Chicago Architecture Blog for Curious People
Best Student Field Trips in Chicago
February 12, 2016 by Amanda
With so many options, how does a teacher choose what will be the best student field trips for his or her class? A field trip is such a memorable experience for enthusiastic learners. When I look back on my years in school, it’s the field trip days that clearly stand out to me. Whether focused on art, nature, music or science, a student field trip in Chicago should be very special. Here is a handy guide for planning your student field trip.
#1. Do Something New for Students
First of all, let’s rule out field trips that students may have already experienced or that parents could easily take them to in the future. Events like a student field trip have more impact when the participants feel like they’ll never be able to repeat the same experience. Teachers booking our student group tours sometimes ask me for other ideas for their field trip in Chicago. Only if the group is from far out of the Midwest would I recommend the very respectable institutions like the Art Institute or the Field Museum. While these museums are infinitely engaging, students from the suburbs and the Midwest may have already been and will go again in the future.
#2. Make it active, educational and fun
Secondly, the best student field trips have an activity that fulfills the grand triad: active, educational and fun. Passive activities can be fine, as long as there is an interactive element that gets students thinking from new perspectives. Student bus tours, like our Jazz, Blues and Beyond, might seem passive, since much of it is students sitting on a bus. However, we ask students questions about what they see. We also play an active listening game to get them actively engaged.
Other activities that fulfill this requirement could be a guided tour of a historic theater. I particularly appreciated the dynamic and detailed experience of the tour at the iconic Chicago Theatre. A visit to an artist studio, such as at Lakuna Lofts, is incredible for budding artists, though it works best for smaller-sized groups.
Considering trying a smaller or lesser known museum as they often offer more personal experiences. Years ago, I took some students to the Smart Museum of Art on the University of Chicago campus. The museum educator there did an excellent job at asking students questions to help make contemporary art more fun and accessible for them.
For science field trips, I highly recommend getting up close and personal with the Chicago River! Both Friends of the Chicago River and Mercury Cruises offer ecologically-based student field trips that focus on the Chicago River. Students get to learn about water creatures, water monitoring, and maybe even slime!
What doesn’t fulfill this requirement? It surprises me when teachers want to take their students to Navy Pier. The amusement-park atmosphere can certainly be fun, but the best student field trips should teach something, too!
#3. The Best Student Field Trips Will Connect with Curriculum
Thirdly, teachers should connect their Chicago student field trip with topics from their classes. The activity could connect with themes that fit within the subject matter. A visit to the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest building, could tie in with an American history course. Factory visits can fit into various science classes. For example, a physics class could visit Chicago’s last pinball factory at Stern Pinball (technicaly, it’s just outside Chicago’s city limits). The machines and colors are mesmerizing, and students actually get to learn how they work! Lots of music students like band groups love the aforementioned Jazz, Blues & Beyond tour. The tour teaches them about how Chicago came to be such a hotbed for music. Students don’t just learn trivia and facts. Instead they hear the dynamic stories behind the people and groups of Chicago music history.
Our new 1893 World’s Fair Walking Tour with Games gives an in-depth look at the beautiful remaining buildings in downtown from the era of famous World’s Columbian Exposition. This new walking tour incorporates educational games and the route weaves into historic buildings downtown. Group is divided into two teams. There are prizes, too!
Planning the best student field trips in Chicago will ultimately depend on the excellence of teachers who best understand the interests and passions of their students. Good luck planning your field trip, and let us know if we can be of any help!
–Amanda Scotese, Executive Director
Five Winter Things to Do in The Loop
February 10, 2016 by Alex Bean
We put together a list of five winter things to do in the Loop for you, since Chicago has a cold weather reputation. Winter weather can be a burden in disguise. Watching snow falling is always magical, of course. Gridlocked traffic and frigid temperatures are decidedly less delightful. Every activity we list here is indoors and easily accessible by transit.
The city’s museums lead off our list of winter things to do in the Loop. My favorite is the Art Institute of Chicago. The permanent collection spans millennia and includes art from around the world. The Modern wing is also a beautiful architectural space to visit. For me, it’s always worth going just to see Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” again.
Or you can go to the Museum Campus, accessible via an easy bus ride from State Street. All three museums down there are worth the trip, but the Field Museum is my recommendation. The permanent displays are always worth a visit and it gets the biggest special exhibits in the city.
