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Open House Chicago: Exploring historical sites for free
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli

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Ever wondered what it looks like inside the Ukrainian National Museum or downtown architecture gems like the Railway Exchange Building or the Civic Opera Building?

On Oct. 13-14, people can take a peek inside these historical buildings for free and stop the wondering. The eighth annual Open House Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Center, will provide access to more than 250 sites in 30 neighborhoods and suburbs. Beverly, Morgan Park and Austin join the 2018 neighborhoods of architectural gems, as well as a few new sites in other neighborhoods.

The event offers views of buildings rarely open to the public and will show behind-the-scenes access to repurposed mansions, stunning skyscrapers, lavish theaters, industrial facilities, new apartments and breathtaking sacred spaces—many that have contributed to Chicago's rich architectural history and stature.

"[Open House Chicago] gives Chicagoans the rare opportunity to discover hidden gems in architecturally significant buildings all across the city," said Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of the CAC. "But OHC attendees are discovering not only what is near their homes, they are exploring new neighborhoods across town and in the process changing preconceived notions about their neighbors."

She said that, last year, 60 percent of attendees ventured out to see new neighborhoods and hopes this year will be an even larger turnout and that people will discover new city establishments and learn architectural history.

New sites to see

Beverly is known for its residential, tiny-town feel and relies on 95th Street as its commercial and residential backbone.

There are five sites to see there, such as Chicago's most famous castle, The Givens Castle; the Ridge Historical Society; and the Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery. An eye-catching visit will surely be at Optimo, the city's only custom men's hatmaker business, known for its classic fedoras, straw Panama hats and even a limited-edition hat modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright's signature headwear. The building, at 1700 W. 95th St., is a century-old firehouse and was repurposed this year by architect firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The design used blackened steel, walnut and cork to show the unique craftsmanship of the business that brings back hates from earlier decades of style. This site is only open Oct. 13 at 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Ingersoll-Blackwelder House at 10910 S. Prospect Ave. is one of three neighborhood sites in Morgan Park. The Victorian mansion was built in 1874 for real estate magnate John Ingersoll by Morgan Park's developer, the Blue Island Land and Building Company. A Queen Anne style expansion was added the next decade for new owner Isaac Blackwelder, president of the then-independent Village of Morgan Park. His wife, Gertrude Blackwelder, was a founder of the Morgan Park Women's Club and the first woman to cast a vote in Cook County, according to the house's site. It is now an entertainment venue and a museum on the second floor that houses antiques collected by recently deceased owner Jack Simmerling. The house's open house hours are Oct. 13 at 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Oct. 14 at 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Austin has 13 sites to visit, such as the Austin Community Family Center, the Catalyst Circle Rock restored auditorium and school and four historical churches. One that stands rich with history is the Fraternité Notre Dame, 502 N. Central Ave., which was once home to Chicago's largest Methodist congregation. Designed by Sidney R. Badgley in 1909, the church is an ode to Our Lady of Fréchou. The Fraternité Notre Dame—a religious order that started in France in 1977—hosts daily mass, a soup kitchen and a food pantry in the space, which it acquired in 2001 after the church was empty for almost 30 years. It also is home to after-school programs for children to keep them off the street and offer them nutritious meals they don't often get at home, according to the church's website. Its open house hours are Oct. 13 at 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

It's close to impossible to say which sites are the best worth your time, but some more that caught our eye are the Logan Square Auditorium, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Hyde Park and the Colvin House in Edgewater.

The Logan Square Auditorium was built in 1915 and has a terra cotta eagle on its front facing the signature area monument. The space hosts all kinds of events, from weddings, concerts, benefits and movie screenings. The inside is virtually unchanged albeit the enhanced sound system, bookings and professional light shows that can be seen from the square or boulevard. This site is only open Oct. 13 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

The Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago's campus was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in 1928 and is all about the details in Gothic style. It has one of the world's largest carillons ( an instrument of musical bells ) and a sizable Skinner organ. Its open house hours are Oct. 13 at 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Oct 14 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Designed by architect George Maher in 1909, the Colvin House Prairie-Style mansion at 5940 N. Sheridan Road has gothic ceilings, carved pillars and excessive plaster ornamentation. It's now home to Creative Coworking, which has modernized some of the house for offices and events. Its open hours are Oct. 13 at 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

See the full list of the 2018 Open House Chicago sites at .

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