digs after the jump.

Instead of organizing its artifacts by date alone, the reconfigured CHS will center its exhibits around themes including "City on the Make," documenting Chicago's global economic importance, "City in Crisis," examining the great fire of 1871 and 1919 race riots, and "Sweet Home Chicago," devoted to the city's diverse neighborhoods and suburbs. Overall, the amount of space devoted to city history will double from the current configuration.

This all sounds well and good, but Chicagoist is really excited about the second floor's recreated 1893 el platform, which will feature the first elevated train car ever used in the city (used to transport people from downtown to the 1893 World's Fair). Despite our decidedly love-hate relationship with the CTA, we look forward to climbing aboard this piece of history and waiting impatiently for signals ahead.

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