2. The Union Station Headhouse
I’m half-surprised this space still exists. Most commonly known for its Great Hall, the Union Station Headhouse feels like something you’d only find in Lost Chicago. The Headhouse takes up the whole block across Canal Street from Union Station’s main terminal. The Great Hall is historically a giant waiting room. You might remember it from the big shootout scene in The Untouchables. The original architectural plan called for a skyscraper to be built above the headhouse, but that never panned out. The best activity here, beyond taking photos, is to just sit, relax and people watch among the beautiful natural light. The monumental Neoclassical architecture will make you glad it’s on your list of winter things to do in The Loop.
3. 9th Floor of the Harold Washington Library
The top floor of our public library has a few cool things to do in Chicago. A permanent exhibit tells the story of the library’s namesake, a former mayor. Also the current temporary exhibition, “Straight into the Camera,” shows photography of the people of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
The ninth-floor’s “Winter Garden,” like the Headhouse, is a public space illuminated with natural light. The Winter Garden‘s architecture inspires a calm and reflective atmosphere. It’s also a stark contrast to the musty stacks and heavy brick architecture you see in the rest of the building. This quiet public space is a peaceful refuge downtown for me.
And lastly, on the ninth floor you will find the library’s Special Collections, where you can view anything from Civil War artifacts to theater programs from the early 1900s.
4. The Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour with Pedway
Not to brag, but our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour with Pedway belongs on any list of winter things to do in the Loop. The two-hour walking tour weaves through the insides of buildings and some of the Pedway system of underground tunnels. Because we’re mostly indoors, this tour still runs on those cold or snowy days when it feels like nothing in town is functioning. I’ve lead this tour when the air temperature was zero degrees and all the guests had a great time.
5. Wander the Pedway on Your Own
Already been on the Loop Interior Architecture Tour? Didn’t manage to get a reservation before we sold out? Have no fear, because you can still mark this off your list of winter things to do in the Loop. Our Pedway Map lets you explore Chicago’s mysterious underground on your own. Launch a shopping expedition while you meander below Block Thirty Seven and Field’s. Or challenge yourself to explore the Pedway’s mazes underneath the New Eastside, which is the name for the new residential area just north of Maggie Daley Park.
Now get out there and enjoy yourself this winter!
-Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide
The Wabash Lights and New Trends in Public Art
February 5, 2016 by Alex Bean
The Wabash Lights, a new Kickstarter-funded interactive public art installation, launched its beta test Thursday night. The beta test is an installation of four twelve-foot lengths of LED lights underneath the ‘L’ tracks between Monroe and Adams. Eventually, the Wabash Lights will run the length of seven blocks, from Van Buren Street to Lake Street. Passers-by will use their phones to change the colors and patterns they see up in the ‘L’ tracks above. In both its design and funding, the Wabash Lights presents an intriguing glimpse at the changing face of contemporary public art in Chicago.
The “Public” of Public Art
Last summer the designers of the Wabash Lights, Jack Newell and Seth Unger, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the beta test. They explained why the project was looking for crowd-sourced donations to fund the beta test.
“We are Kickstarting this project because it’s important to us that The Wabash Lights be seeded by the public. Public art is often created by one, paid for by few, but meant for everyone. We want to reverse that notion and bring the voice of the public into our project as donors and also designers.”
It’s fascinating to hear this statement of downtown public art coming from the people. Some of downtown’s other public art has been, as Newell and Unger say, commissioned and executed by a select few. As guests on our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour know, the Chicago Picasso was carefully overseen by Mayor Richard J. Daley. He arranged for a $100,000 commission for Picasso from the Chicago Public Building Commission. The sculpture’s actual construction was paid for by three large charitable funds. That same method of top-down control is still widely used for public art commissions.
The Wabash Lights designers, on the other hand, will fund the complete installation through donations by corporations and foundations. Nevertheless, asking the general public for funding might speak to changing trends in the art world.
Interactivity of the Wabash Lights
The big hook of the Wabash Lights is the art installation’s interactive quality. Each LED light tube can have its display reprogrammed from the smartphones of passersby. The designers claim that each 1/2 inch section of the lights will be controllable. So if a pedestrian had a great day at work, she can turn a stretch of Wabash Avenue into a neon yellow reflection of their mood. Alternately, a street musician could create some mood lighting of his personal tastes for his street-corner stage. Eventually the Wabash Lights might turn this corner of the Loop into an attraction with its kaleidoscope of colors.
