Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People

Swimming in Chicago Part Two: History of Public Pools

July 24, 2014 by

When I want to go swimming in Chicago and I don’t have time for a trek to the lake, I head to the public pool. Chicago has 49 outdoor pools in its park system. These public pools are free and offer a respite from the sand and the sunbathers, as the vast majority of pool patrons are children eager to swim. In part one of this swimming in Chicago post, we explored the history of Chicago’s beaches, of which there are many. So if Chicago has such a vast lakefront, why are there also so many pools?

While Chicago offers 26 miles of beach, the rest of Chicago is 200 square miles that is not so literally on the lake. In the late 1800s, many of the western neighborhoods were densely populated by the working and poor classes in less than desirable conditions. The majority of Chicago homes did not have electricity or even indoor plumbing for many years. Though West Side Chicago neighborhoods lacked lakefront access, they did have parks.

Thanks to the park commissions established in the 1860s, large-scale parks had been carved out of city blocks and were increasingly connected by boulevards and commuter lines. The parks offered much in green spaces for healthy recreation. Free public swimming pools in Chicago would add the benefits of hygiene while combating the high temperatures of summer in industrial Chicago. A park commissioners report furthers this importance of the public pool by stating, “A clean body usually makes for a clean mind.” And goodness knows with our history of corruption and crime, Chicago was in need of cleanliness on both accounts.

Though the reformers make a great case for godliness, the wave of public pools in Chicago really gained momentum with Chicago’s German-American athletic community. Turnvereins, or turner clubs, focused on gymnastics with a twinge of morals and intellect. Their petitions for outdoor facilities resulted in the first of Chicago’s public pools at Douglas Park. The earliest reports of the natatorium–the building built to house the swimming tanks–rave about the crowds, averaging almost 3,000 swimmers a day! A Chicago Tribune article from the pool’s first months of being open discusses a man who drowned, explaining it took almost 20 minutes to find his body in the crowd of swimmers. Now I’ve seen some crowded pools in my day, but I can’t imagine losing a corpse among the live, swimming bodies.

At most swimming pools in Chicago at the time, pool schedules were regimented to segregate the sexes. Often a mere two days a week were reserved for women and girls; sometimes only mornings were set aside for them. These practices would continue for decades. Douglas Park, however, had two separate pools. In addition to having shorter times for swimming, women even had shorter pools as the women’s pool measured half as long.

swimming in chicagoSwimming at Douglas Park was allowed free of charge after a “shower bath” for which soap and towel were provided. Swimmers were admitted on the batch plan of a new group every hour to be kicked out for the entry of the next, which accounts for the high numbers reached each day and the lines pictured below. The original natatorium no longer stands, though there is still a swimming pool at Douglas Park. The current field house dates to 1928, when architects Michaelsen and Rognstad were sweeping across the West Park Commission constructing a dozen buildings.

Entering Natatorium swimming in chicago

My personal favorite of the public pools in Chicago is at Portage Park. This Olympic-sized outdoor pool also has a separate, extra deep part for diving. Few things make me feel as much like a child as standing atop the high dive: too scared to jump into the pool, too embarrassed to climb down the ladder. Then that rush of wind in descent before you crash into the water.

So whether you’re looking for a quick dip in the lake or a dramatic dive into a public pool, Chicago offers respite from the heat so many of us anticipated all winter long. And a great part about either option? Both the beach and the pool are free. Enjoy!

– Elizabeth Tieri, Tour Guide


Posted in Chicago history, Chicago Neighborhoods, Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

Residential Architecture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

July 16, 2014 by

From greystones and H.H. Richardson to bungalows and Frank Lloyd Wright, residential architecture in Chicago really runs the gamut. One Chicago neighborhood with a great variety of kinds of homes is Lincoln Park.

A long Georgian-revival style building stretches down the little neighborhood street of Arlington Place. It was originally designed as an “Eleanor Club,” which were female-only boarding houses in Chicago. A progressive philanthropist named Ina Robertson founded the Eleanor Women’s Foundation to aid working women in the city, and part of their program was to provide housing for Chicago women. This historic organization had residences in Chicago all the way until 2001 when the last Eleanor residence quietly closed its doors. Edwin H. Clark designed the boarding house and he is also known for other buildings in the Lincoln Park neighborhood such as the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Reptile House and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. Today the building houses the Chicago Getaway Hostel, which gives a great chance to stay in a historic building in a happening neighborhood.

