Heather & Marty's six-guest cultural center and city tour wedding

April 26 |  
Photos by: Heather Eidson
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Photos by Heather Eidson

The Offbeat Bride: Heather, post-doctoral scientist

Her offbeat partner: Marty, editor

Date and location of wedding: Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL — June 11, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We had recently moved to Chicago and found out that most venue rental fees alone were much more than we wanted to spend for one party (especially since we wanted to honeymoon in Tokyo). After some online searching, we discovered the perfect option for us: the Marriage Court of Cook County performs civil ceremonies at the gorgeous Chicago Cultural Center on select Saturday mornings for the unbelievable price of $10!

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This choice meant our guest list was limited to our immediate families, which was a much easier decision than coming up with a guest list for a larger ceremony. Only six guests meant we were able to have a fantastic brunch after the ceremony at the Custom House with no need to worry about centerpieces and table assignments. I am not a crafty type, so the small ceremony suited me well.

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I loved perusing the vintage-themed weddings, and was inspired to choose a 1950s-style tea-length dress. Marty found a lovely fitted suit and tie to match, and was very excited to wear shiny black patent leather shoes. My sister served as our best person of honor, in charge of parent wrangling and bridal hair.

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We live about a mile south of the Cultural Center, so we decided to frame our ceremony with a portrait session walking to the venue and around the city afterwards. Our photographer, Heather Eidson, was very accommodating to our wishes. We chose locations that inspired us, such as next to the Shepard Fairey mural in an alley near our apartment, outside the Eleven City Diner (June 11, 2011, get it?), and in the beautiful lavender fields of Millennium Park with the bold skyline towering behind.

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Tell us about the ceremony: The ceremony itself was a simple exchange of vows and rings led by the judge at the Cultural Center. It took about five minutes. Many other couples get married each Saturday morning, so several groups were clustered around the G.A.R. Hall waiting their turn to enter the ceremony room. For me, it was nice to not be the only center of attention and I enjoyed seeing what the other couples chose to wear. Attire ranged from jeans to full gowns. After each ceremony was completed, the doors to the ceremony room opened, the newly married couple was announced, and the couple marched out to cheers from the entire hall.

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Our biggest challenge: I think both of our families would have preferred a larger event with extended family and friends, but in the end, both sets of parents appreciated the intimacy of our wedding day. We did compromise and have a reception in my parents' town of Lakefield, Minnesota a month after the ceremony, where we were able to celebrate with my extended family. We're hoping to have a similar event in London, where Marty is from, in the near future.

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My favorite moment: Walking hand-in-hand with Marty as we were making our way down Wabash Avenue to the ceremony site and having complete strangers congratulate us made me feel all warm and fuzzy. I realized that yes, this is a special day, and that I am so happy and excited to be marrying Marty.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great?
Prior to the ceremony, Marty had placed our rings in his suit coat pocket. When it was our turn to enter the ceremony room, his ring was still in his pocket, but mine was not. There was no time to search for it since we were next to go. My mom offered her wedding ring for us to use in the ceremony, which we did. After the ceremony, my dad found it on the floor! I was so happy to find the ring for the sentimental value, but there was also something touching about using my mom's ring in the ceremony.

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My advice for Offbeat Brides: Choose what is most important to you and be honest about it. We are not afraid to admit that for us, the ceremony itself was not as important as the photography and the honeymoon, so that's what we spent our money on. We are just as married now as we would be if we would have had a large ceremony, and that is what matters.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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They ♥ OBB; we ♥ themThis post features Offbeat Vendors! Check out their vendor listing to see how they cater to Offbeat Brides:
  1. You chose wisely! Love the pics! One has to have priorities, especially if you live in an expensive city (I love Chicago but yes, it's expensive). Love the dress!

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  2. We share a wedding anniversary (6.11.11)! I loved seeing your wedding profile because our wedding was kinda large and very rural – just the opposite of your intimate urban affair. It's just neat to think that on the same day we were doing basically the same thing but in such different ways!

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  3. The cultural center has Always Always Always been my favorite architectural landmark in my hometown Chicago! That place is amazing. For anyone who visits, be sure to check it out. It's near millennium park as the bride mentions, and it just keeps going with little surprises and hidden areas. There is even a radio station and an art gallery inside! All free!!

    I have wedding envy and homesickness from these lovely pictures. Many congratulations and hope to see your honeymoon post soon!!!

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  4. "We are not afraid to admit that for us, the ceremony itself was not as important as the photography and the honeymoon, so that's what we spent our money on. "

    This. A million times this, for us, too.

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  5. I think what you did was a fantastic idea. FH is immigrating from The Netherlands and his parents and I will be paying for all the wedding ourselves. We want to eventually go to Delft to visit but he will have to find work first. We want to have a larger wedding later but we have to have a wedding for immigration ASAP when he gets here. I want it to be special and I think you had an amazing plan. I think I will start venue hunting again. I have been so frustrated with pricing that I quit for a little bit.

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  6. Hi!
    Loved your wedding! We are trying to get a spot at the cultural center for a civil ceremony too. What was yor experience like? I'm worried we won't get a spot? We plan to go early in the morning to sign up. Any info would be much appreciated!
    Thanks!

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    • Hi Haley,
      Thanks! I just saw your comment. We knew a few months ahead of time that we'd like to get married in June 2011. Appointments for a Cultural Center civil ceremony can't be made more than 60 days prior to the ceremony date. We called the Marriage and Civil Union Court in March to see which Saturdays in June were available. They were always very helpful on the phone. Then, we picked up our marriage license at the Daley Center exactly 60 days before June 11 (April 12, 2011). They open at 8:30, we were in line at 8. Then we walked over to the Marriage Court across the street, which opens at 9, and waited for a few minutes for them to open, and secured our ceremony date. There were 2 other couples right behind us doing the same thing, so get there early! More details can be found here under FAQ: http://www.cookcountycourt.org/ABOUTTHECOURT/MunicipalDepartment/FirstMunicipalDistrictChicago/MarriageandCivilUnion.aspx It looks like they've limited the number of days per month they perform ceremonies at the Cultural Center, so good luck!

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      • Thanks for this information. We're planning on doing the Cultural Center thing, and I'm super stressed that we won't get it (they only do 10 per month now). I have nightmares about getting the license on the wrong day and a) the spots all filled up the day before, and b) the licence expiring on the day before our wedding. We're planning on getting up bright and early on April 22 for our June 21 ceremony.

        Your wedding looks absolutely fantastic. I hope we can find a photographer as accommodating–we want shots in several places (Marina City, Bean, Buckingham Fountain, etc.), but have a super low photography budget.

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  7. Hi Heather, I fell in love with your photos! Absolutely stunning! I too am looking to do the same as you did at the Chicago Cultural Center. I've had some difficulty trying to contact anyone that could help me arrange getting married there. Is there a contact number you may be able to provide me with? I appreciate all your help.

    1 agrees

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