Fortunately 90% of our 90-minute private tour was indoors.
In the dynasty that is Chicago architecture, Chicago’s Cultural Center is a giant. Elizabeth, our tour guide with Chicago Detours (this art/history major was a font of knowledge about all things Chicago and buildings), had obviously saved the best for last.
1. Chicago Cultural Center
The magnificent Beaux Arts style building was influenced by the buildings of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Chicago decided it was time to show the world they were a city of culture and class with this design by the Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. I guess the renowned Chicago architectural firms hadn’t yet made their mark.
Rooms were modeled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and the Acropolis in Athens. Chicago put their money where their mouth was with a $2 million price tag; most of that money must have gone to the interior design, because it was stunning.
When the building was established as the Chicago Cultural Center (CCC) in 1991, it was the first of its kind as a comprehensive municipal cultural venue. Each year this Chicago landmark features more than 1000 free programs and exhibitions covering a wide range of the performing, visual and literary arts. As part of the National Registry of Historic Places, it’s a logical venue for the Mayor of Chicago to welcome Presidents and royalty, diplomats and community leaders. It was a great venue for welcoming two lowly peasants, too, although the mayor didn’t show to shake our hands.
2. The Grand Staircase and Preston Bradley Hall
Designed by artist J. A. Holtzer, it is reported to be the largest Tiffany dome in the world. It contains 30,000 pieces of glass and was restored to its original splendor in 2008. Despite the rainy day, the room was suffused with light. I was suffused with wonder!
Maybe I can talk Jimmy into creating a smaller version in our foyer! He’s a genius at building almost anything.
4. Healy Millet Dome
If that private affair in the Preston Bradley Hall is not in your budget (prices start at $8,000 for the room alone), you can still have a civil wedding (no bickering allowed on such a special occasion) at the Cultural Center on select Saturday mornings for a very nominal fee. If you’ve got five minutes, they’ve got the Judge.
From ongoing exhibits such as the seventy-two photographs highlighting Chicago Landmarks
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The Bottom Line on Chicago’s Cultural Center
Verdict: Aside from the fact the interior is stunning and the place is dripping with enough culture to catapult any and all visitors to royalty status, it’s all FREE! Yep, those big, shouty capital letters are designed to get your attention if the pictures I’ve posted don't do the trick.
Jimmy and I wandered the building on our own for at least an hour after our official tour ended. FREE tours of the building by volunteer docents are presented Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1:15pm and are 45-60 minutes long. Tours meet in the Randolph Street lobby. Groups are limited to the first twenty people.
Oh, and did I mention admission is FREE?
How to Get There: The Chicago Cultural Center is just blocks from Millennium Park at 78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602. It’s open seven days a week, although it is closed on many of the national holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Easter, Labor Day, etc. There are a few unexpected closing days for local celebrities, such as Pulaski Day (if you’re Polish, you’ll know all about this Revolutionary War hero) and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th (if you’re a penny pincher, you’ll certainly be familiar with our 16th president of the U.S. with his mug on all those pennies!).
If traveling from the North on the Kennedy Expressway or Edens Expressway (Interstate 90/94), exit at Monroe Street and drive East to Michigan Avenue. If driving on the Outer Drive (North Lake Shore Drive/Highway 41), exit at Randolph Street and drive West to Michigan Avenue.
If traveling from the South on the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstates 90/94), exit at Congress Parkway and drive East to Michigan Avenue and then North to Washington Street. If driving on Lake Shore Drive (Highway 41), exit at Randolph Street and drive West to Michigan Avenue.
If traveling from the East on the Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 90), take the Chicago Skyway to the Stony Island exit, follow Highway 41 (Lake Shore Drive) to downtown Chicago, exit at Randolph Street and drive West to Michigan Avenue.
If coming in from the East on Interstate 90/94, continue on the Dan Ryan Expressway, exit at
Congress Parkway, drive East to Michigan Avenue and then North to Washington Street.
If traveling from the West on the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 290), which becomes Congress Parkway, drive East to Michigan Avenue, and then turn North (left) to Washington Street.
Nearby Food: This is a no brainer, at least according to our home grown Chicago resident, Jimmy. Who by the way admitted to never having been inside Chicago's Cultural Center before our tour. What the?