chicago getaway hostel

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Getaway Hostel

The hostel building is today part of the Arlington-Deming Historic District. Another interesting building in the neighborhood is at 546 W. Deming Place. It is another style of apartment building but from a more modern era. This piece of residential architecture is known as the infamous “four-plus-one.” Jerome Soltan invented this economic style of apartment building in the 1960s and 70s. It consists of a five-story building with the bottom floor as a parking lot and lobby and the other four floors above as apartments. While the four-plus-one sounds basic and familiar in many American cities, this style is uniquely Chicago as it is designed around the unique city zoning codes and lot regulations to essentially be the most bang for your buck. The parking lot and lobby level is designed to sit below grade and is only 7′ in height. This makes the level classifiable as a basement and allows the five-story building to be considered four-stories, useful for sneaking around city zoning areas. These buildings exist primarily along the lakeshore, a.k.a. prime sections of real estate. This particular four-plus-one in Lincoln Park has 24 apartments upon the site of what used to be just one single-family home.

Another unique piece of residential architecture and part of this Lincoln Park historic district are the Newman Brothers Houses at 2424, 2430 and 2434 N. Orchard St. Designed by the nephew of Chicago’s first architect, John Van Osdel II, these Châteauesque homes are an interpretation of a style popularized in the 1890s with S.S. Beman’s Kimball House on Chicago’s historic Prairie Avenue. The Newman Brothers Houses were completed in 1895 and include one of my favorite architectural features, a curved glass pane window, something which simply isn’t manufactured these days. The three homes are almost identical with the same exterior design and details. You will see, however, nuances with the different-colored stone of the facade.

From chateau-inspired mansions to efficient profit-making design, the Lincoln Park neighborhood has more than a handful of interesting examples of Chicago’s distinct residential buildings worth a jaunt down the pretty, tree-covered side streets.

–Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide

Posted in Architecture, Chicago history, Chicago Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

July Chicago Events In Architecture And History

July 15, 2014 by

Architecture and history of Chicago are the focus of our weekly events listings, and this week we share with you July Chicago events including a special event on forgotten movie theaters, an architectural bike ride, and a special tour of Prairie Avenue.

portage park chicago movie theater

Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

1. Movie Theater History Event – SPECIAL LECTURE

Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. – Tuesday, July 15th, 7:00pm

$5 suggested donation at door

The recently reopened historic Portage Theater hosts this Forgotten Chicago one-night-only event on the history and legacy of more than a century of movie theaters in Chicago. The 1920 movie theater originally sat 2,000 eager film goers and is now the perfect spot for a night of reminiscing in Chicago’s cinema house history. Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, hosts the evening which includes photographs and images from the Forgotten Chicago database not seen in decades while Bill Savage, acclaimed author, editor, and Northwestern University’s Distinguished Senior Lecturer, offers insight.

2. Guided Bicycle Tour of Oak Park – BIKE TOUR

105 S. Marion St., Oak Park – Friday, July 18th; Saturday, July 19th; Sunday, July 20th, 9:30am-11:30am 

$30 members, $35 non-members – reservations recommended

This is an architecture tour for the more active enthusiast. During the summer months this year the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is offering this two-hour bike tour around the picturesque Oak Park every Friday, Saturday and Sunday where you’ll explore over 22 Wright-designed buildings. Sites featured include the Home and Studio, Unity Temple, Frank Thomas House, Heurtley House, Cheney House, Furbeck House and more. The Trust has partnered with Greenline Wheels, where the tour begins and ends, so you can either bring your own bike or use one of theirs at no extra charge.

3. Prairie Avenue Walking Tour - SPECIAL TOUR

1800 S. Prairie Ave. – Sunday, July 20th, 2:00pm-4:00pm

$12 members, $15 non-members – reservations recommended, call 312.326.1480

Executive Director of the Glessner House Museum and author of Chicago’s Historic Prairie Avenue, William Tyre, leads guests around none other than Chicago’s historic Prairie Avenue on this special tour. As the end all be all of the street’s history, Tyre is the ideal guide to share everything from Fort Dearborn to the neighborhood’s resurgence as a residential hot spot in Chicago. During the tour you’ll also see images of grand homes that have been lost, walk by the eleven remaining mansions, and step inside both the Wheeler Mansion and the 2nd Presbyterian Church.


Posted in Architecture, Chicago history, Chicago Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
end of post

Oriental Institute Museum at U of C: Foto Friday

July 11, 2014 by

One of my favorite museums of Chicago is the Oriental Institute Museum on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park. This great free thing to do in Chicago holds treasures of antiquity from the Ancient Near East, which is roughly what we call today the “Middle East.” Though the Oriental Institute is a small museum in Chicago terms, its power to impress is quite big.

