Ever wanted to get a closer look at some of Chicago’s historical landmarks, museums, and architectural sites? Now’s your chance!
On October 16 + 17 you can get a free behind-the-scenes look at some of the city’s most historical and culturally significant buildings and trails as part of Open House Chicago.
Read on for more information on how you can take advantage of this yearly city-wide Chicago experience. And while you’re exploring the city, make sure to stop by for a climbing session at one of our BKB Chicago location in West Loop, located right in the center of it all!
What is Open House Chicago?
Hosted by the Chicago Architecture Center, Open House Chicago (OHC) is a city-wide free public festival featuring self-guided tours + architectural trails all October long. Plus, on October 16 + 17 sites like the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, the brand new Bank of America Tower, and the Sedgwick Studio will open their doors for immersive in-person visits free to the public.
The event, which occurs every October, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Its goal is to celebrate and highlight the amazing history, preservation, architecture, and diversity of Chicago. With every passing year since its start in 2011, the event continues to grow with what feels like an unlimited amount of city-wide trails and architectural sites to visit.
While the event was entirely virtual last year due to COVID, this year the event will be a hybrid of both in-person site visits + online self-guided tours available all month long through the OHC mobile app.
2021 Chicago Open House Sites
This year’s Chicago Open House features 100+ theaters, skyscrapers, green spaces, trails, architecture, and more across over 30 different Chicago neighborhoods, including West Loop.
We’ve compiled the best sites to add to your must-see travel list right next to BKB West Loop, so you can explore after a day of climbing!
2021 Chicago Open House West Loop Sites
UE Hall, originally built for the West End Woman’s Club in 1904, serves as the headquarters of the United Electrical Workers Western Region. It also houses two important murals. An expansive interior mural, created by a team led by artists John Pitman Weber and Jose Guerrero in 1973-74, encompasses two lobbies and a central staircase. It tells the history of UE, industrial unionism, and related social movements in the style of Diego Rivera. The second is an exterior mural painted by the Mexican muralist Daniel Manrique in 1999, titled “Hands of Solidarity”. It’s part of a cross-border cultural exchange, celebrating the alliance between UE and its sister union in Mexico.
Herman Miller Fulton Market Showroom
Herman Miller and family-brand members Design Within Reach, HAY, Geiger, and Maharam now occupy the landmarked building at 1100 West Fulton Market St. that once housed a poultry wholesale business. Visitors will be able to experience the Herman Miller A Way of Living book exhibit in the glass-enclosed, rooftop Eames Pavilion. The exhibition features rare artifacts and furniture from the Herman Miller archives, including a few pieces not previously displayed outside of the company archives in Zeeland, Michigan. Herman Miller archivist Amy Auscherman will be on hand both October 16 + 17 for informal storytelling and conversation.
This 1906 building was originally home to Edward Katzinger & Company, a manufacturer of tin pans for commercial bakeries. The recent opening of Notre, a high-end streetwear clothing retailer, has breathed new life into the building. The owners and architects took an innovative approach to handle the difference in height between the sidewalk and shop floor. The soaring vestibule and brick stairway-ramp they created doubles as a space for talks, workshops, and other programs. The design of the store is spare but dotted with carefully curated art and mid-century furniture.
540 W. Madison
540 West Madison is a 1.15 million-square-foot LEED Platinum Class A building designed by DeStefano + Partners. The dynamic geometry and building orientation create a distinct West Loop presence. The lobby features: “Light Twister” — a 190-foot-long sculpture by Lasvit, a Czech Glass Company, made of more than 3,000 hand-blown crystal components — a tenant lounge; and TESLA car and Caterpillar equipment displays. The second floor hosts tenant amenities, including a fitness center, a conference center, a media room, and a dining facility. The sixth floor includes a roof garden that uses a rainwater irrigation system.
Bank of America Tower
At 55 stories, Bank of America Tower is the tallest commercial office building completed in Chicago in the past 30 years. The 1.5 million-square-foot building features a stepped center core with rippling 5-foot setbacks running up the height of the west river-facing façade. A cable-supported, ultra-transparent glass wall encloses the 41-foot-high marble lobby. Goettsch Partners designed the building, along with 150 N. Riverside on the opposite river bank. Visitors have the opportunity to observe areas otherwise restricted to the general public. This includes the third-floor conference center and a stunning panoramic view from the 55th floor.
