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Our Guide To 40 Can't-Miss Skyscrapers, Private Clubs & Vacant Hidden Gems Of Open House Chicago

By Rachel Cromidas in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 11, 2017 5:00AM

Open House Chicago might be our very favorite Chicago Fest, though it's not a fest in the usual sense of the word. This weekend-long event lets Chicagoans (and tourists from around the world who have caught wind of how special this is) tour over 250 Chicago landmarks and noteworthy architectural sites, many of which are usually completely closed to the public. Though most are concentrated in and around the Loop, there are sites in dozens of neighborhoods on all sides of the city that you don't want to miss.

We've used Open House Chicago as an opportunity to take our own self-guided walking architecture tours of the Loop and parts of the South and West sides for three years in a row now, and it has never disappointed. We've also learned a few tricks along the way: you can't see it all, so it's best to be strategic and plan what you want to see in advance. If you need help narrowing it down, stick to places in the same neighborhoods, ideally within walking distance, to minimize travel time. And be sure to double check with the OHC website in advance to make sure the sites you want to see are open during the times you plan to go. Lastly: pack for an outing—walking shoes, chargers, something to read, water and a snack. Even checking out just two or three sites on this list can take all morning, if they're popular enough to draw long lines.

We've rounded up a list of our favorite skyscrapers, hidden clubhouses and turn-of-the-century wonders to help you navigate the overwhelming number of sites participating in these year's OHC. We've also included a few notes about why we think they're worth a visit, usually because they are hard to access at other times of the year, or because we think they'll be particularly interesting to poke around. So, mark your calendars for Oct. 14 and 15, map your route, and get ready to race up and down the city if you want to see them all.


Nichols Tower at Homan Square (Original Sears Tower)
906 S. Homan Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 11am - 4pm
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.

33 N. LaSalle St.
Sat, Oct 14: Closed
Sun, Oct 15: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Built by Graham, Anderson Probst & White, 1929

This 38-story, Art Deco building was built in 1929, but was recently renovated to turn its original, historic bank vault into a modern conference center. Go inside the basement bank vault and check out the original safe-deposit boxes there.

330 North Wabash / AMA Plaza (IBM Plaza)

Sat, Oct 14: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sun, Oct 15: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Built by Mies van der Rohe, 1971

Go inside Mies van der Rohe's famous Mondernist skyscraper, which sits along the Chicago River. It is Mies' second-tallest building and features a black, anodized aluminum exterior. Visitors during OHC will be able to explore the lobby and then go up to the empty 23rd floor and take in views of the river and River North.

150 North Riverside
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by Goettsch Partners, 2017

Check out the newest building to grace the downtown riverfront. 150 North Riverside is a stunning, brand new 54-floor office tower with a fascinating high-tech lobby with a "Media Stream" that uses 89 LED blades to display art. Visitors will be able to check out the Media Stream and then head up to the empty 26th floor to view the downtown skyline and Riverwalk from above.

The Civic Opera Building
20 N. Wacker Dr.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed
Built by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1929

The city's gorgeous Civic Opera mixes Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles into a 45-story office tower with two 22-story wings, plus the Lyric Opera theater space. It's the second-largest opera auditorium in North America, according to OHC, and visitors will be able to head from the lobby up to the office building's 16th-floor rooftop deck.

Field Museum of Natural History
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Sat., Oct. 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 1pm
Built by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1917

Explore parts of the Field Museum you've probably never seen before via OHC this weekend. Visitors will be able to tour the Founders' Room, "an exclusive hall that was once the private offices of Stanley Field, Marshall Field's nephew and Museum president for 56 years." It holds museum artifacts not usually on public display.


Aloft Circus Arts
3324 W. Wrightwood Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm
Built in 1907

This historic former Evangelical church now is home to Aloft Circus Arts, the third largest circus school in the U.S. Visitors will be able to tour the repurposed church, which features its original stained glass, and see where circus artists practice and perform on trapeze, trampoline, aerial silks and more.

Gentleman's Cooperative and Penthouse 111
111 W. Jackson Blvd., Penthouse
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by A. Epstein & Sons, 1961

If you love a private club and a penthouse view, this OHC site is for you. The Gentleman's Cooperative was created by a magician and former Bachelorette contestant to create a mens club where people can get a haircut, have a drink, play pool or buy clothes. Visitors will have access to the roof deck during OHC.

