The grand opulence of Chicago from 1880 to 1920 is on display at the Driehaus Museum. Its building, an ornate mansion built by prominent banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson in 1883 during the height of the city’s Gilded Age, is still in the thick of modern downtown Chicago, two blocks from the city’s dining and retail hub along the ‘Magnificent Mile.’
Unlike other restored mansions-turned-museums, the intent is not to showcase personal histories or artifacts of former owners. Instead, the building’s art nouveau architecture and interior design elements serve as an elaborate display case for a permanent collection of European and American fine furniture and artworks that typify the period. Visitors to the three-story building can look forward period immersion with moody chandeliers, Victorian paintings, carved ebonized Cherrywood paneling and an extensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass lamps, chalices and vases.
Self or docent-guided tours (for an extra fee) explore several rooms including the domed stained-glass ceiling and show-stopping fireplace in the Gallery on the west side first floor, intricately carved lamps and desk legs, and Romanesque sculptures in the Library and an Islamic-inspired smoking room with blue Moorish tiles off the Main Hall. Occasionally, themed exhibitions are incorporated into the space, such as the recent showcase of period costuming from the Masterpiece Theater television production Downton Abbey, and a collection of designer jewelry – including brooches, rings, pendants and hair ornaments – from the Victorian Era to the first World War.
The Driehaus Museum is in Chicago’s Near North neighborhood (40 East Erie Street), and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. til 6 p.m., with the exception of several major holidays. Admission prices flex based on the presence of exhibitions, but are typically start around $20 adults, $10 children with discounts for seniors and students with valid ID. Validated parking discounts – $14 for up to 6 hours – are available at ROW Self-Parking (50 East Ohio Street).