The full experience of the Wabash Lights will not be felt for a while yet. Plans call for the beta test to run for the next 6-12 months. In that time the lights will not be interactive. Instead, the designers will use the time to experiment with a variety of displays. Also they will troubleshoot any technological, logistical and design hurdles that spring up after installation and activation.
You can check out the Wabash Lights for yourself on Wabash between Monroe and Adams. The lights will turn on evening around dusk and stay on until 1 or 2 in the morning.
– Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide
Non-Gothic Buildings on the University of Chicago Campus
January 29, 2016 by Alex Bean
University of Chicago Campus Architecture
The University of Chicago campus has long been known for its Victorian Gothic architecture. The oldest buildings on campus date back to the 1890’s, when the school’s founders set out to imitate Oxford in scholastic rigor and architectural aesthetic. Much of the campus retains that Gothic vibe, but we wanted to explore some of the newer non-Gothic buildings that dot the University of Chicago campus.
I’ll start off with a building that was under construction when I was a student at UChicago. The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library was designed by Helmut Jahn, whose post-modern architecture can be seen all over Chicago, this glass domed space opened in 2011. The library consists of a airy and light-filled reading room at ground level and underground storage facilities for up to 3.5 million volumes. I’ve been in here a few times on visits back to campus. For me, the most striking thing about the building is how it contrasts with the neighboring buildings. The Victorian Gothic Main Quad is across 57th Street and next door is the Regenstein Library, a concrete building from the Brutalist school of architecture. Seeing them from inside the Mansueto makes it feel like you’re looking at the Earth from a spaceship.
Logan Center for the Arts
Across the Midway Plaisance from the Main Quads, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts was designed as a home for the university’s visual and performing arts programs. The building abuts the Lorado Taft Midway Studios, which was home to the titular Mr. Taft’s sculpting studios and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 50 years. The Logan Center itself consists of a tower that soars above the Midway, multiple performance spaces and theaters, studios, set construction shops, rehearsal spaces, and classrooms.
Like the Mansueto Library, the Logan Center is an example of more contemporary architecture. Its saw-toothed roof mimics the Taft Midway Studios and the facade irregularly breaks between glass and brick. The architectural look sort of reminds me of men who repeatedly comb and gel their hair up straight for fifteen minutes. The overall effect, though, has always reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West out in Arizona. That architectural style could hardly contrast more with the Gothic Main Quad a few blocks away.
Saieh Hall for Economics
I chose to end with this architectural example because it blends the old and new styles from across the rest of the University of Chicago campus. The building now know as Saieh Hall was originally constructed in the 1920’s for the the university-affiliated Chicago Theological Seminary. Its neo-Gothic architecture fit in with the Main Quads of the University of Chicago campus, though the soaring brick tower was always iconoclastic. The Seminary, and the much beloved Seminary Co-Op Bookstore moved into new spaces a few years ago. The university’s Department of Economics & Friedman Institute for Research in Economics became the new tenants.
For this change, the building was given a postmodern renovation. I say “postmodern” because often this architectural style mixes old and new elements. Spaces were updated to modern standards and a new pavilion was added to tie the structure together. The ornamental neo-Gothic architectural style remains the dominant aesthetic with the glass, polished steel, and airy spaces of contemporary architecture making the building feel contemporary and functional. It’s an ingenious blending of old and new that I suspect will spread across campus quickly as it continues to evolve.
–Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide
What Working for Rick Steves is Really Like
January 27, 2016 by Amanda
“What’s working for Rick Steves like?” I’ve heard that question many times since I worked as one of his tour guides in Europe. Rick Steves and his partner, Trish, joined me for a tour with Chicago Detours this week. So I thought I’d answer a few of those common questions for our tour guests who use his books for their trip to Europe or religiously watch his PBS show.
I know Rick Steves because I worked for his company for over a decade. Before that, I had traveled in Italy and spoke the language. During college, I also briefly worked as an assistant tour guide in Italy for a different company. Rick’s tour company, which is how his travel empire began, was then called “Europe Through the Back Door.” ETBD hired me as a guide to lead multi-day tours around the country. My background as a freelance journalist led me to work on updating his tour guidebooks about Italy.
The tours are a huge operation managed by an impressive team, but the books are an aspect of the business that Rick personally manages. Rick and I traveled together for four days of training so that I could update his best-selling Italy guidebooks. The tour guides also flew to the Rick Steves headquarters in Edmonds, Washington for an annual week of meetings and social events with Rick and his staff.
