Chicago Public Library (Chicago Cultural Center)

The Chicago Cultural Center is big, bold, and beautiful. It’s a solid institution in a solid building anchoring the intersection of Randolph and Michigan. Filling an entire block, the stone structure stands as an impressive monument to culture; it seems like it was always meant to be. The short story is that the People’s Palace, as it was quickly nicknamed, began as Chicago’s first central public library and then became the first free cultural center in the country.

But this is Chicago, and there are no short stories. This is a town of tantalizing tales with twists, turns, and convoluted machinations.

Prior to 1872, Chicago didn’t have a free public library. However, it did have private libraries, and it had books. Lots of libraries, and lots of books. It’s estimated that the Great Chicago Fire burned between two to three million volumes. Two to three million irreplaceable tomes of knowledge and information. If you need to cry, go ahead. It’s understandable.

Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.

  • Date Completed: 1897
  • Architect: Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge
  • Address: 78 E. Washington St.

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Sources for Chicago Public Library (Chicago Cultural Center)

This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.

  • Chicago Public Library. The Chicago Public Library, 1873-1923. [Chicago]: The Board of directors, 1923.
  • Chicago Public Library, and Azel Farnsworth Hatch. Report On the Question of Lease to Grand Army Hall And Memorial Association of Illinois. [Chicago, 1897.
  • Chicago Public Library Records
  • The Federal Reporter. United States, West Publishing Company, 1888.
  • Girardi, Robert I. “Remembering the Grand Army of the Republic.” Chicago History, Winter 2015.
  • Harrington, Kevin, and Schulze, Franz. Chicago’s Famous Buildings. United Kingdom, University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Hawes, Kirk. A Condensed History of Dearborn Park: And the Efforts … Made During the Past Eight Years to Secure the Right to Erect a Public Library Building And a Soldiers’ And Sailors’ Memorial Hall On the Same … Chicago: The Chicago Public Library [etc.], 1891.
  • Memorials of the Old Chicago Library: Formerly Young Men’s Association, and of the Advent of the New. United States, John K. Scully, 1878.
  • Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine
  • Sharp, Katharine Lucinda. Illinois Libraries. United States, University of Illinois, 1906.
  • Spencer, Gwladys, 1885-1947. The Chicago Public Library: Origins And Backgrounds. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, 1943.
  • United States. Congress. House. Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds. Dearborn Park, Chicago: February 23, 1887 : Committed to the Committee of the Whole House On the State of the Union And Ordered to Be Printed : Mr. Owen, From the Committee On Public Buildings And Grounds, Submitted the Following Report: (to Accompany Bill S. 925) The Committee On the Judiciary, Report … [Washington, D.C., 1887.

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