The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most visited attractions in the city. That’s thanks to its beautiful architecture and free cultural events throughout the year. The building was completed in 1897 as Chicago’s first central public library. It was created to impress, establishing Chicago as one of the country’s most sprawling metropoles. Today, visitors enter into the impressive glass-domed building to enjoy free music, dance, theater, films, lectures, family events and art exhibitions.
Chicago Cultural Center Facilities
The Chicago Cultural Center broke ground in 1892 as the city’s central library. It cost nearly $2 million to construct, and was designed by prominent architecture firm Sheple, Rutan and Coolidge to impress out-of-towners with Chicago’s dominating industry. The layout features a four-story north wing and a five-story south wing. Three-foot thick masonry walls stretch 104 feet high, faced with Bedford Blue Limestone on a granite base. The styling combines neoclassical and Italian Renaissance elements.
The most impressive feature is the two glass-stained domes, set atop each wing. Doric columns note the Randolph Street entrance, leading to a hall with coffered ceilings and walls of green-veined Vermont Marble. Inside, Knoxville pink marble makes the curving stairway, noted with mosaics and ornate bronze balusters.
At the Washington Street entrance, a lobby and grand staircase features an arched portal and a three-story vaulted lobby. The grand materials continue, with Carrara marble and mosaics of Favrile glass, stone, and mother of pearl. In the north wing, the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial is a large hall and rotundy faced with deep green Vermont Marble with a series of arches for windows and mahogany doors.
The Architectural wonders continue into the
Sidney R. Yates gallery, a replica of an assembly hall in the Doge’s Palace,
Venice. The Preston Bradley Hall is an ornately patterned room of curving white
Carrara marble, capped with a 28-foot Tiffany glass dome designed by J.A.
The venues host an array of free music, art and dance programs throughout the year. Halls can also be rented for weddings and are among the most popular venues in Chicago.
Chicago Cultural Center Theater Programs
The Cultural Center’s motto is, “Come for the beauty, stay for the events.” It offers free entertainment, performances and exhibitions year-round. There are regular children’s programs like Juicebox, with engaging music and dance in a kid-friendly setting designed for the stroller set. More sophisticated tastes can enjoy Chamber Mondays, featuring Chicago’s most talented classical, jazz, and ethnic music instruments and vocalists each Monday afternoon. Additionally, Dame Myra Hess Memorial concerts feature solo and ensemble performances of classical music year-round on Wednesday afternoons in Preston Bradley Hall.
Along with musical performances, a wide range of diverse and engaging exhibitions in the visual arts are held year-round. Past exhibitions include “Crossroads: Modernism in Ukraine,” which featured a display of art by leading Ukranian artists. And in 2017, Kerry James Marshall was commissioned to produce the inaugural mural “Rush More” to be placed on the west facade of the cultural center. As always, music and art performances at the Chicago Cultural Center are completely free to the public.
Getting to the Chicago Cultural Center Theater
Located at the top northwest corner of Millennium Park, drivers to the Cultural Center can park in the following garages: Millennium Park Garage, Grant Park North, Grant Park South, and East Monroe Garage.
Public transportation is also a cinch on the Pink, Orange, Green, Brown and Purple lines to Randolph; Blue to Washington; and Red to Lake. Additionally, the CTA buses and trains and Metra commuter rail lines stop conveniently near the Cultural Center.