Open House Chicago goes west

Oak Park and Austin architectural sites welcome visitors this weekend

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

When the Chicago Architecture Center hosts its 9th Annual Open House Chicago architectural festival on the weekend of Oct. 19-20, the West Side and near west suburbs will be a part of the event. 

Open House Chicago manager Eric Rogers says the Chicago Architecture Center may be best known for their architectural river cruises, but states that Open House Chicago has rapidly become an important event for the organization.

"Last year, we had 279 sites, and across those, we had 366,000 site visits, with roughly 100,000 site visitors," Rogers said.

He says that the Open House concept is loosely affiliated with 50 similar events across the globe, and that Chicago's Open House is second in size only to London's.

Many of the weekend's sites are located in the downtown area, but the Chicago Architecture Center has made it a point to expand the reach of the event. 

"We've always had a focus on highlighting neighborhoods outside of downtown," Rogers said. "We have 37 other communities, including the suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park. The first year we included Oak Park was 2016, and we included Austin for the first time last year."

Rogers acknowledges that it would be impossible for one person to visit all of the sites over any given weekend and emphasizes that the beauty of the weekend is that it gives people the opportunity to dig deep and explore a particular neighborhood at a leisurely pace, no cost or tickets necessary. He finds Oak Park and Austin make a natural combination for architecture buffs. 

"There are lots of options for people to explore in both communities," he said. "The goal is to make it worthwhile to spend an afternoon exploring whether you're from the neighborhood or from across the metro area."

Rogers doesn't play favorites but with nine sites open over the weekend in Austin and 14 in Oak Park, but he highlighted a few that he thinks are particularly interesting. A full listing of the 350 Open House Chicago 2019 sites can be found at openhousechicago.org/sites.

New this year in Austin is the Columbus Park Refectory. 

"These buildings are spectacular," Rogers said. "It's such a popular wedding venue, but you can't always get in to see the buildings because they are closed for events."

He also enjoys Third Unitarian Church at 301 N. Mayfield Ave.  Designed by architect Paul Schweikher, the building was begun during the Depression. 

"Schweikher mostly did modernist, mid-century homes," Rogers said. "You can see that in the church. It does not read at first glance like a church, which is what I love about it."

Also in Austin is the Fraternite Notre Dame at 502 N. Central Ave. Built as a Methodist church, the building was taken over by an order of French nuns. Today, the sisters run a food pantry ministry, which they support with their bakery. Typically, the pastries are only sold on the North Shore, so Rogers says it is a real treat to know that the pastries will be for sale during the Open House Chicago event on site.

In Oak Park, Rogers says, "One of the coolest things we accomplish in Oak Park with Open House Chicago is to show there's a lot to appreciate here besides Frank Lloyd Wright."

Technically, it's in River Forest -- just across Harlem Avenue – but Rogers says West Suburban Temple Har Zion is worth crossing the street for. 

"They have a set of five, 20-foot tall stained-glass windows that are just bold, vivid and colorful," he said. "They are enormous and tell the story of the book of Genesis."

He calls Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave. in Oak Park, a showstopper of a house, and says that more contemporary architecture makes a showing as well, with event sponsor Albion, 1000 Lake St., opening public spaces to visitors. 

"This year, we will have the newly-built Albion building," Rogers said of the recently completed high rise. "Whether you love it or hate it, you want to see the inside."

At the other end of Lake Street, One Lake Brewing, a new brew pub at the corner of Lake and Austin, will be part of the event. 

"It's a cool adaptive reuse of a historic bank building," Rogers said. "The thing that excites me about it is how it bridges the gap between Oak Park and Austin. I'm hoping people will be encouraged to move back and forth across Austin Boulevard."

Open House Chicago is free and open to the public with no advanced registration or tickets needed, but Rogers points out there are benefits to being a Chicago Architecture Center member -- members get a priority access pass and exclusive access to five, members-only sites. 

He also warned that a few sites, like Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., do require advanced planning. 

"For example, we are so excited to have Unity Temple in Oak Park involved, but as a UNESCO World Heritage site, we did have to limit the number of visitors who could go in over the weekend," Rogers said. "We had a lottery for tickets that allow visitors to enter at specific times."

For more information about Open House Chicago, visit openhousechicago.org, which works well with mobile devices for use during the weekend as visitors travel between sites.

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 12:59 PM

looking at the photo of the beautiful Columbus Park Refrectory, I'm struck by its similarities to OPRFHS. Here's an image: https://live.staticflickr.com/7196/7117691645_28a14721f4_b.jpg - what doesn't really show in that image is the beautiful red clay tile roof on the high school.

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