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Chicago Cultural Center

by Carrie Williams

The Chicago Cultural Center houses one of the most comprehensive free art showcases in the United States.

The center is also the setting for the city's official reception venue, where the Mayor welcomes the likes of other community leaders, U.S. Presidents and foreign diplomats.

 Chicago Cultural Center facing Michigan AvenueCompleted in 1897 for nearly $2 million, the building was designed, by the Boston archictural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, to be Chicago’s Public Library and Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) meeting hall and memorial.
Widely appreciated around the city for its gorgeous architectural style, Grand Army of the Republic Hall at Chicago Culture Centerthe Cultural Center is classified as a neo-classical structure with Romanesque elements and is comprised of two wings: a four-story north wing on Randolph and a five-story south wing on Washington.
Grand Army of the Republic rotundaThe Grand Army of the Republic Memorial in the north wing of the Culture Center includes a large green Vermont Marble faced hall and rotunda with Knoxvile pink marble walls and stained glass dome by Healy and Millet.
Glass dome in GAR rotundaOther refined features of the center include stately columns in the entryways, mahogany doors leading to each room, marble flooring throughout, decorative mosaics on the walls and bronze balusters on the curving staircase.
There is even a stairway with a design representative of the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy.
Tiffany glass dome at Chicago Cultural CenterYou will also find the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world, measuring 38 feet and capping the Preston Bradley Hall.
After serving as the Chicago Public library for 80 years, the building underwent renovations in 1977 and was rededicated as the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center. In 1991, it was renamed the Chicago Cultural Center and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The library relocated to the Harold Washington Library Center, and the Chicago Cultural Center became the home of the Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as one of the city’s tourist information centers.
In addition to art galleries, this landmark building also contains a concert hall, a dance studio and several meeting rooms.

Things to see and do at the Chicago Cultural Center:

Randolph St entrance Chicago Cultural Center• A Chicago Office of Tourism Visitor Information Center is near the Randolph entrance.
• The 294 seat Claudia Cassidy Theater is where visitors may view a variety of music, dance, literary, and theater presentations.
• The Dance Studio provides rehearsal and performance space, as well as workshops.
• G.A.R. Rotunda and Memorial Hall are available to be rented out for both public and private events. On Saturday mornings, the space serves as an alternative to Marriage Court for civil wedding ceremonies.
• Renaissance Court offers programs for older adults presented by the Chicago Department on Aging.
• Preston Bradley Hall is the major concert hall. It can also be used for public events, wedding receptions and other private parties/meetings.
Landmark Chicago Gallery• Landmark Chicago Gallery showcases photographs from the permanent collection of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
• The Sidney R. Yates Gallery and Exhibit Hall display major art exhibitions, the Michigan Avenue Galleries showcase works in more intimate spaces, and the Chicago Rooms are used for special exhibitions.
• Randolph Café serves up snacks, light lunches and an assortment of beverages. On occasion, it schedules cabaret-style performances by jazz, folk, pop or blues bands.
You can visit the Chicago Cultural Center any day of the week (except holidays). Programs and exhibitions are presented annually by the Department of Cultural Affairs.
Free tours of the Chicago Cultural Center meet in the lobby at the Randolph Street entrance on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1:15 p.m. Tours are limited to the first 20 people that arrive. Private tours and tours for groups of 10 or more people can be arranged by calling 312-744-6630 at least two weeks in advance to schedule an appointment.
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