Coming Full Circle...

Coincidentally, around this time last year, I wrote about the glorious glass mosaic ceiling designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the atrium of the original Marshall Field's department store. Yesterday, since I found myself at the cultural center, less than a block from the old Marshall Field's building, I decided to check out their dual stained glass domes. My interest had been piqued in them by an article I'd read some time ago about the massive 2007 restoration project undertaken on one of the pair, also designed by Tiffany, but for whatever reason, I hadn't gotten around to checking them out for myself.

The Tiffany dome is billed as the largest Tiffany art glass dome in the world. It dates back to 1897, when the building that is now the Cultural Center was opened in its original incarnation as the first Chicago Public Library. In the 1930s, well-meaning officials covered the exterior of the dome with a copper sheath and fitted it with electric backlighting in an effort to protect the glass from the elements. During the restoration, each of the roughly 30,000 pieces of glass were numbered, labeled, and removed. The copper dome was also removed, and replaced with a high-tech, UV-blocking glass dome, in order to allow natural light to shine through the glass once more. The glass pieces were carefully cleaned and restored to their original pastel color palette, and broken pieces were replaced. Ultimately, the goal for the project was to return the dome to Tiffany's original vision.

Tiffany also designed the light fixtures and the mosaics that adorn the room, which is largely used today for private events such as weddings.

The oculus of the dome features a astrological motif.

The Cultural Center's other dome was designed by the Chicago firm of Healy & Millet, and features a military theme in keeping with the space's original use as a memorial to Union soldiers that had served in the Civil War.

In the early 1970s, the library's collection had long outgrown its building, opting to relocate to another facility. The original 1897 structure faced demolition, much like a slew of other historic buildings that were being razed to make room for skyscrapers and other contemporary developments. Then mayor, Richard J. Daley convened a blue-ribbon panel to suggest recommendations for the site, but his wife, the normally publicity shy Sis Daley organized a movement to preserve the library building. Not surprisingly, the committee recommended to save it. Adlai Stevenson furthered the preservationist cause by engineering the building's addition to the National Register of Historic Places. Across the remainder of the 1970s and 1980s, the building morphed into the Cultural center as it is now used today, a venue for art exhibitions, music performances, and dance events that are free for all to enjoy.

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