23 Architectural Sites You Must Visit During Open House Chicago

By Rachel Cromidas in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 15, 2016 3:09PM


Open House Chicago is our favorite annual excuse to take a weekend-long walking tour of some of Chicago's most visually stunning and historically significant architecture sites. Most of the 200-plus stops are centered in the Loop, but the event—part festival, part self-guided tour—also gives visitors free access to tons of fascinating sites in Chicago's neighborhoods.

We're more than a little bit obsessed with swooping skyline views, underground bank vaults, turn-of-the-century clubhouses and architecture firm offices, so we've rounded up a list of our favorite can't-miss sites participating in this year's Open House. Mark your calendars for Oct. 15 and 16, mark your maps, and get ready to race up and down the city if you want to see it all.

River City
800 S. Wells St.
This is a rare opportunity to look inside Bertrand Goldberg's iconic, futuristic apartment towers on the southern riverfront, inspired by the River North's Marina City. Visitors will have access to a rooftop park that's normally only open to residents.

Chicago Board of Trade Building
141 W. Jackson Blvd.
Step inside the Chicago Board of Trade Building's expansive underground bank vaults and explore the Holabird & Root-designed Art Deco building. The CBOT defines the LaSalle Street financial district. This site is only open Sunday Oct. 16.

Studio Gang Architects (Polish National Alliance)
1520 W. Division St.
See where the award-winning architectural sausage gets made inside Studio Gang's studios. The architecture firm is home to rockstar architect Jeanne Gang. The firm moved to the former Polish National Alliance's Art Deco building in 2015. Visit to learn more about their many local projects, including the Aqua apartment tower, the upcoming Vista Tower and Northerly Island.

Chicago Tribune Freedom Center

777 W. Chicago Ave. RSVP required.
If you've ever picked up a newspaper in Chicago, chances are it was printed here. The River West warehouse houses the printers for the Chicago Tribune and other local publications. The Trib maintained print productions in the Tribune Tower's basement in 1982 before moving to the Freedom Center.

1807 W. Sunnyside (The Airstream)
Why is there a 1960s Airstream trailer on top of a North Side office building? You may have noticed the airstream from the window of a CTA Brown Line train. The Airstream is a whimsical addition to the building, which houses the Associates Planners and Architects, a design cooperative led by architect Edward Noonan. The CTA once mistook the airstream for a derailed Brown Line train, which is hilarious and terrifying. Now, you can head to the rooftop and take in the view.

Stony Island Arts Bank
6760 S. Stony Island Ave.
Visit the artist/urbanist Theaster Gate's massive Stony Island Arts Bank—a historic bank on a struggling commercial strip on Stony Island Avenue in Grand Crossing that is now an art house with cultural programming and a stunning archive.

New Regal Theater (Avalon Theater)
1645 E. 79th St.
This might be the most gorgeous Chicago building you've never heard of. The 2,500-seat auditorium opened in 1927 as the Avalon Theater and was renamed the Regal Theater in 1987. The theater is vacant and mostly unused, but it did host an election-night party for President Barack Obama's 2008 victory. Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are all associated with the historic theater.

McCormick Place Rooftop Farm
2301 S. Indiana Ave.Gate 41, SW corner of Cermak & Indiana
Didn't know McCormick Place had a rooftop farm? We didn't either. The convention center's green roof was intended to offset the environmental impact of the building in 2013, when the Chicago Botanic Garden took over the rooftop space. It's now the largest farm-to-fork rooftop garden in the Midwest, growing 8,000 pounds of produce a year.

Ernest Hemingway Birth Home
339 N. Oak Park Ave.
Check out an early childhood home of Ernest Hemingway in Oak Park. It's a fully restored museum, and you can visit for free during OHC.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
951 Chicago Ave.
It wouldn't be an architectural journey to Oak Park without visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, where the legendary architect lived until 1909.

