1. Crown Fountain

The Crown Fountain is a public art installation located in Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. The fountain is designed as a modern take on the traditional reflecting pool, and features a pair of glass brick towers that are each 50 feet tall. The towers are illuminated from within and display videos of people’s faces on the screens. Water shoots out of the top of the towers and pools at the bottom to create a man-made reflecting pool. Crown Fountain was designed by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa in the year 2004 and is one of the most recognized contemporary public art installations in Chicago.

2. Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is a historic building located in the Loop neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. It serves as the city’s official reception venue and has served as the city’s primary cultural center since it opened in 1897. The building was originally built as the Chicago Public Library and was the first free public library building in the United States. The Chicago Cultural Center is now home to several city departments and various cultural organizations, including the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. It features free public programming such as exhibits, concerts, tours, lectures and cultural events. The building’s architectural design is also noteworthy, it features a mix of styles such as Beaux-Arts, Renaissance and Byzantine, with impressive features such as grand staircases, mosaics, stained glass, marble and sculpture.

3. The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club

Photo By John Tolva on Flickr

The Clarendon Community Center in Illinois is home to an awe-inspiring miniature railway landscape, known as the Garfield Central. Created by the members of the The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club, this intricate model railway ecosystem ranges from passenger travel to coal transport, it’s a space that seems to defy the laws of physics by being much larger on the inside than it appears on the outside. The model railway is the fifth project undertaken by the The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club which has been recreating tiny worlds since 1947. The model features a wide range of detailed features, from water towers to rocky mountains and general stores, that all look so realistic. Visitors are welcome to drop by during the club’s Friday “operating hours,” but other days of the week are designated as work time. Amatuer enthusiasts can even bring their own model trains to run on the track with supervision of a club member. With interest in traditional modeling waning, it’s important for groups like The Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club to keep these miniature landscapes like Garfield Central alive for many more years to come.

4. Garfield Park Conservatory

In a city of towering concrete structures, finding a tranquil green space can be a challenge. But in Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory offers a serene oasis, showcasing some of the world’s most stunning flora. The community-run conservatory features several gardens, serves as both a study space and an art collection, and is open 365 days a year. The Palm Garden greets visitors with a burst of humidity and vibrant shades of green, while the Show House, filled with exotic flowers and stained glass, is like a nature-inspired art gallery. Each year, different plants are displayed in new arrangements, all grown on-site. The Conservatory also offers light shows in each garden that are specific to that plant or group of plants and their response to light. Not only its an environmental education and aesthetic spectacle but it also a place to get back to nature and is a sanctuary that visitors will want to keep coming back to.

5. Zion Evangelical Lutheran ‘Ghost Church’

In the late 1800s, many unskilled German and Irish immigrants lived in the Lower West Side of Chicago, where they worked long hours in manual labor jobs at nearby slaughterhouses, railroad companies, lumber mills, and garment factories. On their one day off each week, they sought refuge in their local church and found relaxation in a cold beer. The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, with its 90-foot-tall bell tower, sturdy wooden doors, worn Chicago brick, and Gothic German script above the entrance, opened in 1880 to serve this community. As the German residents gradually left the crowded Pilsen neighborhood, they were replaced by people from Bohemian, Polish, Eastern European, and other cultures. By 1956, the church had been abandoned by its original congregation. A fire in 1979 destroyed the roof and interior and a windstorm in 1998 caused further damage, causing owner John Podmajersky Jr. to plan to demolish the building and redevelop the site. He changed his mind after the descendants of the church’s early congregants visited and brought a German-language record of the church’s early history, which moved him and he vowed to save the remains of the church. Today, the bell tower has a modern skylight and the walls have been restored and stabilized, and the interior has been transformed into a peaceful garden sanctuary. A badly burned crucifix, protected by a clear plastic shield, still hangs inside. Podmajersky has not yet moved forward with plans to convert the tower space into artist studios, but the church remains a striking testament to the area’s forgotten history.