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Our Humble Suggestions for the Next CAF Open House

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Open House, the annual, city-wide festival organized by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, offers design and architecture fans a virtual key to the city every fall, granting the rare opportunity to enter and explore inaccessible spaces and under-appreciated gems. It's become a yearly holiday for Curbed staff, so when we saw CAF was gearing up and securing sites for this year, we got pretty excited. We're probably a little late to the game, but here are some of our suggestions for Open House sites this fall, sourced from friends and fellow writers. Some of these places would be impossible to visit, especially considering privacy and security issues, but as long as we're making a wish list, we'll think big.


·Previous Open House coverage [Curbed Chicago]

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1. Water Cribs in Lake Michigan

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These pillars of Chicago infrastructure have been off-limits to the public, doubly so since 9-11, which only amplifies on the mystery of these brick cabins sitting amid Lake Michigan. Built in the 19th and early 20th centuries as water intakes, and positioned far enough away to avoid pollution near the shore, these man-made concrete-and-brick islands used to be manned by small crews of utility works until the early '90s (the kitchens and bunkrooms weren't half bad). Past Tribune articles spoke of crew members working to keep fish out of the intake valves, and occasionally using small dynamite charges to break up frozen ice.

2. Block 37 Superstation

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108 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60602

Now, does this sound like your CTA: spend millions building a massive underground station in the Loop, meant for express trains that service both of Chicago's airports, only to discover the plan would require massive overhauls of existing rail lines and stations, making it economically unfeasible? That's basically the story of how Chicago ended up with the Superstation, a huge, empty concrete shell. Chicago Magazine writer Greg Hinz, one of the few people to tour it, called it “one of the world’s biggest unfinished basements.” Secret subterranean lair or a monument to bad city planning, it still would be an incredible place to tour, if only to imagine what could be done with such a huge space.

3. Horween Leather

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2015 North Elston Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

Founded in 1905 by Ukrainian immigrant Isidore Horween, Chicago's last operating tannery produces an array of leather goods, from pro footballs to watch straps for Shinola. Numerous institutions can boast of a connection to the city's industrial past, but at this brick building near the north branch of the Chicago river, the dirty factory floors and metal hoppers are still humming with commerce and industry.

4. Graphic Conservation Company

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329 West 18th Street
Chicago, IL 60616

Originally formed in 1921 by RR Donnelley & Sons Company, the crew at the Extra Bindery Department (now the Graphic Conservation Company) has earned its fair share of papercuts throughout decades spent restoring priceless manuscripts. How priceless? They've restored original copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. It may not be the most architecturally significant building, but with so much high-level restoration and conservation work coming through its doors, it's a room overflowing with history.

5. Richard's Body Shop

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3041 West Lawrence Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625

Housed in an old car dealership built in 1925, when showrooms for cars were designed like movie palaces, Richard's Body Shop offers a level of ornamentation rarely seen in retail. Originally the home of Capitol Motor Sales Company, Isadore and Isaac Burnstine constructed this auto palace in the '20s with elaborate ornamentation, from the magnificent terra cotta façade to a Mediterranean-inspired interior overrun with inspired flourishes. You'll want to skip the Carfax and instead learn more about the over-the-top design.

6. The Cardinal's Residence

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1555 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60610

Finding accommodations fit for the Pope can be challenging. Luckily, when Pope John Paul II stopped by Chicago in 1979, he could turn to the Archbishop's Residence in the Gold Coast, a massive brick mansion built in 1885. Boasting 19 chimneys, 35 rooms, a coach house and a private chapel, it offers quite the lush life for a humble servant of the Lord. It stands as one of the oldest mansions in the Astor Street historic district.

7. Buckingham Fountain Pump House

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301 South Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

According to a Tribune series about unauthorized places, a small control room at the southeast edge of this iconic landmark houses the Honeywell Excel-Plus computer that controls the flow of the famous fountain. Below that sits a massive bunker of a room that contains the three pumps that power the fountain. All the motors and pumps are still the originals that were installed in 1927; replacing them now would require a custom machined replacement.