Brewster Building
2800 N. Pine Grove Ave.
These are some of the most peculiar and fascinating apartments in Lakeview. Built in 1893, this Enoch Hill Turnock-designed building has been featured in Child's Play, Running Scared and Hoodlum due to its Romanesque-Revival-style cage elevators, suspended glass-block walkways and central atrium.

Portage Arts Lofts
4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Portage Park is getting a hip new claim to fame thanks to the recent transformation of this historic furniture store into artist lofts. The four-story arts incubator is a neighborhood arts center with such tenants as Filament Theatre, the National Veterans Art Museum, the Art Side Out Studio and Mask Shop and the Chicago Ballet Center.

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (St. Gelasius, St. Clara)
6401 S. Woodlawn Ave.
This shell of a historic church has suffered through two devastating fires, but the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is planning to restore the building with a new roof and interior. Until then, the congregation is meeting in a nearby church, and you can explore the imposing structure and admire its architectural elements.

Aon Center
200 E. Randolph St.
Do not miss the stunning upper-floor views at the Aon Center. We cannot impress this upon you enough—the views of the lake, Millennium Park and beyond are unmatchable. Expect to show a photo ID to enter and wait in a long line, but it will be worth it.

Gensler Office
11 E. Madison St. Only open Saturday.
The Louis Sullivan-designed Carson Pirie Scott & Co. Building, today known as the Sullivan Center, houses both a gigantic Target and the third-floor offices of Gensler design firm. They designed 1871 in the Merchandise Mart, and we got a kick out of peeking around their offices during a past Open House Chicago.

Lake Point Tower
505 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Get a rare look inside the city's only high-rise that's east of Lake Shore Drive, designed by students of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Its clover-leaf shape helps give units unobstructed lake views, and residents have access to a 2.5-acre rooftop garden. Sammy Sosa, Scottie Pippen, Tom Cruise, David Axelrod and Alice Cooper have all called this tower home.

Marquee at Block 37
25 W. Randolph St.
Block 37 finally has a new life as a shopping plaza, Latin food hall, movie theater and luxury apartment mid-rise. You can explore the new apartments in the heart of the Loop and take in State Street from above.

The Kemper Building
One East Wacker Drive
Another OHC stop with can't-miss views, the marble-clad Kemper Building has a 360-degree observation deck that makes the Chicago River and Wrigley Building look like lifelike miniatures. The 41st-floor deck was reopened for the first time in decades for OHC 2012, not a moment too soon.

The Plant
1400 W. 46th St.
This old warehouse in Back-of-the-Yards, a Southwest Side neighborhood most famous for its historic stockyards and meatpacking facilities (think Uptown Sinclair's The Jungle) may be the future of food production. The Plant is now a vertical farm and food business incubator that grows mushrooms and vegetables and uses cutting-edge aquaponics to make sustainable artisanal food. Have some snack and contemplate a more sustainable future.

Edgewater Beach Apartments

5555 N. Sheridan Rd.
That huge pink apartment complex off the Edgewater lakefront is the remnant of a historic hotel styled after a Spanish palace. Check out the gorgeous indoor pool.

Yale Building
6565 S. Yale Ave.
Open House Chicago calls the Yale "one of Chicago's best-kept secrets" for good reason. The stunning Richardsonian-Romanesque building was created for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 with a skylit atrium filled with light and jungle-like plants. The building was restored and turned into senior living apartments in 2003.

Chicago Transit Authority Skokie Shops
3701 W. Oakton St. RSVP required
Head up north to Skokie to explore a massive CTA maintenance facility with historic Yellow Line cars. Watch CTA workers paint, rewire and restore rail cars and learn more about how the CTA runs.

Nichols Tower at Homan Square (Original Sears Tower)
906 S. Homan Ave. Closed Sunday.
Before the Sears Tower was the Willis Tower (in fact, long before the tower was even built) the original Sears Tower was a 14-story Neo-Classical building in North Lawndale. You may recognize the name Homan Square as the location of a notorious Chicago Police Department black site; the Sears Tower represents another side of the neighborhood with a fascinating commercial history—the tower was restored as a community center and event space this past year.