So here’s what working for Rick Steves is really like.
Working for Rick Steves is Hard Work
As Rick and I walked around Florence, which is swarming with Americans, people seemed to expect Rick to be waiting around any corner. At the end of interactions with him, they would often say, “Have a great vacation!” Rick Steves is not on vacation. While his television show may suggest otherwise, the man is not sipping wine and nibbling on Spanish churros all day long. He is working really, really hard.
When I worked on the book updates with him, we were practically sprinting around town to see every hotel, restaurant, laundromat, museum, church and train station in the city. We worked from dawn until well past dusk. The day was also long when I worked as a tour guide, since it was full of activities. Being a leader for groups of up to 28 different personalities also had its challenges. To explain that in full would require much more than a blog post.
Rick’s tour company employs 80 full-time employees in the office. They manage the books, television and radio shows, tours and store. On top of that, the European tours employ more than 100 guides, who live around the world. You don’t build a company from the ground up by being on vacation. The man works. All the time.
Rick Steves is Efficient as All Hell
I speak fluent Italian. While training with Rick, he asked me to interpret something for him to a restaurant owner. Rick wanted the restaurant owner to offer a special deal for readers of his book. While Rick said about five words, my interpretation took about five times as long to say. To communicate the phrase as an Italian would, I had to explain the idea and say the same thing in a couple different ways. He flatly expressed to me that he was not at all into the length of my communications.
Rick acquires and checks an enormous mass of information for his books. From working with him, I learned how when you have 50 things to do in a day, if each thing can take half as long, you can accomplish twice as much. As a small business owner, I have to be efficient. I am very grateful to have learned this.
He is a Fun Dude
For his PBS show, Rick has a very chill and friendly persona. Like any television personalities, his real character is not as watered down and wholesome. While he is easygoing, he is still pretty intensely hard-working, as mentioned above. Also, the guy can be pretty funny. You can get a better sense of this if you to one of his public speaking events, like his Ted Talk.
Or you can see Rick Steves dance at one of our tour guide parties a few years ago.
Rick has a great sense of humor. I also know because he laughed at my jokes when he came on our tour of architectural interiors and the underground Pedway System
Rick Steves is Not a Total Stoner
Yes, Rick speaks out about the legalization of marijuana. His advocacy relates to burdens on our criminal justice system and the lost tax revenue that legalization might bring. It’s a no-brainer that the medical uses of it are vast. Rick’s ideas on drug policy reform are very politically motivated.
But no, Rick is not toking a bong every morning before going to manage his huge business. Rick certainly has some hippie roots, but he is not a total stoner.
He Treats His Employees Well
When I began working for Rick Steves’ tour company, I was really impressed how it seemed like almost everyone had been there at least a decade. After I got hired, it took me at least five years before it didn’t seem like I was a newbie. I initially trained as a tour guide with Dave Horelein, who does the awesome maps in the guidebooks, and he’s been working with Rick for 30 years.
Longevity in a company shows that Rick is doing something right. While any business owner has enormous support from his or her employees, it is the leader that establishes a company culture. I would describe the Rick Steves’ company culture as casual, friendly, open, hard-working, liberal and smart.
I may not know him on a really personal basis, but this is what I’ve gathered from working for Rick Steves over the years. It was a great honor to have him take a break from the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show to come explore Chicago with me and ten other guests on our Loop Interior Architecture Tour.
— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director
The Pittsfield Building’s Architecture, Past to Present
January 20, 2016 by Alex Bean
The Pittsfield Building balances its past with the demands of the present. It’s a great example of how Chicago architecture can elegantly age. Located in the landmark district of the Loop’s Jewelers Row, the Pittsfield Building opened in 1927 as a mixed-use office and retail skyscraper. I popped in to the Pittsfield while leading an architecture tour this week. As I looked at the architectural details in its striking lobby, I thought about how the architecture of the Pittsfield Building is an example of the way structures can change and adapt across time.
To give you some background, the Pittsfield Building was constructed by the Estate of Marshall Field. The prolific architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed it. Interestingly, Marshall Field III gave the Pittsfield Building to the Field Museum, which owned it until the 1960’s.
