Historic Chicago Cultural Center Hall Restored | Chicago News

The Chicago Cultural Center reopened this month, and part of it is getting a neat new coat of paint.

The building remains a hotbed of art and culture, but when it opened in 1897, it served as the central library and memorial hall for Civil War veterans. This room has become a restoration and preservation area.

We visited the site and met the city’s cultural historian.


Marc Vitali: When Chicago decided to build a library on Michigan Avenue, part of the land belonged to a group of Civil War veterans.

The Memorial of the Grand Army of the Republic. (Courtesy of the City of Chicago)

Thus, the city dedicated a sumptuous room at the north end of the building to the men who fought for the North.

It was a meeting space, the 19th century equivalent of the VFW. And he served the veterans of the Union of the Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR.

The GAR Memorial Hall is currently undergoing vigorous restoration.

The site is now the front line of a small army of workers concerned with a piece of history.

Much of the work is done on scaffolding 30 feet above the ground.

  • (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

    (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

  • (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

    (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

  • (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

    (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

  • (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

    (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

  • (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

    (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

First, they tackled the rotunda – the art glass that had collapsed was removed for off-site repair, leaving the dome’s raw skeleton behind.

Another team is doing a forensic analysis on the paint finishes to determine the original colors. It is a job that takes time.

Gunny harboe, architect of preservation: We have spent more than a year on research.

But the main thing was to do the physical investigation to expose the color scheme, to see what it was and how they had achieved it, and then to make the models to see how we could replicate it.

Tim samuelson, cultural historian emeritus: It was not a simple paint job. Colors are actually created by layering up to five different colors on top of each other to create the final color.

Vitali: This neoclassical granite and limestone palace was designed by the same company that designed the Art Institute four years earlier.

Samuelson: It was in 1897 that the building first opened, and it was part of a great effort that followed around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair and continued into the 1890s and the 20th century when Chicago wanted to demonstrate that it was not just a young city upstart of stockyards and chimneys. It was a city of culture.

This building was almost burned down years ago, and there were only a limited number of people defending it and it managed to survive and not just survive, it was reused.

Vitali: You may have heard that the city’s cultural historian officially retired earlier this year, but he’s busier than ever.

Samuelson: I am a distinguished cultural historian, so I am still in office. It’s a good concert. Why would I give up?

Chicago is great in that it has this amazing energy. He has this ability to do things and not follow the rules, and so there is a lot of guts and nerve in everything he does, and that is often overkill, and it will give things of a great cultural and artistic value.

It’s almost like a mean, adventurous, really smart kid, you know, the way he evolved. Will the child ever grow up? And of course, even for me – will the child in me ever grow up? I hope neither of us will because it always keeps things interesting, always makes them evolve.

Chicago <a class=Cultural Center (courtesy City of Chicago)” height=”1217″ data-src=”https://news.wttw.com/sites/default/files/styles/full/public/article/image-non-gallery/220_20171127_STOCK.jpg?itok=aceS8rZz” title=”Chicago Cultural Center (courtesy City of Chicago)” width=”1824″/>Chicago Cultural Center (courtesy City of Chicago)

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The commemorative room of the Grand Army of the Republic remains closed while the restoration continues next year. But the Cultural Center is open again and will host free visual art and performance programs presented by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts

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