300 S. Riverside Plaza
Take a guided tour of this 23-story Class A office tower containing approximately 1.1 million square feet of workspace. The building stands in part over train platforms at Union Station. It boasts a curving green glass wall that mimics the river and allows unimpeded river views from any floor. The building is LEED Gold Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and has been enrolled in the City’s Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge since 2013. In 2019, it achieved a 20% reduction in energy consumption. Also, rooftop beehives sustain local flora and aid in honeybee research. Over the last decade, Fitzgerald Associates Architects reconfigured and modernized the building lobby and other indoor and outdoor amenity spaces.
Although it was once the world’s tallest building, Willis Tower (or forever in our hearts as the Sears Tower!) still stands as the apex of the Chicago skyline. In 2017, the Blackstone and EQ Office began a massive street-to-sky transformation of the Willis Tower. Nearly five years and $500 million later, a new-and-improved Willis Tower is ready for its close-up. Visitors are welcome to explore Catalog at Willis Tower, including the outdoor terrace at level four. While access to Skydeck Chicago is not included, visitors are welcome and encouraged to buy tickets online.
2021 Chicago Open House Lincoln Park Sites
Birch Road Cellar
This spacious, loft-like space is the first BYOB private club in Chicago. With no servers and bartenders, it feels more like an extension of your home than a bar. Normally open only to members, during Open House Chicago you can join one of their guided tours every 15 minutes.
St. Vincent De Paul Roman Catholic Church
This distinctive Lincoln Park church features green copper-topped towers. It serves a parish founded in 1875 by the Vincentian order. The present-day church was completed in 1897, featuring Indiana limestone blending Romanesque architecture like rounded doorways and arcades with French Gothic details such as the large, soaring windows. Visitors are welcome to embark on self-guided tours. Several guided tours will be available periodically throughout the Chicago Open House weekend.
St. Clement Roman Catholic Church
Take a guided tour of this Byzantine-Italian Romanesque Revival-style church. Influence for its architecture comes from Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The 1988 restoration under Walker C. Johnson earned an International Design Award for Excellence. The church’s mural of the Tree of Life replicates a 12th-century mosaic in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. It acts as the focal point of the unique “Byzantine Universe” designed and created by priest-artist Gleb Werchovsky in 1930.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is a 3.14-acre natural area located along the southernmost edge of Lincoln Park Zoo. Originally built in 1889 for raising tropical water lilies, it went through a prairie style redesign in the 1930s by landscape architect Alfred Caldwell. Today it’s a haven for wildlife, providing food, water, and shelter for many species of birds, dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, and turtles. Take a tour during Open House Chicago and learn some of the lesser-known stories about the Lily Pool, Alfred Caldwell, and the Restoration of the Lily Pool 20 years ago.
Below the CTA Brown Line’s Sedgwick stop sits a Commonwealth Edison electrical substation. Originally built to serve the train, the building, no longer in use, sat vacant for more than a decade. Luckily, several artists saw potential in its high ceilings and spacious interior. They purchased the property in 1976 and converted it to studio space. Today, Sedgwick Studio is buzzing with energy as a live + workspace for six artists: John Adduci, John E. Bannon, Sunny Han, Seaton Scarff, Ted Sitting Crow Garner, and Michael Young. Guided tours will cover both the building’s history and the artists who create their sculptures within. The neon studio will be open at intervals throughout Open House Chicago weekend.
The Moody Church
The Moody Church, named after famed evangelist Dwight L. Moody, is one of the grandest Romanesque Revival churches in the United States. The 3,700-seat sanctuary is the largest column-free auditorium in Chicago, borrowing elements from Byzantine architecture. The building features a 68-foot-high false ceiling and nearly perfect acoustics. Its 36 unique stained-glass windows and sprawling dimensions make it a Chicago icon. It also features a rooftop deck with panoramic views of the Lincoln Park lakefront. Both self-guided and guided tours are available of the sanctuary during the Open House Chicago weekend.
International Museum of Surgical Science
This lakefront mansion now houses the International Museum of Surgical Science. It was originally constructed for Eleanor Robinson Countiss as a wedding gift from her father, an executive at the Diamond Match Company. Howard Van Doren Shaw designed the Countiss residence in imitation of Le Petit Trianon, a chateau on the grounds of Versailles that Louis XVI gave to Marie Antoinette. Since 1954, the structure has been home to the only museum in North America dedicated to the field of surgery.
Grab your climbing friends + take a tour of the city with Chicago Open House. Stop by our BKB Chicago Locations and let us know which sites are your favorites!