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An insider’s guide to Open House Chicago’s newest, must-see sites

Chicago Architecture Center’s Eric Rogers reveals his favorite additions to this year’s OHC event

Beverly’s Optimo hat factory is located inside a repurposed firehouse.
Tom Rossiter/Chicago Architecture Center

After attracting an estimated 91,000 attendees last year, the Chicago Architecture Center has unveiled a 250-plus lineup of sites for its eighth edition of its yearly Open House Chicago weekend, set for October 13 and 14. With a first-time presence in the city’s Austin, Beverly, and Morgan Park neighborhoods and a return to Rogers Park and West Ridge following a hiatus, the free event offers unique access to more than 50 new or returning locations.

Helping makes sense of the expansive geographically and architecturally diverse 2018 program is Eric Rogers, the Chicago Architecture Center’s OHC and community outreach manager. Rogers, who is tasked with seeking out and convincing the city’s best historical treasures and otherwise hidden spaces to open their doors to the general public, is in a unique position to share his thoughts on this year’s new and must-see sites.

For the weekend’s full list of sites and a handy itinerary planning tool, be sure to check out OHC’s official website.

The sanctuary of Austin’s Third Unitarian Church.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center


Catholic Charities Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center: “This site is a nice piece of architecture with a great story,” explains Rogers. Formerly known as the Austin State Bank building, this attractive neoclassical structure was designed in 1913 by Frederick Schock, an architect primarily known for private residences. The site, which features a funky 1960s addition as well as an old bank vault, was donated to Catholic Charities. It is now used as a community center offering violence prevention programs, addiction treatment, and other social services.

Third Unitarian Church: A few blocks away, guests can step inside Austin’s unique Third Unitarian Church. Designed by Paul Schweikher in 1936, the building was well ahead of its time with an all-brick exterior, warm wood, and abstract art glass that looks more midcentury than pre-war. “It’s unlike any other church I’ve seen,” Rogers tells Curbed Chicago. “And I’ve seen a lot of churches doing this job.”

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church: Completed in 1937, this Saturday-only site features a Byzantine style-dome and original religious icons across its nave and sanctuary. “The space is stunning,” says Rogers. “It has the architectural exoticness that makes Orthodox churches so different from their Western counterparts. But there is also some Renaissance style artwork that was installed in an effort to assimilate newly arrived immigrants.”

Loretto Hospital: Visitors to this site will see Loretto Hospital’s modernist auditorium boasting sloped glass walls and skyline views as well as a corridor commonly used to shoot hospital scenes for TV shows. “The space hasn’t been modernized so it just immediately screams ‘hospital’ when you see it,” says Rogers. The Saturday-only site will display info on the new Austin Quality of Life Plan as well as Loretto’s various roles on the small screen.

Catalyst Circle Rock: Built in 1954, the school building by Belli & Belli architects closed in 1977 and remained vacant until charter school Catalyst Circle Rock took over the property in 2008. Get a sneak peek inside the midcentury auditorium which is in the mist of a major renovation that will see the 1,000-seat space reopen as a performing arts center.

Beverly’s John H. Vanderpoel Art Association.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center


The Givins Castle: Arguably one of Beverly’s most iconic and recognizable structures, this former private residence was built by Robert C. Givins in 1887. Reworked many times since, the fortress-like building is now home to the Beverly Unitarian Church. It retains original wood work and stained glass. “This building is the image many people think of when they hear of Beverly,” explained Rogers. “We’re excited to provide an opportunity for the public to see inside.”

Optimo: Visitors to Beverly shouldn’t miss a rare chance to peek inside Optimo, Chicago’s only custom men’s hatmaker. Normally closed to the public, the factory occupies a historic former firehouse renovated by Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The facility is a essentially a working museum, utilizing functional hatmaking equipment dating back to the turn of the century. Check the OHC website for timing.

Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery: Located in an old industrial building repurposed by Moss Design, Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery produces honey wine using purified water from Lake Michigan and honey sourced from its own beekeeping operation as well as hives across the city. The recently expanded manufacturing facility includes a taproom where OHC guests can sample its products.

John H. Vanderpoel Art Association: Though the site “may not have a very sexy-looking name, it is 100 percent worth checking out,” says Rogers. Located in the Ridge Park Fieldhouse, this gallery features a surprisingly impressive collection of more than 600 works of fine art. It was founded in 1913 as a memorial to School of the Art Institute instructor and Beverly resident John H. Vanderpoel.

Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall library.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

Morgan Park

Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall: Originally founded as a military academy shortly after the American Civil War, the campus of Morgan Park Academy has a long and distinguished history. The school’s neo-Gothic Alumni Hall flanks a charming quadrangle hidden just off of 111th Street. The building contains a historic dining hall and a handsome library with a vaulted ceiling and wraparound mezzanine.

Ingersoll-Blackwelder House: Dating back the 1870s and fully furnished with antiques, Morgan Park’s historic Ingersoll-Blackwelder House is one of the oldest homes in the area. A previous owner operated a demolition company and incorporated artifacts salvaged from historic mansions across the city into the home.

Morgan Park United Methodist Church: Check out this house of worship designed by architect Harry Hale Waterman in 1913. Drawing inspiration from the Arts & Crafts and Prairie School movements, the structure features Art Nouveau windows and curving pews set beneath a striking stained glass dome.

The top level of Loyola University’s Information Commons offers sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
Eric Allix Rogers

Rogers Park

Loyola University Piper Hall: For the first time since 2014, OHC visitors will be granted unique access to Loyola University’s campus. On Saturday, the school will open Piper Hall—a stately stone mansion fronting Sheridan Road. Built in 1909 as the Albert G. Wheeler house, the restored structure features an ornate interior with detailed plaster moldings and stained glass windows. It is currently home to Loyola’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership and the Women and Leadership Archives.

Loyola University Information Commons: The Information Commons—a fancy word for library—is an interesting complex of buildings with plenty to see. Designed in 2007 by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, the main structure includes many sustainable features, glass walls, and up-close views of Lake Michigan from its top-floor terrace. The complex also connects to the school’s 1930 Cudahy Library and its Art Deco reading room.

The UV treatment tanks at the O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

West Ridge

Indian Boundary Park Cultural Center: This fieldhouse turned arts center was designed by Clarence Hatzfeld in 1929. It is located in Indian Boundary Park, named for the Treaty of 1816 between the Potawatomi tribe and the U.S. government, and features Native American interior ornamentation. Two other OHC sites—the vintage Park Gables Apartments and Park Castle Condominiums, both with lavish indoor pools—are just steps from Indian Boundary Park and not to be missed, says Rogers.

Unity in Chicago: Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protege George Maher, the 1925 former Chicago Town & Tennis Club was modeled on the historic structures of Wimbledon. The structure later served as an Elks Lodge before becoming a sanctuary for Unity Chicago. Facing a $1 million repair bill and declining membership, the congregation sold the building in April but will use the space until October of 2019. Its new owners are considering demolition, so time may be running out to see this architecturally significant Tudor Revival structure.

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant: Constructed in 1928, this Saturday-only site is one of seven wastewater treatment facilities operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. “This is our first time partnering with the district,” explains Rogers. “It’s not only an opportunity to see a historical space, but a chance to learn about the water treatment first hand.” Witness the final stage of the process as water passes through ultraviolet (UV) disinfection tanks before being released in the North Shore Channel of the Chicago River’s north branch.

The new and improved Chicago model at the Chicago Architecture Center.
Micheal Courier/Chicago Architecture Center


Chicago Architecture Center: The new downtown home of the Chicago Architecture Center (formerly known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation) is expected to be a popular site—so much so that an RSVP is required through an online lottery system. OHC visitors with children, however, can show up and attend the CAC’s family festival without a reservation. The riverfront space is worth a visit, especially to see the expanded and interactive Chicago model and impressive skyscraper gallery.

151 N. Franklin: This newly-completed office tower by John Ronan Architects will offer guests a chance to experience its glassy lobby, second-floor terrace, and take in the sweeping downtown vistas from its top-floor “sky garden.” The 35-story building is home to CNA Financial and recently landed a 263,000-square-foot lease by Facebook.

200 WJ: Located at 200 W. Jackson Boulevard, this renovated 1970s-era modernist office tower has benefitted from a 2016 rehab that added state of the art amenities for its tenants. The stand-out feature is a 28th-floor lounge dubbed “The Notch.” The renovated space offers the ability to open its oversized windows to the outdoors. The views aren’t bad either.

Eastlake Studio: Architecture and design firm Eastlake Studio recently transformed the 26th floor of Holabird & Root’s landmarked 333 N. Michigan Avenue building into new offices. Once home to the Tavern Club, the space was reimagined as a architecture studio with an outdoor terrace offering skyline views. Rogers expects to see lines at this site—all the more reason to become a Chicago Architecture Center member for priority access.

