Open House Chicago 2015 :: Edgewater


One of my favorite weekends of the year is the 48 hours in October when distinctive buildings, architectural icons, historic gems, and forgotten pockets of Chicago throw open their doors for Open House Chicago. This year I had limited time so I made the most of it with strategic stops in Edgewater on Saturday and downtown Chicago on Sunday. Here are some of Day One’s highlights.


Episcopal Church of the Atonement
Kenmore Avenue
Henry Ives Cobb architect, 1890

We stopped here spontaneously, as we were walking down Kenmore on our way to the Edgewater Beach Apartments. The sudden surprise of this building and its amazing interior made this visit all the more delightful. A friendly and knowledgable parishioner greeted us and gave us a history of the building, the community, and the neighborhood.


Apparently the big draw at this church is the columbarium, but I was much more interested in the impressive pipe organ.


I'd never seen this sort of configuration, with pipes for trumpets and horns projecting horizontally out of a side alcove.
I’d never seen this sort of configuration, with pipes for trumpets and horns projecting horizontally out of a side alcove.


The Edgewater Beach Apartments
Marshall & Fox, 1928

After passing by this iconic fixture at the end of Lake Shore Drive about a million times, it was fun to get a glimpse inside. The swimming pool used to have a retractable roof and a restaurant on the terrace overlooking the pool. And of course, through those windows there once was a view of Lake Michigan and the beach, which used to come right up to the building–and gave the place its name–before the extension of Lake Shore Drive in 1957 cut the “Pink Palace” off from direct access to the lakeshore.


Please note the maximum bather load.

Riviera Motor Sales Company Building (1925)

Final stop of the day was another building I’ve been past hundreds of times. The bank that previously occupied this space has recently vacated and the empty place definitely conjures up its former life as a high-end Chrysler showroom. Aren’t you whisked away to the Italian Riviera? But seriously, the place must have looked impressive, stocked with dapper cars like these.



The ceiling and light fixtures are really something and still look good. The interior space had lots of crazy touches, like wall fountains in nearly every room and disquieting doors that looked as if made of softened chocolate fudge.

A water fountain serves as the focal point for the main stairway leading to offices.
The vestiges of the bank were eerie and sad.

Open House Chicago is This Week!

Agudas Achim SynagogueI’m very excited that this weekend is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago, a unique opportunity to see architectural wonders in the city that are often off-limits to the public. I went last year and was so awed and impressed by what I saw. (You can read about my visit to the Bridgeview Bank and Aragon Ballroom, and the rarely open Agudas Achim Synagogue in Uptown last year.)

Whether you are an architecture buff, have an interest in Chicago history, or just want to explore the city in an unusual way, you’re bound to find something of interest out of the 150 sites open over the weekend.

2012 Road Trip Catch-Up: Poplar Forest and Home

Poplar Forest, Rear View

Friday, 27 July 2012

After a fancy breakfast at the B&B (omelets, fruit and coffee served from a silver service), we get the heck out of Appomattox. A sleepy town? No, more like a dying one. We make a detour to stop at Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s retreat and wow, am I glad we did. The location is beautiful, up on a hill, surrounded by trees.

Approaching Poplar ForestWe take a fascinating guided tour, learning the history of the house (designed by Jefferson and thought to be the epitome of his design talents) and getting a glimpse of the in-progress restoration. The octagonal house is filled with natural light, comfortably-sized rooms are centered around a tall central dining room with a skylight above. There’s a sunken garden in the back and the house is centered between two small man-made hills, covered with willow and poplar trees, which provide symmetry, connected to the structure by two rows of paper myrtle trees on either side.

We spend a couple of hours at Poplar Forest before getting back in the car for the eight hour drive back to Georgetown, KY. We squeeze in an hour’s drive on the beautiful, twisting, turning Blue Ridge Highway. I can imagine how gorgeous it must be in the fall.
Poplar Forest Grounds

The drive back is quick and fun, up until the very last hour when we run directly into a wicked thunderstorm with pounding rain and frightening bolts of lightening scratching horizontally across the sky. Near-zero visibility at times makes for white-knuckle driving.

We finally arrive as the third wave of the storm passes over and we drag our stuff into the house in between cloud bursts. I collapse on the couch with a well-earned beer. Over a dinner of take-out and laughter, we recall our Virginia adventures.

2012 Road Trip Catch-Up: Monticello

Monticello Vegetable Garden

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A fantastic day, filled with American presidential history.

After breakfast in the hotel, we hop in the car for the 15-minute drive to Monticello, climbing the hill to the visitors’ center where we wait for a shuttle bus to take us the final leg up to the house and grounds. To finally see Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece, a repository of so much history, is thrilling.

View from the DomeWe begin with the house tour, led by a very personable UVA student; the highlight for me is seeing Jefferson’s bedroom and library. After the standard tour, which includes the main rooms on the first floor and the immediate grounds, we kill a bit of time looking around in the basement (work areas, store rooms, wine cellar, slave quarters) before the start of the “back stage tour,” which takes us through the second floor of Monticello. We see a few bedrooms (none of which were furnished with Jefferson items but you get the idea) and it’s nice to see the view from above. We also get to climb the incredibly narrow winding staircases to the second floor, spending time in the dome room and the hidden alcove over the porch.