Architectural Design of the Pittsfield Building
The architecture of the Pittsfield Building was designed with two different commercial spaces. The upper floors, from 5 to 37, were professional offices for lawyers, dentists, and doctors. The lower levels, from the basement to the 5th, were for small retailers such as jewelers, restaurants, tobacco stores, and newsstands.
The lower levels were decorated in a “Spanish Gothic Revival” style with some Art Deco touches. The architectural style unmistakably recalls the 1920’s. When you step inside, the gilt elevator lobby ceilings are coffered into a maze-like hexagonal pattern. Continue entering, and the atrium soars five floors above you and is crowned with a gigantic chandelier. Every spare surface in the lobby and atrium seems to be covered in marble.
The effect of all the architectural ornamentation is stunning in its opulence and aesthetic appeal. Of course, that fits right into the flashy architectural approach that Marshall Field pioneered at his store, as any of our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour guests can attest. It’s easy to see why the building was declared a Chicago Historic Landmark in 2002.
Contemporary Hurdles for the Pittsfield
The architectural plan for the Pittsfield Building suited its time, but it faces some contemporary hurdles. Medical professionals and their patients prefer sparkly new facilities, meaning a loss of office rentals. The Pittsfield has made up for that loss by renting several of the floors to nearby universities as dorms. Another plan wants to turn some of the floors into a new hotel, but a legal battle between developers has that currently on hold.
A building this old also prevents a challenge for contemporary retailers. The architects’ original plan put most of the shops in the atrium or basement. Those spaces still look beautiful, but most are vacant and seemingly forgotten. Most companies today prefer sidewalk-accessible storefronts or a presence in a mall with dozens of stores.
Chicago’s past is littered with examples of magnificent architecture that – like the Pittsfield – outlived their original architectural design. Some, like Louis Sullivan’s old Stock Exchange, met the wrecking ball. Others, like the Chicago Athletic Association, have been revitalized and repurposed. I’d prefer the latter for the Pittsfield Building, of course, but it will take a developer with big ambitions and deep pockets to see it all the way through.
– Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Tour Guide
Hidden History of Cabrini Shrine in Lincoln Park
January 14, 2016 by Alex Bean
The Mother Cabrini Shrine in Lincoln Park is a perfect example of the kind of surprises you run into when wandering Chicago. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a Roman Catholic saint who worked in Chicago. Many Chicagoans associate the Cabrini name with the infamous Cabrini-Green public housing project, but that’s a couple miles south of here.
The shrine, originally built in the 1950s, today sits behind a 39-story luxury condominium high-rise and abuts a massive new mansion built for the billionaire Mansueto family. And to be clear, it’s much more than a shrine – it’s an entire chapel structure. I live a few blocks away and had always been baffled by the incongruous sight of an old church attached to a new high-rise. So I decided to launch an investigation into how this odd situation came to be.
Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian nun who emigrated to the United States in the late 19th Century in order to minister to the gigantic number of poor Italian immigrants crowding into American cities. The order she founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, helped found schools, hospitals, and orphanages across the world. In Chicago, they catered to the predominantly Italian neighborhoods of the time, like Chicago’s Near West Side.
The Mother Cabrini Shrine in Lincoln Park evolved on the grounds of Columbus Hospital, which she helped found in 1905 and where she passed away in 1917. She was canonized in 1946, making her the first naturalized citizen of the U.S. to be named a Catholic saint. So many pilgrims were coming to visit the room where she had lived (and died) in the hospital that they impeded the hospital’s operations. So the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to create a distinct shrine on the hospital grounds, which is the building that opened in 1955 and sits behind a high-rise today.
Both the Columbus Hospital and the Shrine closed in 2002. The hospital was torn down, but Cabrini Shrine was saved from the wrecking ball. The developers of Lincoln Park 2550, a new condo high-rise, agreed to preserve the shrine when they bought the property. Today, the Mother Cabrini Shrine’s entrance and exhibit halls are built into the larger Lincoln Park 2550 structure.
I made a call to the Mother Cabrini Shrine, and it ends up that you can easily arrange for a casual tour. So I stopped by and discovered that you can only access the Shrine through an entrance in the gigantic new condo tower’s facade. It looked like there were units right above the shrine’s offices, in fact. Once inside, Sister Renee showed me the new exhibit hall’s photos and artifacts of the institutions the saint founded here. On display was Cabrini’s little black book, which included many bigwig Catholic bishops and politicians. There’s also a recreation of the room Mother Cabrini passed away in. Sister Renee explained that the furniture was original, including the chair Saint Cabrini was sitting in when she died.
