Crossing Austin Boulevard: This story is part of an ongoing series of articles that Austin Weekly News publishes about issues, events, people, places and things that take place west of Austin Boulevard, but that nonetheless resonate to the east of it, as well.
When Open House Chicago returns for the weekend of Oct. 16-17, the Chicago Architecture Center will be devoting a weekend to showcasing the architectural wealth of Chicago for the 11th time.
In 2020, the pandemic forced an entirely virtual format, in which visitors could use the OHC app to explore the exteriors of architecturally, historically and culturally significant sites and participate in self-guided tours or trails on certain themes.
This year, the walk is back with a more in-person focus. While the app will still facilitate tours throughout the city and provide bonus information, many of the sites will be open for in-person access this year on Oct. 16 and 17. For the entire month of October, participants can use the OHC app to access the free, self-guided history and architecture tours throughout Chicago.
Adam Rubin, director of interpretation for the CAC, says that the weekend is still a bit condensed from its peak of 2019 when roughly 250 sites were opened to the public. This year, the weekend focuses on about 100 sites, and Rubin says the pared down itinerary will help the average Chicagoan narrow down the number of sites to visit more easily.
“The sites will be open with site-dependent safety measures, and the OHC app will return with a few new trails and some new voices,” Rubin said.
While the vast majority of sites are in the city itself, Rubin said Evanston and Oak Park both made the cut of nearby suburbs that deserved a presence.
“Oak Park is always going to be a destination for Open House Chicago,” he said. “First of all, a lot of people from Chicago haven’t had the chance to visit Oak Park yet or they may be new to the city. Even if sites feel very familiar to someone from Oak Park, they are new to someone.
“The draw of a very dense collection of Frank Lloyd Wright houses is always going to be there. Add in an amazing setting in which you can drink craft beer, and the fact that some people really want to visit religious institutions, and Oak Park has a little something of everything.”
The official Oak Park sites on this year’s OHC are the West Suburban Temple Har Zion, 1040 N. Harlem Ave.; Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave.; One Lake Brewing, 1 Lake St.; the Oak Park River Forest Museum, 129 Lake St.; the Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave.; and First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, 324 N. Oak Park Ave.
In Austin, sites include Austin Community Family Center, 501 N. Central Ave.; Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd.; and St. Martin Episcopal Church, 5710 W. Midway Park.
Two of the OHC app’s trails, as the bonus self-guided tours are named, focus on Oak Park and the Austin community.
Back for a second year is the “Frank Lloyd Wright: Portrait of a Young Architect” trail, which focuses on seven of Wright’s homes designed in the early part of his career and life in Oak Park.
In Austin, “The Grand Residences of Frederick R. Schock” will focus on that architect’s work in the community. CAC docent Karen Clapp narrates the tour with input from a few current owners of Schock houses. Rubin says those voices from the Austin community make the audio “feel more personal this year. Last year, we didn’t have the audio commentary, so this tells you more about what it’s like to live there.”
He points out that the Oak Park and Austin trails dovetail nicely for someone looking to make a day of the West Side.
“Both tours are telling a story about a relative narrow period in the architect’s life,” Rubin said. “There is a parallel element — both look at what kind of community each architect was trying to build. Someone visiting the area in one day would find them very complementary.”
In addition to the local trails, Rubin highlights a few others that cover specific areas of interest in a city with much to discover. Rubin said that some of the trails expand the focus of OHC beyond traditional architecture to foster historical knowledge and multicultural awareness.
A tour in Hyde Park will focus on sites where the Obamas lived and worked. A tour inspired by the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire will include sites that survived the fire to tell the story of the fire and its impact. A tour focused on preservation in Chicago will cover a few local sites that are preservation success stories and some that are more precarious.
Another tour will consider the stories of the Potawatomi tribe, through the eyes of visual artist Andrea Carlson, who examines public art works and the erasure of the Potawatomi from the city.
An event with the scope of OHC tends to expand the Chicago Architecture Center’s audience, and Rubin states that at the end of the day, it is a civic event that helps grow people’s appreciation for the city they call home.
“It builds an understanding of the city and its past while also helping a lot of people feel pride in the city of Chicago,” he said.