Decorators Supply Corp.
3610 S. Morgan St.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed

This unique Bridgeport space was built in 1883 as a factory for "artistic decorative accessories," and helped make ornaments for many buildings at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Check out its fascinating, large collection of moulds that are used to make ceiling medallions, furniture, woodwork appliqués, fireplace mantels and more. Visitors will be able to tour the shop floor and visit a vault that contains wooden moulds from the late 1800s.

Schulze Baking Company Building

40 E. Garfield Blvd.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by John Ahlschlager & Son, 1914

Visit a vacant, terra cotta and concrete warehouse space that used to house the historic Schulze Baking Company. The raw space is going to soon be repurposed as a data center, so this is your chance to wander the vacant factory and glimpse what it once was.

South Side Community Art Center
3831 S. Michigan Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 1pm
Built by L. Gustav Hallberg, 1893 and renovated by Brendendieck & Lerner, 1941

The South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) showcases the works of Chicago's African American artists, and is deeply connected to Bronzeville's artist community. Tour the historic, repurposed mansion and check out its top-floor ballroom during Open House Chicago. The museum is open per usual, so if you miss it during OHC, you can still visit at other times of the year.

The Lytle House
5517 N. Broadway
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed

This fascinating building was built as a tin shop in the early 1920s, but now holds a quirky private event space with a rich history. Check out the event space's gardens, mural and exposed brick and metal walls to see a prime example of adaptive reuse in action.

Bahá’í House of Worship
100 Linden Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 5pm
Built by Louis Bourgeois, 1953

Head up north to Wilmette's Lake Michigan shoreline to get a rare chance to go inside the Bahá'í House of Worship during Open House Chicago. The structure features a stunning and ornate architectural facade that you can't miss, and a dome made of cast concrete with crushed quartz. Visitors will have a special opportunity to take photos inside, which is not usually permitted.

Photo by Eric Allix Rogers/OHC

American Toby Jug Museum
910 Chicago Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm

We admit, we did not know that a museum devoted to Toby Jugs, or Toby Jugs themselves, even existed. But if you're heading up to Evanston or the North Shore, put this stop on your list. This museum has the largest collection of quirky and colorful Toby Jugs in the world (some 8,000).

WeWork Kinzie
Sat, Oct 14: 1pm - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed
Built by DeStefano + Partners, Ltd., 2000

As coworking spaces grow in popularity, take a chance to explore one of Chicago's biggest and newest, WeWork. The company has six coworking spots around the city, and the Kinzie location occupies five floors where Google used to house its Chicago offices. Visitors will be able to sit on the outdoor terrace overlooking River North.

Frederick C. Robie House

5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: Closed
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 4pm
Built by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1909

Visit Hyde Park's gorgeous, Prairie-Style mansion, built by Frank Lloyd Wright and recognized as one of the ten most significant architectural structures of the 20th Century. century. Visitors will be able to tour the home for free with the guidance of knowledgable docents during OHC.

4950 S. Chicago Beach Dr.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by Robert DeGolyer and Charles L. Morgan, 1929

Tour the Powhatan, an Art Deco apartment building on the South Side that is known for its colorful mosaics and swimming pool. This historic apartment building is typically not open to the public.

University of Chicago, South Campus Chiller Plant
6035 S. Blackstone Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by Helmut Jahn, 2009

Tour this award-winning, 26,000-square-foot structure that the University of Chicago uses to convert electricity into chilled water for cooling its buildings. Visitors will be able to get a rare tour of the inside of this industrial building, create by renowned contemporary architect Helmut Jahn.

Chicago Printmakers Collaborative

4912 N. Western Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 11am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 11am - 5pm

Visit the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, the city's longest-running independent printmaking workshop, with its recently renovated interior, skylight and rooftop deck. During OHC, two local printmakers will give demonstrations in etching and screenprinting while showcasing their Chicago architecture-inspired art.