8. Getty Tomb

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The public can tour Graceland Cemetery at their leisure, but there's something about getting a professional guide to showcase this Sullivan gem that sounds very appealing. Designed in 1890 for lumber magnate Henry Harrison Getty, for his wife, Carrie Eliza, the limestone tomb is considered by many to be the beginning of the Chicago School of architecture. The design was so celebrated that a plaster cast of the door exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exhibition won Sullivan an award.

1. Water Cribs in Lake Michigan

Wilson Avenue Crib, Illinois

These pillars of Chicago infrastructure have been off-limits to the public, doubly so since 9-11, which only amplifies on the mystery of these brick cabins sitting amid Lake Michigan. Built in the 19th and early 20th centuries as water intakes, and positioned far enough away to avoid pollution near the shore, these man-made concrete-and-brick islands used to be manned by small crews of utility works until the early '90s (the kitchens and bunkrooms weren't half bad). Past Tribune articles spoke of crew members working to keep fish out of the intake valves, and occasionally using small dynamite charges to break up frozen ice.

2. Block 37 Superstation

108 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60602

Now, does this sound like your CTA: spend millions building a massive underground station in the Loop, meant for express trains that service both of Chicago's airports, only to discover the plan would require massive overhauls of existing rail lines and stations, making it economically unfeasible? That's basically the story of how Chicago ended up with the Superstation, a huge, empty concrete shell. Chicago Magazine writer Greg Hinz, one of the few people to tour it, called it “one of the world’s biggest unfinished basements.” Secret subterranean lair or a monument to bad city planning, it still would be an incredible place to tour, if only to imagine what could be done with such a huge space.

108 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60602

3. Horween Leather

2015 North Elston Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614

Founded in 1905 by Ukrainian immigrant Isidore Horween, Chicago's last operating tannery produces an array of leather goods, from pro footballs to watch straps for Shinola. Numerous institutions can boast of a connection to the city's industrial past, but at this brick building near the north branch of the Chicago river, the dirty factory floors and metal hoppers are still humming with commerce and industry.

2015 North Elston Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

4. Graphic Conservation Company

329 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60616

Originally formed in 1921 by RR Donnelley & Sons Company, the crew at the Extra Bindery Department (now the Graphic Conservation Company) has earned its fair share of papercuts throughout decades spent restoring priceless manuscripts. How priceless? They've restored original copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. It may not be the most architecturally significant building, but with so much high-level restoration and conservation work coming through its doors, it's a room overflowing with history.

329 West 18th Street
Chicago, IL 60616

5. Richard's Body Shop

3041 West Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

Housed in an old car dealership built in 1925, when showrooms for cars were designed like movie palaces, Richard's Body Shop offers a level of ornamentation rarely seen in retail. Originally the home of Capitol Motor Sales Company, Isadore and Isaac Burnstine constructed this auto palace in the '20s with elaborate ornamentation, from the magnificent terra cotta façade to a Mediterranean-inspired interior overrun with inspired flourishes. You'll want to skip the Carfax and instead learn more about the over-the-top design.

3041 West Lawrence Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625

6. The Cardinal's Residence

1555 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610

Finding accommodations fit for the Pope can be challenging. Luckily, when Pope John Paul II stopped by Chicago in 1979, he could turn to the Archbishop's Residence in the Gold Coast, a massive brick mansion built in 1885. Boasting 19 chimneys, 35 rooms, a coach house and a private chapel, it offers quite the lush life for a humble servant of the Lord. It stands as one of the oldest mansions in the Astor Street historic district.

1555 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60610

7. Buckingham Fountain Pump House

301 South Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

According to a Tribune series about unauthorized places, a small control room at the southeast edge of this iconic landmark houses the Honeywell Excel-Plus computer that controls the flow of the famous fountain. Below that sits a massive bunker of a room that contains the three pumps that power the fountain. All the motors and pumps are still the originals that were installed in 1927; replacing them now would require a custom machined replacement.

301 South Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60605

8. Getty Tomb

41° 57′ 40.12″ N, 87° 39′ 40.58″ W

The public can tour Graceland Cemetery at their leisure, but there's something about getting a professional guide to showcase this Sullivan gem that sounds very appealing. Designed in 1890 for lumber magnate Henry Harrison Getty, for his wife, Carrie Eliza, the limestone tomb is considered by many to be the beginning of the Chicago School of architecture. The design was so celebrated that a plaster cast of the door exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exhibition won Sullivan an award.