[graphic header] Chicago: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, National Park Service

Chicago Public Library, Central Building
Chicago Cultural Center, exterior
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

Influenced by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the first permanent home of the Chicago Public Library was designed in the Beaux Arts style by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. It was constructed between 1893 and 1897 at Dearborn Park, a site declared public ground by the Illinois General Assembly.

The building houses a magnificent system of mosaics and glasswork that were designed by Robert C. Spencer and executed by J. L. Holzer, an artist who studied under Tiffany. The Grand Staircase is the central focus of the interior and is made of white Carrara statuary marble with mosaic inlays. The exterior is a model of massive solidarity with an arcade running along the ground level and colonnades lining the top story under a heavy cornice.

The Chicago Public Library was renovated in the 1970s with designs from the firm of Holabird and Root. It incorporated a community center alongside the library that offered programs, lectures, films, plays, concerts and exhibits. The library, though, found a new home in 1991 and the building is known today as the Chicago Cultural Center. It is home to many arts programs as well as the offices of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Chicago Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St. Guided architectural tours of the Center are offered Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 1:15 pm, meet in the Randolph Street lobby (call 312-744-8032 for group tours). A self-guided tour brouchure is available at the Welcome Desk. The Chicago Office of Tourism's Visitor Information Center is also located on the first floor and offers information and literature on Chicago's many attractions (open Monday-Friday, 10:00am to 6:00pm; Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm; Sunday, 12:00pm to 5:00pm, call 312-744-2400 for further information). Visit them at their website.


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