“Sunlight is shining into the Grand Army of the Republic Hall for the first time in decades with the completion of a year-long restoration in the Chicago Cultural Center.
“The building dating back to 1897 originally served as a library and a memorial hall dedicated to Northern soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Over the years, its ornate details had been obscured through now-outdated updates. But after a grant of services worth more than $15.4 million, visitors can experience how the space once was and learn about who it honors.
“Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller, who has frequented the space since he was a kid, said the restoration is one of Chicago’s best-ever preservation efforts.
“‘This is really a commitment to Chicago’s architecture in this building, and it’s known as the People’s Palace,’ Miller said. ‘I think it’s further commitment to Downtown Chicago and the city as a whole and our architecture and our built environment.’
“The Cultural Center, originally Chicago’s first public library, was spared by the wrecking ball that gutted many historic buildings in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s. It was renovated in the 1970s, became the cultural center in 1991 and received $2 million in upgrades in 1994.
“Technicians used precise blades, acetone and cotton swabs to revitalize the original details of the 125-year-old hall. The 62,000-piece glass dome 40 feet in diameter was placed under a cement-and-copper cover, and illuminated to prevent water damage in the 1940s. The stained glass was cleaned and reassembled, and now is protected with a clear cover.
“Cultural historian emeritus Tim Samuelson took the stage with preservation architect Gunny Harboe and joked, ‘I really like what you did with the place.’
“‘I worked in this building for years and it was pretty wonderful, but you knew that this building, this room, was kind of sleeping. Something had happened to it,’ Samuelson said.” (Boyle, Block Club Chicago, 3/25/22)
Get A First Look At $15 Million Restoration Of The Chicago Cultural Center Hall Honoring Civil War Veterans; The 62,000-piece glass dome in the Grand Army of the Republic rotunda has been revitalized, while technicians recreated chandeliers and touched up floors, walls and windows in the hall. Free events are available through the weekend, Colin Boyle, Block Club Chicago, 3/25/22
First look: Cultural Center unveils historic renovation; The Grand Army of the Republic rooms, a jewel of the Chicago Cultural Center, have undergone a $15 million rehab. We’ve got a photo tour ahead of its debut. Steve Johnson, Crain’s Chicago Tribune, 3/25/22