Monday, July 17, 2017

The Chicago Cultural Center – Formerly Chicago's Central Public Library

The Chicago Cultural Center opened in 1897, is a Chicago Landmark building that houses the city's official reception venue where the Mayor of Chicago has welcomed Presidents and royalty, diplomats and community leaders. It is located in the Loop, across Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park. This building is a favorite cold weather location for Urban Sketchers Chicago.


The following interior sketches of the Chicago Cultural Center are by Alex Zonis

Originally the central library building, it was converted in 1977 to an arts and culture center at the instigation of Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg. The city's central library is now housed across the Loop in the spacious, post-modernist Harold Washington Library Center opened in 1991. The building was designed by Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge for the city's central library, and Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) meeting hall and memorial in 1892.   


This is the Harold Washington Library. With the conversion of Chicago's former central library into the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, a long-term temporary central library was opened in the Mandel Building at 425 North Michigan Avenue and much of the library's collection was put into storage.



A highly publicized design competition, the winning design was awarded to the most overtly traditional approach in the midst of some very diverse proposals. The building recalls neoclassical institutions, but is not literal in all its details. Anyone who walks past this solid red brick structure is compelled to look up when a strong sense that you are being watched overcomes you. It is one of four10 foot tall owls situated at the corners of the roofline.

With the support of then Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Chicago's wealthy 
Pritzker family, ground was broken at the chosen site at Congress Parkway and State Street, covering an entire block. Upon the building's completion in 1991, the new mayor, Richard M. Daley, named the building in honor of the now-deceased former mayor Harold Washington, an advocate of reading and education among Chicagoans as well as an advocate of the library's construction.

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