Chicago Cultural Center Grand Army of the Republic Rooms, Chicago

2022 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Restoration

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Rooms, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and located of the 2nd floor of the National Register-listed and locally landmarked Chicago Cultural Center, were meticulously restored by dozens of conservators led by Harboe Architects and Berglund Construction. The project took over two years to complete and was funded thanks to a generous $15 million gift from an anonymous donor to the City of Chicago.

The restoration team used Exacto blades, acetone and cotton pads to reveal original painted surfaces and original aluminum leaf on decorative plaster elements was conserved. The restoration of GAR’s Rotunda — the Healy & Millet-designed art glass dome spanning 40 feet in diameter — involved the cleaning and recaming of 145, double-curved panels containing 62,000 pieces of glass. Missing bronze light fixtures were also recreated using detailed historic photographs and modern 3D-printing technology. Blocked up in the 1930s, infill above the dome was replaced with a modern glass dome cover, protecting the art glass dome below and allowing natural light to shine through the once again. Historic cabinetry and 14-foot tall historic wood doors were repaired and restored.


(Photo credit: Tom Rossiter)


City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

Architect: Thomas “Gunny”  Harboe, FAIA, Harboe Architects

Structural Engineer: Kevin Wilson, TGRWA

MEP Engineer: Mark Nussbaum, Architectural Consulting Engineers

Architectural Conservator: Dorothy Krotzker, Building Conservation Associates

Art Glass Consultant: Julie Sloan, Julie L. Sloan LLC

Lighting Consultant: Robert Shook, Schuler Shook

Contractor: Jack Tribbia, Berglund Construction

Historic Lighting Fabricator: Tom Stemen, Archistoric Products

Art Glass Restoration: Bob Rigali, Daprato Rigali Studios

Paint Conservation: Terry Vanderwell, Evergreene Architectural Arts


(Photo credit: Harboe Architects)


T. Gunny Harboe, Principal at Harboe Architects

The Chicago Cultural Center is a locally and nationally significant building that has served as a cultural centerpiece of the City of Chicago since it was constructed in 1897. Its importance as a cultural institution originated in its use as the Chicago Public Library’s central branch and continued when it became the Chicago Cultural Center. The Grand Army of the Republic Rooms specifically are important as spaces of reflection in memory of the Civil War Union veterans for which it was designed. Although the GAR was disbanded in 1956, the collection of rooms are a lasting testament to the original function of the building.

The restoration project ensures the symbolism integrated within the decorative finishes of the spaces continue to represent sacrifices made during the Civil War. The GAR Rooms also stand as the most architecturally and historically significant interior spaces from the end of the 19th century in the City of Chicago and arguably the country. It is a fully executed interior design by Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the most important decorative artists of the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States.

(Photo credit: Tom Rossiter)


T. Gunny Harboe, Principal at Harboe Architects

The restoration of these historic spaces in the Chicago Cultural Center to their original splendor is a tremendous gift to the citizens of Chicago. “The People’s Palace” as the old library was known, once again reflects that title at both ends of the building. The Grand Army of the Republic Rooms were created as a memorial to the Union Civil War veterans association, and the intricate finishes designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio reflected the high honor intended for the spaces. Over the years, the rich finishes had been overpainted, the dome had been closed off from above to prevent the penetration of natural light and original light fixtures had been removed. With the changes to its physical appearance, the rooms’ historic identity as the former home of the GAR and its creation as a place of memory to those who made personal sacrifices for the Union cause in the Civil War was largely forgotten. The restored finishes exhibit one of the premier examples of a decorated interior by the artisans of the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, as many other examples of the studio’s classic decorative arts treatments have been lost.

The project not only restored the physical characteristics of the spaces, but also renewed their history as memorial spaces to the Grand Army of the Republic. GAR iconography used throughout the spaces as decorative elements were extensively researched, bringing an understanding to the use of such icons symbolic of the Union Army, its organizational structure and its successes in the Civil War.

(Photo credit: Harboe Architects)

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