Recently, I spent a few days in Chicago mainly to go to the Art Institute, one of my favorite museums. We spent about five hours wandering the galleries and rested for a while soaking up Marc Chagall’s “American Windows.” As it turns out there are other stained glass attractions in the Windy City.
The Chicago Culture Center in downtown Chicago takes up an entire city block and opened its doors in 1897 as the first Chicago Public Library. It also served as the headquarters for the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union Army veterans’ organization. In 1947 the library took over the entire building and in 1991 the library moved to State Street. The main entrance to the building opens to a grand staircase covered in Italian Carrera marble and leads to the Preston Bradley Hall, formerly the book delivery room. The domed ceiling is the largest Tiffany dome in the world, 38 feet in diameter. The 30,000 pieces of Favrile glass, cut in the shape of fish scales were carefully removed in 2008 to be hand cleaned and repaired if needed. The outcome is impressive.
Today the Cultural Center is a popular tourist attraction — they give free tours of the building — as well as a place to see art exhibits, lunchtime concerts and lecture series on a variety of subjects. It is also home to the Chicago Visitor Center where all kinds of information on the city is available.
From the Cultural Center we made our way down State Street to Macy’s, originally Marshall Field’s, for a bite to eat. The fifth floor has a Tiffany ceiling. It was installed in 1902 and is the largest unbroken example of the Favrile glass in the world, containing 1.6 million pieces. It was just before Christmas so we were not too inclined to spend a lot of time exploring the building with all the crowds but other points of interest include granite pillars to rival the Temple at Karnak in Egypt, and an atrium with fountain featuring a three-tier waterfall. All this in a department store.
As we were wandering around in the evening we passed the Palmer House and decided to take a look. The lobby was decorated for Christmas. Here the chandeliers were Tiffany but the ceiling was made up of 21 frescos restored in 1996 by Lido Lippi, the man who helped restore the Sistine Chapel. Although the original building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, the second incarnation opened in 1873 and boasts to be the nation’s oldest hotel in continual operation. It is certainly grand and rich in history. For the past 25 years it has hosted the Tuba Christmas concert. People from around the state bring their tubas, 400 tubas this year, to play Christmas music. It’s free and seating is on a first come first served basis.