Here are two views from my usual volunteer post at the Washington Street lobby information desk at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. Originally the main entrance to the Chicago Public Library, this lobby is "a dazzling light-filled space finished with white Italian Carrara marble inset with sparkling mosiacs of glass, gold leaf, mother-of-pearl and precious stones," according to an official brochure. "The soft-surfacded marble came from the same quarries used by Michaelangelo for his sculptures."
The white marble staircase (upper photo) leads to Preston Bradley Hall, where library patrons once received their books. Today, various concerts and other events are held there, and the large Tiffany dome is one of the building's chief attractions.
The golden mosaic arches (lower photo) feature the names of great authors. I sit in the shadow of American authors Longfellow, Emerson, Whittier, Bryant, Hawthorne, and Irving, and the arch nearer the doorway features Homer, Plato, and others from the more distant past. I never tire of staring at all this beauty.
I also enjoy watching first-time visitors to the Cultural Center. It seems nearly impossible for anyone to enter for the first time without staring upward, open-mouthed in amazement that such a building exists in Chicago, and that they can explore and enjoy it at no cost. Nearly everyone snaps photos; last week, a visitor without a camera rushed out to buy one and returned to take her pictures. As you can see here, pictures hardly do justice to the magnificence of the place.
I direct visitors to the various exhibits, concerts, and special events taking place, to the Randolph Cafe, the Renaissance Court senior center, the gift shop, and even the restrooms at the other side of the building, and to the Chicago Visitors' Center, which offers an array of information about things to do in Chicago.
Cultural Center visitors are a picture of diversity: all nationalities, races, ages, and interests are represented. When they tell me what a wonderful building it is and how much they enjoyed their visits, I always smile and say "Thank you!" even though I can hardly take credit for their experiences. Don't miss this building on your next trip to Chicago; I think you'll understand why I enjoy sitting at the information desk at least once or twice a week.
Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos by the author