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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chicago Cultural Center

This is a flashback post from when I took the train down to Chicago last winter.

Turn of the century granite and limestone neo-classical gem

A building that was new to me when I wandered around downtown Chicago last winter was the Chicago Cultural Center.  Open to the public it hosts a variety of free musical events for kids and for kids from symphony to jazz and they also have art exhibits on display as well as screenings of films.  But I was there for the free building tour.

Preston Bradley Hall

Completed in 1897 as Chicago’s first central public library, the building was designed to impress and to prove that Chicago had grown into a sophisticated metropolis. It is home to the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome ― 38 feet in diameter with some 30,000 pieces of glass ― which was restored to its original splendor in 2008.  Photographs do not do it justice, you just have to see it.

Chicago Public Library monogram in mosaic

It's hard to imagine that room a hundred years ago.  It used to be the delivery room where I imagine you would pick up your book before going off to the gallery full of large windows to read.

During the renovation they removed the concrete and copper exterior dome, and replaced it with one that is translucent and energy-efficient. The reintroduction of natural light into Preston Bradley Hall reduces the need for artificial lighting, which reduces electrical costs.

Also onsite is the 45-foot by 50-foot Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Rotunda dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The ceiling is embossed with plaster carvings of swords, shields, helmets, and flags. The 40-foot-diameter stained-glass dome in shades of tan, beige, and ochre is now lighted electrically and the stained glass was made was by Healy & Millet of Chicago.   The room is currently undergoing renovation and we got a preview of what it will look like cleaned up!

It's not just the domed areas that amaze, even the white marble stairways and hallways are glamorous.

Bet you are thinking about how heavy all that marble is, right?   It took nearly a year for 70 men to drive 2,357 wooden piles 75 feet to the hardpan clay below Michigan Avenue’s sandy soil. The design is so stable that there has been no noticeable settlement of the building in more than 100 years.

Stairway added during Holabird and Root renovation work

From their website:  The white marble is Italian Carrara, from the same source as the marble used by Michelangelo for his sculpture. The Cosmati work throughout the interior is a technique in which marble is inlaid with a variety of materials, including lustrous Favrile glass, colored stone, mother-of-pearl, gold leaf, and mosaic. This technique makes walls appear jewel-like. Due to Chicago’s sooty air, the choice of glass and marble was practical as well as aesthetic because these materials last indefinitely and can be easily cleaned.  Besides having to be modernized during the 1970's by the firm of Holabird and Root it has stood the test of time.

Maybe someday I'll be there during a music event, wouldn't that be fine?


  1. The library is well with the visit to see the inside

  2. The library is well with the visit to see the inside