Mayor Lightfoot and DCASE Announce the Reopening of G.A.R. Rooms at the Chicago Cultural Center Following a $15M Restoration

February 28, 2022

March 26–27 Reopening Weekend will include tours, talks, dance performances and more — also celebrating the Chicago Cultural Center’s 125th anniversary

DCASE Communications

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Chicago Cultural Center G.A.R. Dome

CHICAGO—Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) today announced the late-March reopening of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Hall and Rotunda at the Chicago Cultural Center following a year-long restoration.

"Revitalizing the historic Chicago Cultural Center is vital to our tourism and recovery efforts, as well as our ability to bring our creative community back together," said Mayor Lightfoot. "The reopening of the G.A.R. Memorial Hall and Rotunda is a huge step forward in this effort and is the result of the partnerships we've forged with public and private sector leaders. I thank them for their ongoing support and look forward to welcoming residents and visitors alike to the reopened spaces next month."

Free public programming during a special Reopening Weekend, March 26–27, will include tours, talks, dance performances and more in addition to continuing exhibitions, Welcome Center and Learning Lab events and shopping at BUDDY — also celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Cultural Center, which opened in 1897. The meticulous restoration of the art glass dome and decorative finishes in the G.A.R. rooms, a Civil War memorial, was made possible by a generous grant of services valued at $15,425,000 to the City of Chicago. (The Chicago Cultural Center is home to two magnificent stained-glass domes; the restoration of the Tiffany dome in Preston Bradley Hall was completed in 2008.) For more information, visit

This private support provided access to a highly specialized team that exposed the original 1890s surfaces of the rooms; conserved a 40-foot diameter, 62,000-piece art glass dome; and recreated long-lost custom-designed lighting fixtures.

“This was no ordinary preservation project. It’s been an undertaking beyond belief, assembling the top talents in historic restoration to revive one of the great lost treasures of decorative arts,” said Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian Emeritus for the City of Chicago. “With its sparkling mosaics and art glass dome, the Chicago Cultural Center’s better-known Preston Bradley Hall has been a must-see attraction for decades, but it’s about to get some stiff competition from the G.A.R. rooms.”

Following the restoration, the G.A.R. rooms will reflect their historic appearance, but also more ably facilitate a wider range of free and diverse cultural programming. This includes upgraded lighting, electrical and Wi-Fi — and opportunities for artists and organizations to activate the space through performances and exhibitions.

“I am thrilled to see the magnificent restoration of the G.A.R. rooms come to fruition. The work will not only improve the building and physical structures; it will enhance the public programming at the Chicago Cultural Center,” said DCASE Commissioner Erin Harkey. “Our Reopening Weekend will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the restoration process, a conversation with art historians on what sacrifice and freedom continue to mean to us today — and dance performances (celebrating the 2022 #YearofChicagoDance) intentionally centering Black artists and perspectives in the historical context of slavery and the American Civil War.”

The Chicago Cultural Center restoration, which began in February 2021 following an intensive yearlong study, was executed by Harboe Architects and a team of highly specialized preservation experts and artisans, in partnership with the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) and in consultation with conservators and Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian Emeritus for the City of Chicago. The Landmarks Commission reviewed and unanimously approved the project.


Reopening Weekend Schedule of Events (subject to change):

Saturday, March 26:

  • 11am, “MYTH BUSTIN’ — The REAL Story Behind the G.A.R. Rooms” with Cultural Historian Emeritus Tim Samuelson (G.A.R. Foyer)
  • 12pm and 12:30pm, Guided Tours (G.A.R. Foyer)
  • 12-2pm, Yollocalli Youth Radio program 'Wattz Up!' broadcasts live for their Season #19 opening day - Buddy Store, 1st Floor South
  • 1pm, Behind-the-Scenes Tour with Harboe Architects (G.A.R. Hall)
  • 1-4pm, Relief Printing Workshop with Hoofprint - Buddy Store, 1st Floor South
    Create a set of printed coasters live with Hoofrint from hand-carved linoleum cuts from Chicago artists. Free takeaway.
  • 2pm, “What Sacrifice & Freedom Mean Today” with Professor Emeritus at Roosevelt University Christopher R. Reed, Lewis University Professor of History Dr. Eileen McMahon and artist, researcher, and art therapist Johanna Tesfaye; moderated by Chicago Sun-Times Columnist & ABC-7 Chicago Political Analyst Laura S. Washington (G.A.R. Hall)
  • 3pm, Performance by Red Clay Dance (G.A.R. Hall and beyond) Plus, View the G.A.R. documentary by Chanel 25 (G.A.R. Foyer), visit our hands-on art cart and exhibit displays (G.A.R. Hall) or take a self-guided tour. (Building is open 10am – 5pm)

