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Chicago Opens Doors to Iconic Buildings

A retired firehouse, a former auto repair business, an early 20th century church and an iconic North Side residence share one thing in common: each participated in the annual Open House Chicago (OHC) Saturday and Sunday. The Chicago Architecture Foundation initiative celebrated its seventh year by opening the doors to more than 200 buildings to the public.

The open house concept was first introduced by founder Victoria Thornton in London in 1992 and has since grown to include a total of 31 cities worldwide. New York is the only other city to host an open house in the United States, according to the Open House Worldwide website.

When the Chicago initiative began in 2011, about 100 sites participated. The two-day event saw about 20,000 unique visitors, which refers to the approximate number of visitors based off averages of individual site visits.

“Last year, we crossed an attendance milestone,” Eric Rogers, interim program manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, said. “We had 100,000 unique visitors across all sites.”

In addition to quadrupling in size, the number of sites jumped up to 213 in 2016. This year, OHC experienced its largest number of locations to date: visitors toured 259 buildings across 20 neighborhoods — often traveling across the city to reach a site.

Edgewater saw an addition of four new sites and welcomed five returning sites, one of which was the Edgewater Beach Apartments (5555 N. Sheridan Rd.), built in 1928. The residence known for its distinct pink color is commonly confused with the Edgewater Beach Hotel complex. While it was connected to the hotel by a promenade for decades, and is the only remaining structure after the hotel was demolished, it became a co-op in 1949, according to the OHC website.

“I came out just to see the [Edgewater Beach Apartments],” Alan Gunderson, 23, said. Gunderson lives in Portage Park, a neighborhood to the west. “I’ve always been curious about it … it’s exactly what you’d think it looks like on the inside. Everything is so ornately decorated.”

The Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Croatian Catholic Ministry, Chicago Filmmakers and The Lytle House are all new additions to the Edgewater lineup.

Located at Ridge and Devon avenues, the 1906 Croatian church was originally established as St. Henry and served immigrants from Luxemburg and Germany. It then became the chapel for the adjacent Angel Guardian Orphanage before finally serving the Catholic Croatian population in 1977, according to the OHC website.

Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) is new to OHC and Edgewater as it’s in the final stages of moving from its former office space in Ravenswood to the retired Ridge Firehouse, built in 1928. The nonprofit media arts organization hopes to have its 75-person theatre, classrooms and administrative offices finished by the end of the month, according to Sara Rubin, marketing and fundraising manager.

The Lytle House (5517 N. Broadway Ave.) renovated what was an auto repair business that operated from 1977 to 2015 to a small event venue with free-flowing indoor and outdoor spaces and a mural of the neighborhood. It’s retained certain aspects of the old structure, such as the exposed brick walls and windows. The Lytle House opened in June and is hard to miss due to its high wooden fence.

“[The motivation] was the idea of being brand new and getting people to come into the space and see that we’re here,” Robyn Lytle, co-owner, said. “It’s nice being able to open up the doors and let people see what’s behind the fence now.”

Although the most popular buildings — and the longest lines — are found downtown, Interim Program Manager Eric Rogers said two thirds of OHC’s sites are outside of downtown. Geographic expansion helps mitigate traffic and encourages visitors to explore places they haven’t gone before or wouldn’t otherwise go to, which, according to survey data, is something visitors want most, according to Rogers. About 5,000 surveys are completed each year by attendees.

“Last year we went down to Illinois Institute of Technology and some [buildings] on the South Side, which we haven’t really done prior to this,” Jane Buckley, 80, said. “We’ve gone farther north, farther west, but not to the South Side.”

Survey data also showed that exploring new neighborhoods changes the perception of those neighborhoods in a positive way, Rogers said.

When looking for new sites to add to the lineup, Rogers said four attributes are key: site clusters — which are groupings of sites within walking distance of one another — current and historical significance of the building in its neighborhood, variety of the type of site and an exclusivity factor that makes the site more appealing.

“This year, we’ve added several breweries and distilleries because I think the craft beverage business is kind of a big deal,” Rogers said.

Chicago is second in number of breweries to Portland, according to a March Crain’s Chicago Business report.

Revolution Brewery in Logan Square opened its doors to folks interested in seeing where a favorite local craft beer is made. In past years, sites offered behind-the-scenes tours at places such as Metropolis Coffee Company and Divvy Chicago.

Planning for the next event will likely begin in January 2018.

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