Did you know Chicago is home to the largest Tiffany-stained glass dome in the world? Or that critically-acclaimed art exhibits, performances, lectures and film screenings are available to you every day for free all under one roof? This and more can be found at the historic Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the city's ten most popular attractions and is considered one of the most comprehensive arts showcases in the United States.
Taking up an entire city block, it is physically massive. And presenting more than 700 free programs a year, it is immersed in the humanities. Spend hours admiring the architectural splendor of this incredible gem or just stop in for a quick dose of culture.
Steeped in local history, the "People's Palace" is a downtown institution that stretches from Washington to Randolph streets, and Michigan Avenue to Garland Court. It opened in 1897 to serve two purposes as:
- the first permanent home for the Chicago Public Library (the building's south/Washington Street side)
- headquarters for the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union Army veterans' organization (the building's north/Randolph Street side)
In 1947, the Chicago Public Library took over the entire building, later vacating it to open in its new central State Street location at Harold Washington Library Center in 1991. Also in 1991, the building was rededicated as the Chicago Cultural Center and became the nation's first free municipal cultural center.
A Tiffany-stained glass dome, Mother of Pearl mosaics, a Carrara marble lobby – the dazzling treasures from within the Chicago Cultural Center are a proper backdrop to the artful programming hosted here.
Popularly known as the "People's Palace," the building was designed 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.
Don't miss these architectural highlights:
- Washington Street Lobby – Originally the main library entrance, this glittering, light-filled space is one of the building's showcases. Mosaics of glass, gold leaf, mother-of-pearl and precious stones are set in the style of the Italian masters in the palaces of Europe. The soft-surfaced marble is white Italian Carrara, the most expensive available, taken from the same quarries used by Michelangelo for his sculptures. Extending up three stories, criss-crossing staircases are richly decorated with themes relating to great thinkers, authors and books of the past.
- Preston Bradley Hall – Stairs open into the former book delivery room, a stunning hall that combines glass mosaics with a luminous 38-foot-diameter dome by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. Restored in 2008, it is the largest Tiffany dome in the world, containing approximately 30,000 individual glass pieces.
Other notable sights are the 40-foot diameter dome and Civil War battle motifs in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Rotunda and Hall; the massive windows and ornate ceilings in Yates Gallery; and the central curving staircase at the Randolph Street side – gently inclined for the comfort of aging veterans ascending to the memorial rooms above.
With its historic interiors restored to their original grandeur, the Chicago Cultural Center is listed as a Chicago Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
FREE 45-minute building tours of the Chicago Cultural Center are offered at 1:15pm between Wednesdays through Saturdays. They depart from the Randolph Street lobby on the first floor, no reservations are required.
PROGRAMS & EVENTS
Come for the beauty, stay for the arts and culture. The Chicago Cultural Center presents free public programs every day. Discover something new each time or check the monthly schedule in advance.
Visit during special events like the World Music Festival and Chicago Jazz Festival and the building buzzes with big crowds, but you can always just see what's on the daily calendar for a quick dose of culture.
Pop in (no admission or tickets needed) to find:
- FREE Art Exhibits – Special and visiting art exhibitions are featured year-round in four major galleries on the first, second and fourth floors. Works in all mediums by local, national and international artists depict a variety of themes.
- FREE Music Concerts – The ongoing music series are critically-acclaimed and beautiful spaces like Preston Bradley Hall provide a wonderful acoustic experience for the lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and the classical performances on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays.
- FREE Programming – Join the downtown audiences for film screenings, lectures, theater and dance; or bring in the whole family for kid-friendly events and workshops.
For the complete Chicago Cultural Center schedule, event descriptions, and more building history, visit chicagoculturalcenter.org.