Open House Chicago Grants Access to City's Architectural Gems

Visitors have 48 hours to peek behind the curtain of 150 interesting buildings

By Megy Karydes,

One weekend a year, some of Chicago’s best-known architectural gems that rarely open to the public change their minds and open up their doors, thanks to Open House Chicago, a program hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

About Open House Chicago

Buildings designed by architect heavy-weights – including Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, Mies van der Rohe and Jeanne Gang – are abundant throughout the city of Chicago and nearby suburbs, yet lay people aren’t afforded the opportunity to step inside those buildings for one reason or another. 

Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach House is one of 150 spaces open during Open House Chicago — Photo courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach House

Since its inception in 2011, however, Open House Chicago has been changing that fact. Visitors get behind-the-scenes access to 150 buildings across Chicago for 48 hours. The event is free, and no reservations are required for all but three locations. 

Mark your calendars for this year's event, set to take place on Saturday, Oct. 18, and Sunday, Oct. 19.

Sites Included This Year

New sites at this year's Open House Chicago include the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Money Museum and Broadway In Chicago’s Oriental Theatre.

Some of our other favorites include Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House in Rogers Park. (It's worth the long wait in line.) Ever wondered what the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist looks like inside? Holy smokes, this place is huge and so deceiving from the outside.

Photography isn’t permitted in all areas, so it’s best to ask. One place where photography is permitted is the Fine Arts Building; it's worth checking out. The interior of the building features stunning Art Nouveau decorative details and murals dating from the 1898 renovation as well as a Frank Lloyd Wright window on the second floor. Again, most people don’t venture inside this building, but worth checking out is the beautiful private Venetian Court from a fourth-floor window.

Also, visitors this year will be among the first to step inside the vacant Studebaker Theatre in over a decade. Don’t forget to check out Selected Works Used Books and Sheet Music on the second floor if you’re in the market for second-hand sheet music and musical scores.

Also on the docket are re-purposed mansions, hidden rooms, sacred spaces, private clubs, iconic theaters, breweries, architectural and design offices and hotels. Open House Chicago takes visitors to two dozen neighborhoods throughout the city, from Rogers Park to the north, Garfield Park to the west and South Shore to the south. (For those not familiar with Chicago’s geography, the east is Lake Michigan.)

Best Ways to Get Around

Since time is of the essence (We only have 48 hours, people!), this is the time to use DIVVY, Chicago’s bike-sharing system. Other time-friendly options include the CTA buses and trains.

Driving a car is always an option but we can tell you from experience that traffic (Yes, there is traffic even on weekends in Chicago.) can delay your plans, and parking in some spots will be tougher than others.

Open House Chicago is an annual treat for art, architecture, history and design lovers. Schedule a babysitter in advance, gather your friends or bring the whole family along and take a peek behind the curtains of some of Chicago’s very best architectural gems.