Ravenswood Event Center
4025 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: Closed
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm

This stunning urban-industrial events space features a beautiful arched roof and timber loft that now showcases a private collection of vintage sports cars and vintage neon signs. Visitors will be able to walk through the collections and check out the glass atrium.
L - Logan Square
2211 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 11am - 4pm
Built by Brininstool + Lynch, 2016

This recently-built transit-oriented apartment development in Logan Square has something unique to show visitors: a 2nd floor rooftop deck with a real CTA "L" train car where residents and visitors can sit and take in the view (and, we're guessing, take plenty of selfies). We think that's reason enough to tour this year-old apartment building on Milwaukee Avenue.

Congress Theater
2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 11am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed
Built by Fridstein & Company, 1926

Go inside the historic Congress Theater on Milwaukee Avenue, designed by Fridstein & Company in 1926 for the Lubliner & Trinz movie theater chain. in Classical Revival and Italian Renaissance styles. This theater was closed in 2013 and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The place has been closed for restoration since 2013, so you'll have a rare chance to go inside and see the lobby and auditorium.

Fort Knox Studios/2112
4245 N. Knox Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm

Portage Park's Fort Knox Studios is the largest recording studio building in the world, and features the music technology hub 2112, with about 100 music industry startups. Tour the converted loft space and see for yourself.

Héctor Duarte Studio
1900 W. Cullerton St. (enter on Wolcott Ave.)
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm

Visit the studios of renowned muralist Hector Duarte, which features his mural “Gulliver in Wonderland” which spans 3,000 square feet on three sides of Duarte’s studio-home in Pilsen. Visitors will have the chance to meet the artist and tour his studio, viewing finish and unfinished works.

Lake Effect Brewing Company
4727 W. Montrose Ave., Suite C
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm

Portage Park's Lake Effect Brewery is hidden behind the Chicago Costume Shop. The brewery is known for its small batch series of signature beers inspired by the Great Lakes.

The Plant
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm
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.

Zap Props
3611 S. Loomis Pl.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm

This little known warehouse is filled with thousands of TV show and theater props, from street signs to old computers to taxidermy. This fascinating collection is an essential resource for local artists, but is not normally open to the public for tours, so get in now.

Edgewater Beach Apartments
5555 N. Sheridan Rd.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: Closed
Built by Marshall & Fox, 1928

Tour the iconic pink apartment building that sits on Edgewater's lakefront and was once part of a massive, Spanish-style hotel complex. Visitors will be able to see an indoor terrace, the building's original Beaux-Arts pool, and award-winning gardens.

Yale Building

6565 S. Yale Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm
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.

1807 W. Sunnyside (The Airstream)
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 5pm

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.

The Aon Center
200 E. Randolph St.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by Edward Durell Stone, 1972

Line up early! Visitors will be able to catch breathtaking views of the city from near the top of the Aon Center, the third tallest building in Chicago. (It's 83 floors tall; you'll visit the 71st floor for OHC.) The raw, empty 71st floor will offer 360-degree views of the city, lakefront and Millennium Park.

Kenar Studio
1007 N. Wolcott Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 12pm - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 12pm - 5pm

This is a rare opportunity to tour the studios of Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist Jerzy S. Kenar. Tour his private studio in West Town and look at the quirky and fascinating wood sculptures and other art works inside.

Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club
4501 N. Clarendon Ave.
Sat, Oct 14: 10am - 4pm
Sun, Oct 15: 10am - 4pm
Built by C. W. Kallal, 1916

Check out the Garfield Central Railroad, one of the largest model railroads in the country, at its home in Uptown's Clarendon Park Field House. A club meets there regularly to build and operate the railroad—the current model was first laid out in 1974 and now has over 1,400 feet of hand-laid track with a state-of-the-art signaling system.

Avalon Regal Theater
1645 E. 79th St.
Sat, Oct 14: 9am - 5pm
Sun, Oct 15: 9am - 5pm
Built by John Eberson, 1927

Explore the stunning interior of the historic Avalon Theater, now the new Regal Theater, renamed in tribute to the original Regal Theater in Bronzeville. It was renamed in 1987 as a tribute to the original Regal Theater in Bronzeville, which was demolished in 1973. The building as an "atmospheric" Moorish-Revival style and became a Chicago Landmark in 1992. The theater has been mostly vacant since 2003, though it did host an election-night party to celebrate President Barack Obama's victory in 2008. Visitors will see a mural on the exterior of the building featuring famous jazz and blues musicians who have played there, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.