Open House Chicago brings visitors inside Chicago’s skyline icons

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Tourists and locals alike enjoy the vista of Chicago’s skyline,  often lauded as one of the most beautiful in the country.

But for one weekend in fall, Open House Chicago let’s people see the skyline from the inside out. This annual tradition benefits both visitors and the building owners, as it shows people the interiors  of the buildings in and around the city that they so often just bustle past.  

Susan Bedard, assistant chair of House and Grounds for the Women’s Center in Evanston, one of the places participating in the weekends event, said that the open house gives the community a chance to look inside the buildings they often wonder about, but don’t get a chance to stop in.

The Women’s Club of Evanston at Chicago Avenue and Church Street. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

“It’s very gratifying to see so many people who are interested in seeing inside this really lovely building,” Bedard said. “They’re curious – it’s an unusual building type that you don’t see so much anymore” 

Bedard explained that volunteers greet every visitor, give a short tour, and then invite them to explore the building. Though many only stay inside for 10 minutes or so, some visitors walk away with plans to use the space as a wedding venue, or even leave inquiring about membership, Bedard said.  

Just a few blocks down the street, at the gin and whiskey distillery Few Spirits, 918 Chicago Ave, Evanston, Katherine Loftus greeted guests at the business for the fourth time.  

Loftus, who describes herself as “the girl of all things at Few,” became  involved with the collaboration between the distillery and Open House Chicago once the event  started including Evanston locations. Every year, this building draws in about 1,000 visitors, she said. 

”it’s interesting to see how people plot out their plans for Open House Chicago, doing it mostly, from what we hear, is area of the city by area of the city,” Loftus said.

It’s not just Chicagoland residents stopping by, she added, noting that tourists  from neighboring cities such as Minneapolis and Milwaukee often make the trek. And sometimes, visitors come from even farther away. 

“We had a couple from Switzerland that comes to Chicago for every Open House Chicago weekend because they just want that to be part of their tourism experience,” Loftus said. 

Katherine Loftus speaks in the tasting room at Few Distillery. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

Open House Chicago is organized by the Chicago Architecture Center. The event launched in 2011 and has featured over 650 unique sites since.

“The most salient impacts are that about 60% of our audience tell us that, each year in OHC, they visit a neighborhood they’ve never been to before,” said Eric Rogers, manager of Open House Chicago and Community Outreach,

Citing a survey following last years’ event, Rogers added that “93% of attendees who identify as Chicagoans tell us that the event makes them proud to be Chicagoans.” 

Above all, Bedard said the event is a way to foster awareness of the architecture and organizations in the Chicago area. 

“We’re trying to be involved with the community and one of the things about Open House Chicago that I think is great is it’s a chance for us to just say ‘come in,’ see who we are, see what we’re about, hear about us,” Bedard said. “That’s what we’re here for, for the community.” 

Although the next Chicago Open House won’t happen until October 2020, the Chicago Architecture Center hosts events and architectural tours throughout the year, including a gingerbread making festivity on Dec. 7. More information can be found here.

Photo at top: A sign for Open House Chicago directs visitors at the Women’s Club of Evanston. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)