Chicago Cultural Center
I spent the afternoon wandering around the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop. I’ve wanted to go for so long, but surprisingly this was my first time. The other week, I visited the Harold Washington Library (read about that visit here!) where I found out that the Cultural Center was actually the very first public library before Harold Washington was built.
It was built in 1897 to be the first central public library in Chicago, as well as a memorial to the Civil War Union Army veterans’ organization. It was designed to impress and to prove that Chicago had grown into a sophisticated metropolis.
On the second floor is the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) Rotunda and Memorial Hall. It was made to honor the Union soldiers of the Civil War. The ceiling is a 40-foot diameter leaded glass dome executed by Healy & Millet, a noted Chicago glassmaking and decorating firm. Muted, somber color tones dominate the ceiling in keeping with the room’s role as a place of ceremony and remembrance.
The building itself was designed by a Boston-based architectural firm: Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. They designed the building in the Classical Revival style, taking inspiration from the monumental structures of ancient Greece and Rome and the finely detailed buildings of the Italian Renaissance. Throughout the whole building, there are beautiful, colorful mosaic pieces decorating the walls, staircases, and columns.
In 1991, the building was established as the Chicago Cultural Center (and the Harold Washington Library became the city’s main public library). The CCC was the first and most comprehensive free municipal cultural venue. Every year, the CCC present’s hundreds of free international, national, regional and local artists, musicians and performers, providing a showcase where the public can enjoy and learn about the arts. This installation is called I Tell You This Sincerely, on display through July!
Harold Washington Library
Right next to my downtown campus in the Loop, the Harold Washington Library is one place that I wish I’ve spent a lot more time in over the past 4 years as a DePaul student.
The big beautiful brownish-reddish building with green accents is one of my favorite in the Chicago skyline. It’s the central library for the Chicago Public Library system, and you can really spend whole days getting lost, studying, or checking out research material from here. They have 9 floors featuring beautiful interior architecture and artwork, and a very diverse mix of literature and periodicals.
The previous central library for CPL was converted into the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977. When he was elected in 1983, Mayor of Chicago Harold Washington supported the building of a new library, but it wasn’t until 1986 when the Library Board chose the location and provided funds for the new building as well as the creation of a city-wide library branch system!
The building was completed in 1991, the new mayor Richard M Daley named the library after Harold Washington. There is a small museum dedicated to the life and work of Harold Washington on the 9th floor next to the Winter Garden, which is definitely an inspirational history lesson if you’re interested.
At approx. 756,000 sq. feet, and with the 9 floors, it could take a year to explore the whole thing fully.
The library has some of my favorite artwork on display. My very favorite piece is on the first floor on top of the escalator going up:
Check out these amazing lights above one of the main staircases!
I also love this piece, called Loss of Innocence by Arnaldo Roche Rabell (1988):
There is a great selection of artwork by Kaye Buchman on the 8th floor, too:
The 9th floor is definitely my favorite place to hangout and read or study, because it includes the penthouse rooftop, the Winter Garden.
You can bring your lunch here, read, and use the free wifi. They also host events like weddings here (!!!), so sometimes it’s closed for maintenance or set up. It’s definitely an instagram-worthy view: