Best Civic Treasure Just Abandoned by Its Board

Chicago Cultural Center

Critics' Picks

Built with a direct tax on citizens and known as the People's Palace, the Chicago Cultural Center opened in 1897 with a dual purpose: the south half housed the Chicago Public Library and the north a Civil War memorial hall. The center's distinctly dual interiors include marble and mosaic walls and staircases and two magnificent Tiffany domes. In 1991, the library moved out and Mayor Richard M. Daley—after some prodding—decided to keep the old building as a free museum. The next year his wife, Maggie, founded the Cultural Center Foundation to help support it. After she died in 2011, the foundation became inactive, and last month it was announced that it would fold. Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has stripped the center of its coffee and gift shops as well as the publisher's gallery that occupied a first-floor space. Programming has been curtailed, too. Wary of the mayor's penchant for privatization, long-time fans of the center worry that the People's Palace might fall out of public hands. To fully understand what's at stake, catch one of the great free tours (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 1:15 PM) and stay tuned.