Visit the Oriental Institute Museum and you will marvel at incredibly intricate and precious ancient artifacts from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Israel. You’ll see colossal stone sculptures, games made of wood and gold, iridescent glass bottles, and Egyptian mummies. I’ve also noticed that when people come to the museum, it’s probably easy to overlook the very cool art deco architecture of it. However, it is not to be missed.


– Amanda Scotese, Executive Director of Chicago Detours

Posted in Architectural Photography, Architecture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

Swimming in Chicago Part One: Chicago Beach History

July 10, 2014 by

Summer is here, and with it comes the excitement of outdoor fun and swimming in Chicago. Often on our walking tours, I am asked, “What is your favorite thing about Chicago?”

“THE BEACH,” I respond without hesitation. Any free afternoon I get this summer, you’ll find me at a Chicago beach, swimming in the water and picnicking with a book. Today, Lake Michigan and its beaches provide obvious beauty as well as recreation, exercise, and nature to locals and tourists alike. Historically, Chicago’s lakefront was not always a desirable site, nor was it so accessible. I decided to dig deeper into the history of Chicago’s beaches.

I had always heard that Chicago beaches are built on the debris created by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Dumping debris in the lake seemed like an easy answer to the volume of destruction. With a little research, I found that land-filling in Lake Michigan solved an erosion problem as well as generating more city land, so it became quite popular quite quickly.



Thess first public beaches came out of work done by progressive women like Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson through the Municipal Order League, a women’s reform organization. She urged Chicago to make use of “nature’s tub” as relief of sanitary conditions within congested, workingman neighborhoods. Glamorous, right?

The very first public bathing beach of Chicago dates to 1895 at the shore between Fullerton Avenue and Diversey Parkway as a part of Lincoln Park. Until this point, it isn’t that there weren’t any beaches in Chicago; it was that beaches were private affairs belonging to clubs and hotels, which meant they cost money. Only the highest class of Chicagoans traveled north of the city or across the lake for bathing beaches.

The Lincoln Park beach was free if you wore your own suit or a nickel to rent one, if you can imagine, and it established that working class people could be bathers, too. A Chicago Tribune article of the same year about the perfect lakefront trail bike ride describes this Chicago beach, where you could have witnessed “the antics of the hundreds of little newsboys in swimming” for endless amusement. At this Chicago beach, bathers were separated by gender not only when they changed their clothes but also when entering the water.  The Tribune article describes a rope that divided the swimming area to keep things proper and modest between the sexes.

There were also tough restrictions on what was considered proper attire to swim in Chicago, and breaking these dress codes was an arrestable offense. Consider the costumes necessary to swim in public shown here; bare knees would not be admissible for several years to come.

Bathing Costumes, 1895

Remember the Chicago River at this point still flowed into Lake Michigan, bringing sewage into it. In 1900 the Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed to aid in the reversing of the flow of the river.  The positive effects of this reversal on the cleanliness of the lake water took a few years to become evident. Desire to swim in Lake Michigan grew as the quality of its water improved. In 1909 the Chicago Council established a Committee on Bathing Beaches to better meet the growing demand for more public beaches. The same year, Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago was released, which called for the lakefront to be reserved as park space as well as several Chicago beaches as part of the urban design for the city.

From the Great Fire to the Burnham Plan, Chicago beaches are a hodge-podge of public and private efforts.  The idea of a consolidated Chicago Park District doesn’t happen until 1934, as the city responds to the difficulties of the Great Depression and attempts to access New Deal assistance. This puts both the vast sands of the south and the street-end beaches of the far north under one administration and continues construction projects that had been on hold since the crash. The Chicago Park District continued to acquire private beach property into the 1950s.  Today, Chicago has more than 26 miles of public beach, which afford endless opportunities of free swimming in Chicago’s Lake Michigan.

If Chicago beaches aren’t your scene, stay tuned for Part Two of Swimming in Chicago, where we’ll explore the history of Chicago’s public pools.

– Elizabeth Tieri, Chicago Detours Tour Guide

Posted in Contemporary Chicago, History | Leave a comment
end of post

Free Events This Week: Chicago Architecture And History

July 8, 2014 by

We love Chicago architecture and history so each week we pick some of our favorite Chicago architecture and history events to share. We feature three free events this week with a jazz concert in Grant Park, a culinary street festival, and a local artists art and craft fair.

1. Ella, Louis and All That Jazz – MUSIC PERFORMANCE

Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E Randolph St. – Wednesday, July 9th, 8:00pm


Enjoy one of Chicago’s best summertime venues with music that defined an era. The history of jazz in Chicago reaches from the north side in Uptown to the south side in Bronzeville and this Wednesday you can pay tribute to greats who played at both and everywhere in between. Jeff Tyzik and the Grant Park Orchestra honor Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with a free concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. To be included is the sultry voice of Marva Hicks and the brass stylings of Byron Stripling.