Sunday, March 27:

  • 11am, “MYTH BUSTIN’ — The REAL Story Behind the G.A.R. Rooms” with Cultural Historian Emeritus Tim Samuelson (G.A.R. Foyer)
  • 12pm and 12:30pm, Guided Tours (G.A.R. Foyer)
  • 1pm, Behind-the-Scenes Tour with Harboe Architects (G.A.R. Hall)
  • 2-5pm, Ceramics in Architecture Workshop with GnarWare - Buddy Store, 1st Floor South
    Create architecturally-inspired hand-built and glazed ceramics with a GnarWare instructor. Ceramics will be fired and can be picked up at the Buddy store after the workshop.

In addition to in-person programming, a new TV documentary (“Restoration”) airing in May chronicles the work of Harboe Architects and a team of fine artists and preservation experts as they restore the historic Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall and Rotunda in the Chicago Cultural Center to their original 1897 grandeur and beauty. “Restoration” will air in May on Comcast, RCN, and WOW on Cable25. Check the Chicago Cultural Center website for dates and times.

Also opening this winter and spring at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.) are two new contemporary art exhibitions featuring the work of five Chicago artists: “An Instrument in the Shape of a Woman” (through September 4, 2022; Michigan Avenue Galleries) and “Jin Lee: Views & Scenes” (NEW START DATE: April 2 – August 7, 2022; Chicago Rooms). Continuing exhibitions include “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott” (through May 29, 2022; Exhibit Hall), organized by the Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati, OH) and made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art; “The Great Chicago Fire in Focus” (ongoing; Landmarks Gallery) — part of a citywide commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire; and “All Together Now: Sound x Design” (through April 3, 2022) across the street at the Design Museum of Chicago at Expo 72 (72 E. Randolph St., Other programs include exhibition-related talks, building tours, Welcome Center and Learning Lab events, shopping at BUDDY ( and more. Plan your visit at


About the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Hall and Rotunda — and Self-Guided Tour of the Restoration

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) rooms in the Chicago Cultural Center, completed in 1897 (celebrating 125 years in 2022), were designed by the Boston firm of Shepley Rutan and Coolidge as a site to honor the social, political, and moral well-being of Civil War veterans and their families. Their historic restoration, completed in 2022, shines a fresh light on the rooms’ purpose. Spend some time lingering in the space to reflect on what is lost and gained through sacrifice, how the sacrifice of others before us has benefited our freedom — and how we are still fighting for freedom today.

G.A.R. Rotunda and Dome
The 40-foot diameter, 62,000-piece art glass G.A.R. dome is even larger than the dome in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall. In the 1940s, the dome was placed under a cement and copper cover (and lit with electric lights) to end damaging water intrusion. Now the stained glass is fully restored, lit with natural light and protected by a new state-of-the-art clear cover. The dome’s leaded glass underwent a monumental cleaning, repair and re-assembling process at Daprato Rigali Studios, located on the far Northwest Side of Chicago, revealing its overwhelming beauty. The restoration team discovered that the original Tiffany-designed finishes of the cast-iron dome frame were completely intact beneath layers of grime. In this room, you will also see the original paint colors revealed chip by chip, repaired plaster detailing, re-created moldings, and renovated embossed plaster carvings on the ceiling.

G.A.R. Hall
In gold around the room is a chronological listing of major Civil War battles. The green marble is from Vermont. The newly restored cherry wood cases along the walls previously displayed Civil War artifacts, which are now preserved at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center. During the restoration, the ceiling, upper walls, and crown molding all were treated to intricate paint removal, damage repair and painstaking touch-up work. The carpets, newly created by computer to duplicate the patterns and colors of the irreparably damaged original mosaic and terrazzo floors, will now help control sound; not a functional concern in 1897. Cutting-edge technologies were used to recreate missing 1897 elements. To recreate the long-missing chandeliers, old photographs and architectural drawings were brought to life through computer imaging, and models of individual pieces were generated by 3D printing. They were then recast in the original bronze and feature replica hand-blown glass shades. The enormous windows have been restored to their original clear glass, allowing light flow into the room (with UV protection) and a stunning view into G.A.R. Hall from the street.

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Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors. Visit

DCASE programming is supported by the Chicago Transit Authority.