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Open House weekend
Open House October 18-19, 2014
Chicago has joined a number of other international cities in offering an Open House weekend, the 3rd Open House weekend was October 19-20, 2013. The Open House is free to visitors and is sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. In 2013 they featured 13 areas that had more than 150 sights open to the public, some of them central including downtown and the Gold Coast which is great for those without cars; some just outside the central area that are easy to reach including Prairie Avenue and Lincoln Park and further afield neighborhoods including Garfield Park/North Lawndale, Pullman, Hyde Park, South Shore, Uptown, Rogers Park/West Ridge, Near West Side, Bridgeport/Back of the Yards and Pilsen that are much easier to tour with a car.
Even with a car we couldn't visit all of the area so we concentrated on Lincoln Park, Pilsen, Hyde Park and Prairie Avenue on Saturday and then downtown on Sunday without a car. It helps to pick up one of the guides (or print from their website) and figure out a route so you are not zig sagging around town. Some of the places are open year round, some of the ones that offer tours regularly give abbreviated tours for the Open House. Some of the participants are just trying to drum up business. We managed to skip the ones that seemed like they were on the tour to drum up business although we did cut out of one tour when it became clear it was less about the building than the architectural firm; but most of the places were really cool.
Some places like the Driehaus Museum and Charnley-Perksy House are normally open for tours but with a fee. Some other places like the Ebenezer Baptist Church or Powhowtan Apartments you probably wouldn't think of visiting and others like the Monroe Building I've walked by hundreds of times without thinking to stop.
Last year we got to see the boardroom of Marshall Field's (OK, I know it's Macy's but the carpet is still Marshall Field green), Col. McCormick's office in the Tribune Tower, the Emil Bach house, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs that is not usually open to the public; the beautiful swimming pools at the Park Castle and Park Gables apartments and the Louis Sullivan designed Auditorium Building's library and Ganz Hall.
If you become a member of the CAF you get priority access but we only waited at one place and that was only for 10 minutes or so, getting to the Driehaus Museum earlier in the day meant no lines at the one place I thought for sure we'd hit one.
Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)
If you are interested in architecture or the history of Chicago, I strongly encourage you to check out which tours are being offered by the CAF when you visit Chicago. There's a free Loop Tour Train that's offered several times each Saturday from May through September (see Chicago Cultural Center tip). The "Historic Skyscrapers" and "Modern Skyscrapers" tours are offered at least once a day throughout the year. But in my opinion, the CAF really shines on their specialty tours. In other tips, I mention the Jackson Blvd and Logan Square tours. I've also taken bus tours, including "Bungalow Belt by Bus," "Devil in the White City Companion Bus Tour," and my favorite, the "Farnsworth House Plus" tour, which was a day-long homage to the work of Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe that culminated at the glorious Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. CAF tour guides, especially those who lead the specialty tours, are exceedingly well-trained. I recently took the CAF boat tour with some visitors, and our tour guide spoke for 90 minutes, reciting dates, architects, and details of countless buildings, all without notes.
Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tours
Chicago is rightfully reknown for its architecture, but most visitors fail to give credit where credit is due.
The city, as an institution, is one of the worst enemies to its wonderful architectural heritage, following (or at least trying to implement) the short-sighted plan of "tear down, rebuild, tear down again" that sadly prevades US urban planning thought (or lack thereof.)
If you're wowed by Chicago's amazing architecture you can directy thank citizen groups, who have gone above and beyond duty, for sparing the structures that evoke history, culture and a sense of place. One of these groups is the Chicago Architecture Foundation, started in 1966 to save the Glessner House on Prairie Avenue.
Plenty of private companies offer a variety of city tours, but none can match the enthusiasm and insight of those led by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Visit their website for a complete lists of their extensive offerings or stop by the first-floor main office at the Santa Fe Center, 224 S. Michigan Avenue.
Chicago Architecture Foundation
Chicago Architecture Foundation
Anyone who loves architecture or is interested in the history of Chicago would like to visit this place.
The Architecture Foundation provides organized walk tours (last for 2 hours) and historic tours.
Chicago Architecture Foundation Tour
We took a 90 minute boat tour highlighting the city's amazing architectural history. The Foundation give you solid information, minus the folk lore you here presented as fact on similar tours.
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