2. Taste of Chicago – STREET FESTIVAL

Grant Park, Jackson Blvd. and Columbus Dr. – Wednesday, July 9th-Sunday, July 13th

FREE Admission

Summer is in full swing in Chicago noted by the ever so popular annual tradition that is Taste of Chicago. This is a five-day food festival that showcases Chicago’s diverse culinary delights with selections from regular restaurants to Pop-Up restaurants to food trucks. As always, the festival includes concerts each night at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park and will feature some of my personal favorites, Emmylou Harris and Jeff Tweedy, among other artists.

chicago dusable museum arts and crafts festival

Photo Credit: Courtesy of

3. 40th Annual DuSable Museum Arts and Crafts Festival – LOCAL ARTS FESTIVAL

740 E 56th Pl. – Saturday, July 12th-Sunday, July 13th


Nearly 200 local artists will be in attendance this year for the DuSable Museum of African American History’s 40th Annual Arts and Crafts Festival. In furthering the museum’s mission to preserve the history and culture of the African-American experience, the festival will showcase work inspired by African-American themes of identity, history and culture. To accompany the visual arts and crafts, performance troupes will perform throughout the festival which celebrates this year the life of the museum’s founder, Dr. Margaret Burroughs.

Posted in Chicago Art, Food, Music, Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
end of post

July 4th Events In Chicago History

July 1, 2014 by

Celebrate Independence Day this year with July 4th events in Chicago history. Each week we bring you our favorite architecture and history events and this week’s events honor Chicago’s place in American history with a Chicago History Fair exhibition, a Chicago music festival, and a tour of Chicago’s beginnings.

chicago history fair newberry library

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Metro History Education Center


Ruggles Hall, 60 W. Walton St. – Wednesday, July 2nd, 4:00pm


This is the fourth consecutive year that Chicago’s Newberry Library has hosted the Chicago History Fair’s Blue Ribbon Student Exhibition. Three dozen high-acheiving projects from the fair are on display for a couple of weeks, this year from June 27th through July 11th. This Wednesday stop by Ruggles hall to learn more about the fair and the exhibition. Some of the student exhibitors as well as two gold medalists from this year’s National History Day competition will be in attendance to take questions and discuss their projects.

2. The Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic – MUSIC FESTIVAL

Jackson Park, 63rd St. and Hayes Dr. – Saturday, July 5th, 6:00am-8:00pm


Get your dance on, because this weekend marks the 23rd annual Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic, a grand get-together for “house heads” around the world. What once began as about 40 friends from the early days of house music having a picnic is now one of the largest house music festivals in the world. This is not surprising as Chicago is the home of house music thanks to the late Frankie Knuckles, who died earlier this year, but who had performed in years past during the festival. This year’s event will feature the legendary Chosen Few DJs as well as guest DJs.

3. Chicago Portage National Historic Site Tour – WALKING TOUR

4800 S. Harlem Ave. – Saturday, July 5th, 10:00am


Stand on ground traversed by the early explorers, settlers and creators of Chicago while you learn how the city was born on a free tour of the Chicago Portage National Historic site. Hosted by the Friends of the Chicago Portage, this tour will explore the Portage from its geological beginnings to how it is still functioning in Chicago today. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes or boots and wear long pants as the 1/2 mile walk will last two hours on a gravel path through the woods in rain or shine. You can pick up the tour at the monumental statue of Marquette and Jolliet and their Native American guide.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
end of post

A Perspective of Willis Tower Architecture: Foto Friday

June 27, 2014 by

We all recognize the giant black skyscraper with big lightning rods as the Sears Tower, or Willis Tower, or whatever you want to call it. I believe that all things change, so I have no problem calling this the Willis Tower. I ended up walking on the west end of the Loop the other day. Just as I was about to cross the street I looked up and discovered this symmetrical perspective of the architecture.

willis tower perspective architecture

From this perspective, the Willis Tower looks especially omnipotent and imposing. For me, the architecture of the Willis Tower is such a symbol of the “City of Broad Shoulders” because of its massive, larger-than-life size as well as its connection to the history of department stores, which is such a key component to understanding Chicago history.

Structural engineer Fazlur Khan is the man behind the grandiose Sears Tower construction in the early 1970s. At this point in architecture, buildings had become more expressive of their structural engineering with steel or concrete compared to the emphasis on ornamentation of the past.