The shrine itself is still at the heart of the complex, designed by Chicagoan Leonard Gliatto in 1955. The chapel was to resemble the Romanesque churches that Saint Cabrini would have known in Italy. The ceiling murals, which depict the saint’s life, are beautifully preserved with vibrant colors. Another detail I discovered on my tour is that the femur bone relic of St. Cabrini is encased in glass under the altar.
Most Chicago high-rises don’t have a historic holy space like this in their backyards! It’s pretty special so I recommend a visit. The Mother Cabrini Shrine is open six days a week, holds a mass every Saturday, and you can call for a quick tour.
– Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Tour Guide
A New Year of New Buildings in Chicago
January 4, 2016 by Alex Bean
The dawn of a new year has us thinking about the new architecture that will change Chicago’s skyline. Construction on major buildings slowed to a crawl after the Great Recession, but the tide has turned. Several new high-rises are popping up quickly, and showing us that the way we live and work in the city is changing. Let’s talk about Chicago’s skyscrapers that are slated to open in 2016.
I frequently ride the Brown Line and always take in the scenery when the train goes across the river. Over the past year or two, that’s meant observing the riverside construction of several new buildings. The first to be finished is Wolf Point West, which is another apartment building. It will be joined by two others on the same spit of land. The tallest, Wolf Point South, won’t open for a few more years and is planned to be one of the tallest in the city.
Block 37 Apartment Tower
Those who have joined us for the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour will know all about the epic saga that is Block 37’s redevelopment. It literally takes a whole book to grasp Block 37, or we share a more concise version on the walking tour. And here’s an even more concise version: the Pedway passage, office tower, and mall at Block 37 have all been open for a few years. The planned apartment towers and transit center were not built on-time because of financial issues. But construction finally began on the apartments a few years ago and it topped out just a few months ago. The new building holds 690 rental units and is expected to open mid-year. All those new renters, a new AMC dine-in theater that just opened in December, and upscale Latinicity food court just might draw some crowds. Little by litte, Block 37 is getting there.
Block 37 isn’t the only spot where new apartment towers are appearing. In fact, the biggest trend for new buildings in Chicago seems to be downtown luxury apartments. Just a few blocks from Block 37, a 41-floor tower dubbed MILA will open in 2016. The developers got that name from the building’s intersection – Michigan and Lake. It’s on a stretch of Michigan Avenue between the river and Millennium Park that is starting to be called the “Millennium Mile.” MILA is just one part of a recent boomlet in new apartment, hotel, and retail buildings in that stretch. I traverse that spot a lot, since I teach at nearby Harold Washington College, so it will be interesting to see if that relatively sleepy corner of downtown comes alive this year.
Just west of the river from downtown, two new office towers that climb over 50 stories tall are being constructed above the tracks heading into Union Station. One of them, called 200 North Riverside Plaza, has a design that caught my eye. Personally, I love the soaring arches that will curve into the building’s shape at its top and bottom. They read as an abstracted echo of the bend in the river below.
These new buildings in Chicago will radically alter what we see in the skyline and where people live, work, and move about. Years ago no one would even think of living in downtown Chicago (except maybe the pastor in the Temple Building). With more people living in the Loop, there will be more shopping, restaurants, and things to do. And with plans for even more super-tall buildings beyond 2016, it’s an exciting time to be an architecture nerd in Chicago.
– Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Tour Guide
Three Chicago Holiday Traditions and One New
December 17, 2015 by Alex Bean
Like millions of other Chicagoans, I love the unique festivities and special Chicago holiday traditions. Here are some of our favorite activities to celebrate the holidays in Chicago this season.
Window Displays at Marshall Field’s
These dioramas have been a Chicago holiday tradition since they first enchanted kids of all ages in the 1890’s. The Field’s brand was retired when the store was bought by Macy’s, but the tradition continued and each window draws a sizable crowd throughout the holidays. In my own experience, it can be just as magical (and maybe a little easier) to go up to the 7th and look in on the glorious Christmas tree in The Walnut Room.
Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza
I was surprised to learn that the annual Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza has been a Chicago holiday tradition for less than 20 years. The open-air market is based on the original in Nuremberg. That festival began in 1545, so it might be a while before we in Chicago catch up.
