Thousands flock to see hidden places at Open House Chicago

Architecture, ethnic history highlighted throughout the city

October 18, 2011

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A new architecture tour let people from across the region indulge their curiosity over the weekend. Open House Chicago gave the public access to about 130 nooks and crannies that are normally off limits, such as the store windows at Macy's. The Chicago Architecture Foundation estimates participants made about 100,000 site visits.

WBEZ had Lynette Kalsnes follow part of the tour on the North Side, snooping around the Rogers Park and West Ridge neighborhood.

Kalsnes: If you don’t live by Indian Boundary Park and Cultural Center, you’d never know it’s hidden on this side street. It’s an English Tudor revival. But every corner reveals another Native American detail, like lamp shades trimmed with brass arrows, and archways with carvings of tribal chiefs.

Martini: It’s a weird mix, but the Native American imagery is the main reason that the building was landmarked because it’s so unusual and so specific to this building.

Phil Martini is the park supervisor.

The center’s named after the boundary established between the Potawatomi Indians and the U.S. government in 1816.   

Martini: All right, I’ve got to go teach ballet class.

Martini leads his ballet classes, and tours continue around them.

Other tour sites include the chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery, a Frank Lloyd Wright house and The Fish Keg restaurant. Paul Bluestone, who heads the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, says this mix was on purpose.

Bluestone: It’s a United Nations of Chicago. It’s one of the most diverse communities in the country. Having a tour which focused only on the architectural relevance of some of the buildings would kind of miss the point a little bit. 

Bluestone hopes Open House Chicago lets people appreciate the neighborhood’s architectural and cultural history.

Bluestone: I think it’s great for people to be looking in places they haven’t looked before and asking questions about buildings and history. It’s great to have curious people wandering around.

Bluestone heads over to Park Castle and Park Gables, condos just off the park.

Sarantos: Did you want to go inside the pool?

Condo owner Leon Sarantos leads us down a sidewalk, to see a private pool at Park Castle. There’s a striped canopy that’s like something out of a harem, and a fountain with frogs.

Sarantos: It sort of has a Great Gatsby feel to it.

Kalsnes: What’s it like to have something this beautiful as just your regular pool?

Sarantos: It’s great, it’s so relaxing. You come down anytime, you spend five minutes in here, and you feel like you’re in a different place, all your troubles kind of melt away.

Bill and Marsha Bredemann stand on the side of the pool.

Marsha Bredemann: It’s like a hidden Chicago that you never realized was around. Fantastic. I would never have believed from the outside that something like this was here.

Bill Bredemann: It would be an amazing place to live to have these amenities, and it’s just the history.

They say the tour has made them want to find out more about their own neighborhood.

Marsha Bredemann: We’ve been in Chicago our whole lives, and just finding out some of this new stuff, it’s like being a kid and opening up a candy jar and finding out, Wow!

South of the Park Castle condos, there's Patel Brothers grocery, another tour site that isn’t so much about place, but the diversity of the neighborhood.

Marilyn Rohn and Doug Easterling are taking a tour. Rohn notices a white globe that’s peeled and wrapped in plastic.

Rohn: What do you do with this young coconut?

Patel: You just chop off the top, put a straw in it and you drink it.

Rohn: Ah.

Rohn says she goes out to eat Indian food and made her first dish this summer.

Rohn: I think I’d been in one of the groceries along here and it just was too foreign of an experience where I felt like I didn’t even know what I was looking at or how to make a decision or how it was organized or anything.

Kalsnes: And now how do you feel?

Rohn: Very comfortable. I feel like I can come here and shop, which is what I wanted to be able to do.

Rohn says Open House Chicago has made her feel more comfortable in other parts of the city. Now she feels like she can return and explore on her own.