Chicago Post Office: While there aren’t a lot of sites at this year’s OHC reserved exclusively for Chicago Architecture Center members, one notable exception is the 1920s-era Chicago Post Office straddling the Eisenhower Expressway. With work to convert the massive structure into new office space still ongoing, ownership wasn’t exactly ready to throw the door open to the general public, explains Rogers. CAC members will get a chance to see the building’s amazingly restored Art Deco lobby.

Gold Coast/Near North Side

A stained glass dome inside the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
Debbie Mercer/Chicago Architecture Center

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum: Another addition to this year’s OHC lineup, the Driehaus Museum is located in the opulent former Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion built in 1883. Visitors here will have access to the main level and can take in the old building’s grand rooms, Gilded Age craftsmanship, and elegant period furnishings.

Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

Hyde Park

Augustana Lutheran Church: While several of Hyde Park’s more traditional churches will once again return for OHC, guests can also check out architect Edward Dart’s unusual 1968 Augustana Lutheran Church for the first time. “The brick, fortress-like building is a stunning example of Dart’s style which is somewhere between modernist and brutalist,” Rogers tells us. “We are hoping more people gain appreciation for this type of architecture, but it’s a hard sell, especially as the buildings approach the 50 and 60 year mark and need more work.”

DePaul University Holtschneider Performance Center
Ballogg Photography/Chicago Architecture Center

Lincoln Park

DePaul University campus: Though OHC has been in Lincoln Park for years, 2018 marks the first time the event has teamed up with DePaul University. OHC offers fours sites including the newly completed Holtschneider Performance Center, the gothic Cortelyou Commons, Cesar Pelli’s eye-catching Theatre School building, and St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.

The Farm on Ogden
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

North Lawndale

Farm on Ogden: Completed earlier this year, this Saturday-only site includes community-based greenhouses as well as commercial and teaching kitchens and market. Rogers expects the North Lawndale site to be an instant fan favorite. “We’ve found that urban agricultural does really well during OHC weekend. People are really interested in seeing communities come together and do innovative things involving food.”

Steward School Lofts
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center


Steward School Lofts: Without getting too bogged down in the touchy politics of school closures, guests of OHC can get a first-hand look at how some of these historic Chicago buildings are being repurposed at the Stewart School Lofts. Designed by Dwight Perkins in 1905 as Graeme Stewart Elementary, the new development features 64 rental units created in old classroom, gymnasium, and auditorium spaces. Visitors will have access to the development’s model unit and rooftop amenity space.

Washington Park’s Green Line Performing Arts Center.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

Washington Park

XS Tennis Village: Built at the site of the former Robert Taylor Homes, this massive South Side sports complex opened earlier this year. The development includes 27 tennis courts, a running track, fitness center, basketball court, community spaces, and classrooms. XS Tennis plans to offer free tennis programs to 4,000 Chicago Public School students.

Green Line Performing Arts Center: Not many people have had a chance to tour the Green Line Performing Arts Center which is the most recent addition to the University of Chicago’s Arts Block initiative on Garfield Boulevard. The facility was designed by Morris Architects Planners and features a black box theater, a separate rehearsal and performance space, dressing rooms, and a lobby space available for additional arts programming.

Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart in West Town.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center

West Town

Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart: Another site that may not necessarily have the best name recognition, this West Town Catholic girls school features a modernist glass-block dining hall and old school library enclosed in a geometric concrete screen that plays with light in interesting ways. “I don’t blame people for not voluntarily wanting to check out a high school,” laughed Rogers, “but this is a very cool, under-appreciated site.”

Hussain MetroSquash Academic and Squash Center.
Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Architecture Center


Hyde Park Day School: Built around a bright and colorful piazza and grand staircase, this school from architecture firm CannonDesign aims to “equip bright students with learning disabilities in grades 1-8 with the skills to succeed in a traditional classroom.” The building even includes custom-designed furniture created to focus students’ attention for a better learning environment.

Hussain MetroSquash Academic & Squash Center: This combination academic and athletic facility is another example of Woodlawn’s recent neighborhood renaissance. Its free program offers students from 5th grade though college academic support and opportunities to travel the country and play competitive squash. It joins a growing youth movement in numerous US cities that have embraced the racket sport.