At Christkindlmarket, you can buy special holiday gifts like ornaments, knit hats, and also genuine German food like currywurst or apple strudel. It’s now become more international, too, with stalls from Poland, France, and South America. We have some tips for finding the right sausage, sweets, and stocking stuffers.
A great joy of the Christkindlmarket is getting the souvenir boot filled up with mulled wine, called gluhwein. Have you ever wondered what ingredients are in it?
As I can attest from my visit this year, the crowds at Christkindlmarket can be immense and dense. Go on the weekend only if you dare!
The CTA Holiday Train
This Chicago holiday tradition started riding the rails in 1992. An El train is decked out with holiday lights, blasting music, and a flatbed open-air car for a real live Santa, his sleigh and his reindeer.
Bad luck and worse timing means I haven’t gotten to ride the train this year. But we could hear its music and announcements out our office windows in the Loop last week, which was a treat.
A new Chicago holiday tradition is launching this year. A New Year’s Eve celebration named Chi-Town Rising is being hosted at the Hyatt Regency. The giant party on the riverfront will bring in musical acts and celebrity hosts and will simulcast the celebration on NBC5 and Telemundo. Time will tell if it catches on and becomes another Chicago holiday tradition.
— Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Tour Guide
Review of our Saturday Big Shoulders Food Tour with Bars
December 7, 2015 by Amanda
This past Saturday, Elizabeth and I took two busses full of guests to Bridgeport as a public preview our newest private group food tour of Chicago, the Big Shoulders Historic Bar and Food Bus Tour. We originally planned to just offer this special experience to one 40-passenger bus, but added a second tour after selling out in early November.
Guests ranged from our Chicago Detours community of past tour guests to those who read about it in the Daily Herald. We also hosted hotel partners from the Peninsula, Hotel Lincoln, Loews Hotel, and the Gwen, among others.
We focused on the area’s history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We talked about the saloon and its role as the living room for the working class. After touring through the old Union Stock Yards area, we drove by the crumbling ruins of the Central Manufacturing District. Many Bridgeport residents did back-breaking labor in one of these two massive industrial areas.
Our second drink stop (yes, we had drinks before getting into the food portion of the food tour), was at Schaller’s Pump, once part of the long-gone Ambrosia Brewery. I was happy to see that the owner, 91-year-old Jack Shaller was there. His family has been in the business for three generations, and Jack can always be spotted wearing his veteran’s cap and a smile.
The way to do it at Schaller’s Pump is pitchers of beer. For private group tours, we have an even more filling option of food for the tour, which has an entire entree of corned beef and cabbage here.
On Lituanica Street, we looked at regular Bridgeport homes that were once Lithuanian taverns that lined this now-residential area. I hopped off the bus to grab a loaf of Lithuanian rye from Bruno’s Bakery, which you can get at the local Whole Foods Markets.
Our third stop, and the highlight of the food tour portion of our evening, is Johnny O’s. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of the secret bar, but I will tell you that this was where we had hot dogs, mother-in-law sandwiches, fried veggies, French fries, local beers, and even got to hear a song from Johnny’s stint as a 60’s lounge singer with the name “Johnny Powers.”
A trip down Morgan Street showed us remnants of even more taverns, as well as the neighborhood’s turn from working class to hipster class, with art galleries and Maria’s Community Bar. Then I hopped off the bus to grab delicious chocolate lace oatmeal cookies from Pleasant House Bakery.
We rode down Archer Ave., once the commercial hub of the neighborhood and now a weird mix of buildings from the late 1800s, the ’50s, and more recent. We also get Polish cookies from Bridgeport Bakery, another Bridgeport institution. Then a drive by the new and old parks along Halsted Street leads us to the conclusion of the tour.
At the end of any Chicago Detours event or tour we ask guests to reflect on the experience and share something with the group – be it a place we went to, something we saw, or an idea or story from history. With full busloads it isn’t so efficient to have everyone verbally share, so instead we asked people to write them down. You can tell they were written on a moving bus!
It looks like people enjoyed the the history of the stockyards and the drinking history, as well as the stops we went to. The food is appreciated, from the mother-in-law sandwiches (a South Side specialty) to the cookies. Whoever wrote “history of Bridgewater” indeed shows that the beer was flowing!
In the spirit of the holiday season, we are donating 100% of the guide gratuities to Benton House, which has a food pantry in the Bridgeport neighborhood. We got about $175!
Please keep in touch to hear about our next one-off event to the public. We have another historic bar tour in the works!
–Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director