Every second weekend of October, Chicagoans get a chance to take a look inside of buildings that are normally off-limits to the public during the annual Open House Chicago event. And this year, for the first time ever, Austin will be a part of it.

The event is organized by the Chicago Architecture Center, an organization that, until recently, was known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The organization works with building owners, elected officials and local community organizations to figure out which buildings will be open in any given year. Over the years, new neighborhoods have been added, and some neighborhoods have dropped out and returned.  

This year, 11 sites in Austin will be part of the event, including Austin Town Hall fieldhouse, 5610 W. Lake St., the recently opened Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center, 5645 W. Lake St., and Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave.

Austin’s participation was made possible thanks to the Austin Coming Together coalition, which lobbied to have them included. 

The Open House is an extension a key aspect in ACT’s burgeoning Quality of Life Plan that focuses on improving Austin’s image. The organization hopes that it will not only expose the greater Chicago area to the great things going on in Austin, but also give residents of the community an opportunity to see places they may not even be aware of. 

Although Austin has never taken part in Open House Chicago, the event is no stranger to the West Side as a whole. North Lawndale has been taking part for many years, with sites around the historic Sears campus in particular becoming a regular fixture of the event. Some sites in West and East Garfield Parks have taken part as well.

Darnell Shields, ACT’s executive director, said that the Quality of Life Plan’s community narrative group reached out to the Architecture Foundation to explore the possibility of adding Austin to the Open House.

“They have been really looking for different opportunities to highlight Austin, highlight the beauty in Austin as opposed to blight,” he said. “We saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between what the residents experience here and how their experience is being reflected in the media.”

One of the architecture center’s board members, Tom Brean, has been involved in ACT’s planning process. He was able to facilitate discussions between ACT and the Architecture Foundation, and bring Shields and others to the table. 

Shields said that the center has been trying to figure out ways to be “more inclusive of other communities in the city, where people may not necessarily have the opportunity to see the sites.” And given that ACT includes a wide range of Austin area stakeholders, they were a logical organization to partner with.

Shields said ACT helped them select the 11 sites in Austin that are on the tour. Most of them are located near an ‘L’ station or a bus route, because everybody involved was well aware that residents taking part in Open House Chicago often traveled between sites by public transit. Some sites didn’t make it in. For example, Shields said, they wanted to include Columbus Park Refectory, but it was already booked for a private event. 

This year’s Open House Chicago will take place on Oct. 13-14, and most of the sites will be open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on both days. Some sites will open an hour earlier and some sites will close on Sundays. 

Most of the sites are located near or within walking distance of Green Line’s Central/Lake ‘L’ station. 

That includes Austin Town Hall Cultural Center fieldhouse (5610 W. Lake), Catholic Charities’ Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center at the former Austin State Bank building (5645 W. Corcoran Pl.), Austin Community Family Center at the former Austin YMCA building (501 N. Central Ave.), Shrine to Our Lady of Fréchou, on the other side of Central/Race intersection (502 N. Central Ave.) and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church (5700 W. Midway Park). 

Further south, the sites include Catalyst Circle Rock church and school campus (5618 W. Washington Blvd.), Loretto Hospital (645 S. Central Ave.) and the nearby Assumption Greek Orthodox Church (601 S. Central Ave.)

Over to the west, roughly at the mid-point between Austin/Lake and Central/Lake ‘L’ station is the Third Unitarian Church (301 N Mayfield Ave.). And one station east of Central/Lake, the two buildings that make up By the Hand Club For Kids’ Austin location (415 and 416 N. Laramie Ave.) are located less than a block north of the Laramie Green Line ‘L’ station. Peace Corner Youth Center is located a few blocks south and two blocks east of the station, at 5022 W. Madison Avenue. 

The event is free, and most buildings allow visitors to take photographs. It should be noted that visitors will not be able to look at every part of each building. For example, at Loretto Hospital, visitors will only be able to see its auditorium and a hallway where scenes from several TV shows were filmed.

In response to a request for comment by Austin Weekly News, the Architecture Foundation forwarded a by the organization’s president, Lynn Osmond.

“[Open House Chicago] attendees are discovering not only what is near their homes, they are exploring new neighborhoods across town and, in the process, changing preconceived notions about their neighbors,” she stated. 

Shields offered similar sentiments.

“We believe we’re fostering a positive conversation in terms of how our community is depicted, in terms of having most beautiful and more architecturally [well-designed] buildings showcased,” he said.  “I’m hoping this will reinforce what we know all along — that Austin is a beautiful place and has these beautiful assets. And I hope that rest of city gets an opportunity to become aware of that.”

For more information about Open House Chicago site in Austin, including exact opening hours, visit https://openhousechicago.org.

CONTACT: igor3@hotmail.com 

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...