The Run Down

No matter how long you've been in Chicago, the city's skyline and its architecture will always find a way to stop you in your tracks in a daze of wonderment. Maybe it happens during "Chicago Henge, " the twice a year phenomena where the sun sets in perfect alignment with downtown's grid patterned streets. Or perhaps it's during your daily commute on the Brown line when the train crosses the bridge over the Chicago river. For this guide, we’ll try to replicate some of those awe inspiring moments on a downtown tour where we’ll see the city from high above and walk down the halls of historic buildings. Here are the details.

1. City Views @ Cook County Law Library

2. Frank Lloyd Wright Tour @ The Rookery

3. Free Tour @ Federal Reserve Money Museum

4. Lunch and Explore @ Monadnock Building

5. Winter Garden @ Harold Washington Library

1. Cook County Law Library (@ Daley Center)

For one reason or another, you’ve probably visited the Daley Center. It’s a 40-story building that’s home to more than 120 court rooms, a courtyard featuring a 50 foot Picasso sculpture, and it’s been the movie set for a number of high profile movies including: The Blue’s Brothers, The Dark Knight, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, to name a few.

We’re here, however, to visit the Cook County Law Library located on the 29th floor. What’s so special about this place? Well, for starters, this library look like a time warp to the mid-90s. Secondly, the views from here give you a 360 degree look at the city from high above.

This is a court house, so when you enter the building you’ll have to go through a quick security screen. It’s sort of like airport security where you drop your stuff off through the x-ray machine and walk through a medical detector.

Once through, find the elevator bank to the 29th floor, which will take you straight to the library. Here are some other logistics notes to help plan your day.

– Open to the public  M-F: 8:30AM – 7:00PM
– If you’re looking for a quiet place to work, then this is a nice alternative to a downtown coffee shop.
– Open on Sat: 12:30PM-4:30PM, but it’s only open to attorneys and current litigants. Patrons must present a valid ARDC card and/or court papers stamped within the past year.
– Closed Sunday

In the main study area of the law library, there are huge floor to ceiling windows facing East. On a clear blue day, you’ll see the sky and Lake Michigan sort of blend together to give you a feeling that you’re sitting above the clouds.

On the opposite side of the library is a room full of old law school journals and stacks of other legal reading material. When we visited, there was absolutely nobody in here. Head towards the back walls and you’ll find old type writers lined up against windows with Western and Northern views of the city.

It’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo from anywhere in this place. For you architecture photographers, this library gives you a quiet place to practice undisturbed. 

2. The Rookery

We continue the architecture tour on ground level. Our next stop is a formal tour of “The Rookery” building, a 130 year old structure designed by Daniel Burnham, with a two story lobby designed by one of Chicago’s most iconic architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. You can pop in on your own for a quick peek at the first floor lobby, or you can sign-up for a guided tour. Here are notes for a guided tour.

– There are two types of tours.

– Monday and Wednesday: These tours are held at 11am, 12pm, and 1pm. Tours for these days are 45 min and you’ll explore the lobby and the Burnham library where architects met to plan the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Tickets are $15.

– Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: Tours are held at the same time, but are only 30 min. You’ll get a tour of the lobby, but not the Burnham library. Tickets are $10.

3. Money Museum

Less than a block away is the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. While not an architectural wonder itself, we’re in the financial district and so it just seems right to pop in here for a visit.

Just like most banks, the museum operates on banking hours from 8:30AM – 5:00PM, Monday – Friday. Unlike most banks, this place won’t charge you a fee to visit. 

For monetary policy wonks, this place is a dream come true. There are interactive presentations educating museum-goers on the role the fed places within our financial system, and lots of other material on why managing inflation is so important.

If I just lost you there, how about I just tell you about the piles of cash on display. Have you seen a million dollars in stacks of $20 dollar bills?  Well, they have that behind glass just sitting there and taunting us.

Don’t have an appreciation yet for our banking system? Well, perhaps an exhibit of original notes from Alexander Hamilton, the founding father of our banking system, might change your mind. Or maybe you need hear directly from the man himself in this historically accurate rap battle where he debates the merits of Federal Reserve System with Thomas Jefferson.

4. Monadnock Building and Harry’s Sandwich Shop

Our self-guided architecture tour takes us a few blocks away to the Monadnock building. Built in 1893, this was once the world’s largest office building.

Here’s another fun fact. It’s still the tallest building built with exterior load bearing walls. We don’t really have that today. Most tall buildings have frames with an outer facade that’s used to keep out the elements rather than support the weigh of the building. The walls at the bottom of the Monadnock building, on the other hand are over 6 feet thick at the bottom.

There are no formal tours of the building, but you can make your way through first floor lobby and hallways. The building has been meticulously restored over the years, and today the original design elements from it’s intricate light fixtures, tile, and marble work are still on display.

As you walk through the floor hallway, you’ll notice a series of shops along this lengthy corridor. You’ll find jewelers, hat makers, barbers, and tailors who all fit the vintage design of the building. The hallways have large windows that let you peek into each of these retailers as they work.

We came around lunch time and paid a visit to this sandwich place simply called, Harry’s Sandwich Shop.  It’s owned and operated by a Korean husband and wife team, with the husband manning the grill and his wife taking care of customers at the counter.

You come here for the full Americana diner experience. Grab a cup of coffee and a pastrami sandwich before making your way to our last stop. 

5. Harold Washington Library

We started this guide at a library so we’re going to end this guide at a library. The last stop is an indoor spaced called the “Winter Garden,” located on 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library. Open to the public, this glass-ceiling community space draws people looking who are looking for a quiet are to meet and hang out.

There are chairs and tables throughout this main courtyard space. Some use the room to study while others use it as an indoor picnic space. Grab your food from Harry’s Sandwich Shop and post up here and take advantage of this rare quiet spot among all the hustle and bustle of the city.