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Open House Chicago offers some little-known treasures

A meditation garden hidden behind a Lincoln Square storefront designed by Louis Sullivan. A South Side warehouse packed to the rafters with hundreds of thousands of movie, TV and theater props. A private club located on two floors of the Willis Tower.

There’s a little bit of everything — from the majestic to the quirky, and everything in between — on offer in this year’s Open House Chicago, which runs Saturday and Sunday and is free.

“It’s a lot of stuff we wonder about or we know the public wonders about,” said Garrett Karp, who with colleague Eric Allix Rogers selected the 205 sites on this year’s tour. The event is presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Karp and Rogers make the final site selection — up from 167 last year, with Evanston locations included for the first time — with input from area chambers of commerce, local historical societies and the results of online surveys.

“They are normally closed to the public or the public wouldn’t know they are welcome to come inside,” Karp explained.

One of Karp’s favorites — Zap Props, a 36,000-square-foot warehouse filled with props for rent.

“They have just a massive collection of any item you can imagine,” Karp said.

Those include everything from carousel horses to twin “royal” thrones to torpedoes, according to the Zap website.

If you favor something more industrial, consider a visit to a VCNA Prairie Material on the Near North Side, which has supplied concrete for everything from Trump International Hotel & Tower to Aqua Tower.

“They have these giant silos and they let us climb up into a tower,” Karp said. “That was a little creepy for me.”

Karp said people who tour the sites have come from all 50 states and 91 countries, with visitors coming to the city specifically for the event.

Karp doesn’t recommend visiting all 200-plus sites in two days.

“We know there are some very eager people who can make it to as many as 20 [sites] in one day,” Karp said. “A more manageable number is more like five.”

The open house runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but open times may vary by site and some sites require reservations. So check the website here.

This former power plant for Sears, Roebuck is now the Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center. | Sun-Times file photo
This former power plant for Sears, Roebuck is now the Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center. | Sun-Times file photo
St. Mary of Perpetual Help, 1039 W. 32nd St., is also open to the public during the annual Open House Chicago event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. | Sun-Times file photo
St. Mary of Perpetual Help, 1039 W. 32nd St., is also open to the public during the annual Open House Chicago event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. | Sun-Times file photo
Union Station is also part of Open House Chicago. Though thousands of travelers pass through every day, many may not have the time to look up at some of the building’s details. | Sun-Times file photo
Union Station is also part of Open House Chicago. Though thousands of travelers pass through every day, many may not have the time to look up at some of the building’s details. | Sun-Times file photo