When the building that first housed the central library and now the Chicago Cultural Center was completed in 1897 at cost of more than $60 million in today’s dollars, it was a symbol of the city’s surging national importance and a beacon of culture and knowledge.
The latest milestone in what has been a multistep renovation of the building — a comprehensive, more than $15 million restoration of the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall and Rotunda — is expected to be completed in February 2022 and help bring the structure back to its original splendor.
“It parallels the best of the best doing the building in the 1890s and the best of the best restoring it here in 2021,” said Tim Samuelson, cultural historian emeritus for the City of Chicago.
The one-year project, which has brought together top preservation experts and artisans from the Chicago area and beyond, has been funded by a grant from an anonymous donor — the largest private donation in the history of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
Although the Memorial Hall and rotunda are closed during this overhaul, the rest of the building is open to the public, including a reimagined Welcome Center and Learning Lab, and Buddy, a new shop that features art and other goods by area artists and small fabricators. In addition, several exhibitions can be seen, such as “Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life, 1880-1960.” The landmark building, affectionately called “The…