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Cultural Center a hidden gem in Chicago

Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Photos by Dr. Imre Almassy)
The Tiffany Dome in Preston Bradley Hall is made from 30,000 pieces of glass.

CHICAGO – The Cultural Center is my favorite building in all of Chicago.

Maybe 20 some years ago, on a bus trip led by an art teacher, I learned about this magnificent building. As a master's student and later as an intern at the museum, I found myself revisiting it frequently, bringing friends and family who live in Chicago who, for some reason, "did not know this place existed."

I always made time to attend the free Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, which are at 12:15 p.m. every Wednesday at Preston Bradley Hall.

The best approach to the Cultural Center is along Washington Street off Michigan Avenue (across Millennium Park). It is the impressive Greco-Roman building with one remaining cow sculpture, at 78 E. Washington St.

Take a leisurely walk up to the third floor. If you take the elevator, you will miss the staircase made of white Italian Carrara marble (the same that Michelangelo used for his sculptures), the mosaics of glass, gold leaf, mother-of-pearl and precious stones.

On the third floor, Preston Bradley Hall, named after a prominent clergyman and board member, boasts the largest (38 feet) glass dome in the world, designed by Tiffany. It has 30,000 pieces of glass, with a fish scale pattern and zodiac signs in the center.

Around the dome is an inscription by Addison, the essayist: "Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind which are delivered down from generation to generation as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn." Yes, this is from the circulation department of the old Chicago Public Library, completed in 1897. The walls of Bradley Hall relate to printing, books and libraries.

The East Wing has Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian, Chinese and Greek inscriptions. In the West Wing, they are in French, Italian, Latin, German and Spanish. Thank goodness for Eleanor Daley, Mayor Richard Daley's wife, who said, “I am for restoring and keeping all the beautiful buildings." This building escaped demolition in 1972.

Now imagine listening and watching the various emotions poured by Karen Hakobyan, a handsome, 28-year-old Armenian piano virtuoso. Rachmaninoff and Beethoven would have been thrilled. I believe Phillip Dieckow, a concert pianist and New York reviewer, said it all after Hakobyan's Carnegie recital in 2003: "... I am seldom moved to tears by performances any longer, and even more seldom so delighted with breath-taking playing that I feel like dancing. Both were evoked during this young man's performance." I was thrilled to shake those precious soft hands.     

Having traveled extensively, my husband, Imre, and I agree that we have never seen anything that compares to this and the Great Army of the Republic Hall. Words or pictures do not really capture its essence; see it for yourself, especially since it is just in Chicago. John Keats summed it well: "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases. ...”

Josie Almassy is a Dixon resident.

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