“The doors of nearly 200 churches, concert halls, co-ops and other historical sites around the city opened to the public last weekend for Open House Chicago, a free annual architecture celebration.
“Organized by the Chicago Architecture Center, the event offered a host of self-guided tours, talks and behind-the-scenes access to 170 sites, more than a dozen of which were on the mid-South Side.
“On Saturday, Oct. 14, the Herald stopped by all three locations in Woodlawn, chosen by organizers to exemplify the neighborhood’s history as part of Chicago’s Black Metropolis of the early to mid-20th century, as well as its recent developments: Christ Church Chicago, The Grand Ballroom, and Hussain MetroSquash Academic & Squash Center.
Christ Church Chicago
“Upon entering Christ Church Chicago, 6154 S. Woodlawn Ave., attendees are greeted by original, 107-year-old terrazzo floors leading to an expansive sanctuary. Inside, guests stand beneath a magnificent blue dome, large enough to be seen from several blocks away.
“Christ Church Chicago was originally built in 1916 for the 9th Church of Christ Scientist by architect Carl Barkhausen. Its dome is the work of renowned designer Rafael Guastavino & Co., whose work includes the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1958, the church became St. John the Baptist until the building was sold in February 2020 to Christ Church, a non-denominational parish. Prior to purchasing the Woodlawn location, the Christ Church parish was based in Hyde Park for more than 20 years.
“Josh Dortzbach, a structural engineer and elder at the church, oversaw renovations to the building from March 2021 through June 2022, when the congregation moved in. Alongside architect Joe Buehler of Present Future Architects, Dortzbach worked to restore and renovate the facility’s accessibility, classroom and office space, and the church’s opulent stained glass dome that rests atop the sanctuary.
“The dome, 56 feet in diameter, is made up of a 4-inch thick masonry shell and is supported by steel roof trusses stretching 94 feet across the auditorium. In total, the dome and its supports weigh 514,000 pounds. The restoration to the dome’s stained glass by the Botti Studio of Architectural Arts included hand cleaning and repairs to 18,192 total pieces of glass.
“Built in 1923 as the Cinderella Ballroom, the Grand Ballroom at 6351 S. Cottage Grove Ave. has been center stage in the Woodlawn community for a century.
“Its terracotta facade, original 60-foot long oak bar and dance floor hosted notable acts from the heyday of Chicago during the jazz era, including John Coltrane and Chet Baker and was frequented by the likes of mafioso Al Capone. In later years, James Brown, Miles Davis, the Intruders and Melba Moore would all perform at the venue.
“The ballroom is an expansive venue that can seat more than 400 and hold more than 700 standing. Designed by architects at Loewenberg & Loewenberg, the interior is based on the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Cinderella.’ The stage at the center of the hall is a large scalloped shell, and pumpkin, glass slipper and carriage motifs adorn the entrance and light fixtures around the venue.
“Over the years, the ballroom changed owners numerous times and was subsequently known as the Music Box, Old Mexico and Granada before becoming the Grand Ballroom in the early 1950s. Today, it’s an event venue rented out for weddings, dances and funeral repasses.” (Liptrot, Hyde Park Herald, 10/18/23)