Just in time for summer, the Chicago Architecture Center is reopening its doors with all-new and updated exhibits which include 10,000 square feet of gallery space full of scale models and building designs.
The CAC has already kicked off the season with the launch of several walking tours, including a monthly tour in the Austin neighborhood.
Visitors on the monthly Austin tours will walk through Austin’s historic Midway Park and surrounding neighborhood and learn about late 19th and early 20th century houses, schools and store fronts.
Notable architects featured on the tour include Frederick Schock, William Drummond and Dwight Perkins. In addition, Austin community members will share their stories of the ongoing work to revitalize the neighborhood after a long history of discriminatory housing policies, disinvestment and other challenges.
CAC docent and Austin resident Karen Clapp is excited to bring architectural tours back to the neighborhood she calls home.
“We’re building on the legacy of tours that happened here back in the late seventies and eighties,” Clapp said.
Called the Austin House Tours and sponsored by the Austin Schock Neighborhood Association, the tours in the 1970s and 1980s took place in the neighborhood named after the noted architect Frederick Schock who lived and designed in Austin.
Since those tours, there was an occasional special tour of Austin, but the CAC, then known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, did not have a set tour in the area for years.
In 2018, the CAC’s Open House Chicago event included a few buildings in Austin, and Clapp noticed a large number of people coming into the neighborhood.
“I turned to my husband and said, ‘It’s great that there are people here today, but I want more people to come here more regularly,’” Clapp said. “I felt our arts institutions in the city needed to have more of a permanent presence on the West Side.”
Clapp, who has been a docent with the CAC for roughly 20 years, began to design a tour of the neighborhood, and says it took almost two years to put together. Completed just before the pandemic halted tours last year, the Austin tours are finally finding an audience this summer.
The Austin area is architecturally rich, and Clapp says that the name Schock has particular significance.
“Much like Frank Lloyd Wright lived in Oak Park and designed a lot of homes in Oak Park, and George Maher lived in Kenilworth and designed a lot of homes there, Frederick Schock lived in Austin and designed a lot of homes and public buildings there,” Clapp said.
Tour participants will see Schock-designed buildings as well as works by noted architect Dwight Perkins, who Clapp says designed a lot of schools in Chicago. They will also see a building designed by architect Alfred Alschuler, who designed the K.A.M Isaiah Israel Temple in Hyde Park and the now-demolished Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building.
Clapp says that there are numerous layers to unfold. Four of the Schock houses are national landmarks, there are two national historic districts in Austin and many of the individual homes have been designated as significant.
“From an architectural and historical perspective, this little pocket of West Austin is actually pretty rich,” Clapp said.
Beyond architecture, the tour will cover the history of the Austin neighborhood, from its development to its annexation into Chicago to the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, which saw red-lining and block-busting in the area.
Clapp notes that the history is important but so is the current state of the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of great, wonderful things happening here now, and we’ll talk about that as well,” she said.
After living in Austin for 20 years and raising her family there, Clapp is eager to showcase all the things that make the community special.
“I have a lot of passion about the invisible force field that is Austin Boulevard,” Clapp said. “I’m excited to share the beautiful places that are here and the beautiful people that are here, the depth architecturally and humanly. There are things here that maybe aren’t fancy or shiny but are wonderful.”
Before you go
The Chicago Architecture Center’s tours of Austin take place one Sunday a month at 2 p.m. and last about two hours. Upcoming dates include June 20, July, 18, August 22, September 19 and October 24.
All tours are led by docents, and each tour will feature one homeowner who will speak about their house. Tours are outside. Due to current COVID restrictions, tours are currently limited to 12 people. Masks are required.
Tickets cost $30 for the general public, $15 for CAC Basic Members and are free to Donor-Level Members. Tours leave from the fountain at the east end of Midway Park, 5701 Midway Park.
More information and online ticket sales can be found here.