The Hidden Alcove Over the Porch
Double doors open onto the hidden alcove over the porch.
Monticello Interior
From the upstairs hallway, looking into the main entry way.
Monticello Kitchen
A big kitchen needs multiple burners.
Monticello Vineyard
The Monticello vineyard.

Afterward, we take the Slavery at Monticello and garden tours, both of which are chock-full of information. I’m impressed that at no point do they shy away from the subject of slavery, Thomas Jefferson’s complicated relationship with the institution and, of course, Sally Hemmings. All the tour guides are excellent and really know their stuff. On the day we were there, Monticello was busy, but not insanely crowded, and I marveled at the impressive volunteer army on hand. Five hours later, we’ve seen it all, and wrap-up or visit with lunch at the visitors’ center.

Monticello Vegetable Garden
Monticello vegetable garden.

View From the Garden

Monticello Slave Quarters
Slave quarters.
Monticello Worshipers
I quickly snapped this photo when a group of young girls ran up to the base of the steps (you can just make them out above the tree stump) and began worshiping the house with full flailing arm movements.

Next, we’re off for a quick visit to James Monroe’s abode, conveniently located about a five minutes drive away. Quite a stark contrast between these homes. Ash Lawn-Highland is smaller, humbler, less impressive but no less interesting. Monroe’s home is notably different from when he lived there (the second floor was added later) and the later time period is quite apparent by the different style in architectural style, furnishing and decor.

Ash Lawn

We take a quick house tour, given by a young man dressed in a sports coat on a very warm day. I take a photo of a 300-plus-year-old tree on the grounds and we call it a day. Montpelier, James Madison’s home, would have to wait until tomorrow.


Back in Charlottesville, we take a dusk walk around the UVA campus. Much of the historic Jefferson-era section is under restoration, looking less than its best. It’s still fun to see after hearing and reading so much about the place. Dinner is at The Virginian, a local university hangout. So far, Virginia’s craft beer scene is nothing to write home about.


Open House Chicago Grants a Rare Peek and a Solemn Reminder

Agudas Achim SynagogueThis was the weekend of The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s second annual Open House Chicago, a free invitation to peek inside a number of buildings across the city that aren’t usually open to the public.

Despite a busy weekend and lousy weather, I managed to pop in to a few locations yesterday and today. None was as impressive and affecting as the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Uptown. Built in 1922, the synagogue hasn’t been in use since the late 1980s and was closed in 2008, so the CAF open house was a rare opportunity indeed.

The building is impressive and eerie. In its current crumbling state, it serves as a sobering reminder of what happens when an architectural gem languishes, awaiting restoration. Open House Chicago is a wonderful way to raise awareness to historic preservation, while giving the public a glimpse inside buildings we’ve passed by for years, thinking to ourselves, “I wonder what it looks like inside.”

Agudas Achim Synagogue
The exterior of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation synagogue.
Agudas Achim Synagogue
Beauty amid crumbling plaster and missing ceiling tiles.

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Agudas Achim Synagogue
Evidence that pigeons have taken up residence in the disused building.
Agudas Achim Synagogue
A pigeon warms up by the lights illuminating the ceiling.

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Agudas Achim Synagogue

Saturday 3 pm ~ It’s Been a While

Saturday 3 pm: Contemporary
My Saturday Three P-M photo series sure took a hit while I was busy shooting my feet every day. I’m fairly certain that I have a number of Saturday photos sitting in limbo but I don’t have the time or inclination to dig them up now. Maybe snowy winter day when I have nothing else to do. Ha!

I took this shot of the Trump Tower from the el platform, heading home after taking another downtown architecture tour; this one focused on modern skyscrapers. Obviously, the tour had changed quite a bit since I last took it, what, maybe ten years ago. It was a very comprehensive and interesting tour and I now finally understand the difference between modern and post-modern architecture.

Saturday in the City

Made the most of a walkabout through the city yesterday, on a warm and sunny Saturday in September. First, I took the Historic Downtown Loop walking tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It’s been a few years since I’d taken a CAF tour. It was enjoyable to take this one again and reacquaint myself with some familiar old buildings. If you haven’t taken their downtown walking tours, I highly recommend them as a unique way to gain insight into Chicago’s rich (architectural) history. It’s also a good reminder to always look up and take a moment to walk through the front door to see the wonders inside some of the most unassuming edifices in the loop.

After lunch at my favorite sandwich shop downtown (Cafecito) we stopped in Central camera and then walked over the river to the Poetry Foundation to see their recently opened new building. It’s a unique corner structure, with one side screened by a faux wall. The exterior of the building is a mixture of stone, metal, glass, mirror, and strategically located trees.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t open on a Saturday afternoon (!!) so we had to content ourselves with walking around the outside and peering through the screen and into the window. The entryway looked interestingly laid out, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get in to see it. They have a very unique way of keeping people out, as you can see in the photo above; an entire section of the entry way raises up to act like a barrier.

Bokor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge

Afterward, we hopped on the el, got off at Argyle and walked over to Hopleaf. The entire summer had gotten away before I’d spent one afternoon sipping beer in their back patio and this seemed the perfect afternoon to set that right.