– Amanda Scotese, Executive Director of Chicago Detours

Posted in Architectural Photography | Leave a comment
end of post

Things To Do In Chicago This Week

June 24, 2014 by

Not sure what to do in your free time this week? As always we have our top picks of things to do in Chicago in architecture and history. This week we feature a craft beer launch at the Field Museum, a weekend of gospel music, and a bus tour in Oak Park.

1. Hop To It – BEER LAUNCH

The Field Bistro, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. – Thursday, June 26th, 6:00pm-11:00pm

$40 members/$45 non-members – reservations required 

The Field Museum has partnered with Two Brothers Brewing Company and Chicago chef, Cleetus Friedman, to create their very own craft beer called Cabinet of Curiosities. During the launch of the Field Museum’s own hopped wonder, meet the collaborators as well as explore the history of beer. Ancient drinking and storage beer vessels from around the world will be on display while Curator of Anthropology, Jim Phillips, discusses why so many different cups, tankards, bowls, pots, and flagons were used throughout history. Plus you get to try Cabinet of Curiosities in your very own, to take home, Cabinet of Curiosity pint glass. The Field Bistro will also provide food pairings during the event.

chicago gospel music festival

Photo credit: City of Chicago

2. Chicago Gospel Music Festival – MUSIC FESTIVAL

Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. – Friday, June 27th 11:00am-4:00pm

Ellis Park, 37th & Cottage Grove – Saturday, June 28th-Sunday, June 29th, 11:00am-8:00pm


This weekend marks the 29th year of the Chicago Gospel Music Festival. The festival is presented by the Black McDonald’s Operators Association with free entertainment at the Chicago Cultural Center and in Ellis Park. Ellis Park is in the heart of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood where gospel music was first commercially recorded and is therefore sometimes considered the birthplace of gospel music. Headliners include Tye Tribbett, Karen Clark Sheard, VaShawn Mitchell, Tasha Cobbs and a special tribute to Dr. Charles G. Hayes. The complete line up can be seen here.

3. Wright Kind of Architecture – BUS TOUR

Chicago History Museum, 1601 N Clark St. – Saturday, June 28th, 1:00pm-5:00pm

$45 members/$55 non-members – reservations required

Historian Al Walavich takes you on a tour of Oak Park this weekend to view beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright architecture built between 1889 and 1913. This engaging tour brings guests into a conversation about the part these buildings played in Wright’s long and storied life.



Posted in Architecture, Food, Music, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized, Weekly Architecture and History Events | Leave a comment
end of post

A Climb Inside a Skyscraper Tower: Foto Friday

June 20, 2014 by

methodist temple building skyscraper architectureUrban exploration right in the heart of downtown Chicago filled my afternoon yesterday. I had the very special opportunity to do something that no one does every day - I climbed the inside the skyscraper tower on the very top of the Chicago Temple Building.

I’ve been fascinated by this 1920s skyscraper since I started researching its architecture for our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour a few years ago. It has a sanctuary for the First United Methodist Church on the ground level. When Senior Pastor Phil Blackwell told me that the spire above the “Chapel in the Sky” on the 26th floor was just hollow and full of steps all the way up, I said, “Let’s climb it!”

After years of reminding him of our plan, we finally climbed this spire, a landmark of the Loop. You can see the tower pictured here, with the First National Plaza building to the left, and the Burnham Building below on the right. This style is pretty common among 1920s skyscrapers in Chicago, but this is likely the only one that we could really call a spire, which is an architectural term specifically for pointy towers usually on churches. In this case, its a skyscraper with both a church sanctuary and a chapel.

So yesterday Phil and the church Music Director Erik and I ventured vertically. We put a ladder into a trapdoor on the ceiling of the Chapel in the Sky, and then from there it was several levels of very steep stairs, eventually becoming fixed metal ladders up at the very top.

urban exploration chicago tower architecture

It’s not very often that anyone gets the chance to climb inside a skyscraper tower, so I of course took several photos. I thought this would be full of dead animals and bird droppings, but it was just generally dirty. Where you see the grating at the top of this picture is the level of tiny windows about a third from the top. I had hoped that there would be a way out at the very top, where a cross caps the spire. However, the trap door was too heavy to open more than a couple inches, and we were worried that if we opened it, we weren’t sure that we’d be able to close it again.

Just being in this unusual space was a religious experience enough for me. Doesn’t it look sort of like a steampunk vision of a rocket ship?

– Amanda Scotese, Executive Director





Posted in Architectural Photography, Architecture, Chicago Loop | Leave a comment
end of post
wordpress conversion by 314media