By Robert Glaze
Exploring Neighborhood and Suburban Cultural Institutions
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.
For those lovers of art, architecture and theatre, there are many great cultural offerings in Chicago’s neighborhoods and suburbs that are often overlooked, but are well worth the drive. Here are some of my recent suggestions on how to have a fun day trip that makes you feel like you are away on vacation. The best is that you don’t need to spend the night, fly or drive far!
Just 30 minutes from the Loop at 150 S. Cottage Hill Ave., the Elmhurst Art Museum is located in a contemporary glass and steel building, and opened in 1997. Today, it offers rotating exhibitions, educational workshops and studio classes, and has a collection of over 500, including architectural drawings, works on paper, furniture and paintings by Chicago artists. The highlight of your visit will be seeing famed architect Mies van der Rohe’s McCormick House from 1952. One of only three houses he designed, it was moved to this location and incorporated into the design for the new museum.
After you visit the museum, head to Chow To Go. Located at 116 W. Park Ave., this is a great spot for lunch with an extensive menu of salads, sandwiches and other entrees.
Not to be missed is the Mary and Leigh Block Art Museum, located on the Northwestern Campus at 40 Arts Circle Drive. Here, you can see its permanent collection or one of its temporary exhibitions. The museum building is really exceptional. It opened in 2000 and was designed by Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, grandson of Mies van der Rohe.
The permanent collection, with close to 5,000 items, has diverse holdings, including works on paper, architectural drawings, photographs, textiles and bronze sculptures. Artists include Albrecht Durer, Honoré Daumier, Mary Cassatt, Max Beckmann, Andy Warhol, Ed Paschke and Sarah Sze.
Not far is the Frances Willard House Museum at 1730 Chicago Ave. Built in 1865, Willard lived in the house from then until she died in 1898. There are a number of displays, and you can visit the rooms as well. Willard was the head of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which fought for prohibition.
Evanston History Center/Dawes House, at 225 Greenwood St., is a grand mansion built by Henry Edwards Ficken in 1894. It was the home of Charles Gates Dawes, who served as vice president of the United States from 1925 to 1929 under Calvin Coolidge. He was also the recipient of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize. The opulent interior is really lovely, and there are a number of exhibits to explore as well. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976.
Farmhouse, at 703 Church St., is a great new spot to eat. I really like the original at 228 W. Chicago Ave. in Chicago, and this is their second location, where I enjoyed a Sunday brunch with friends. I also like Smylie Brothers Brewing Co., featuring great barbecue and their own craft beers at 1615 Oak Ave.
A top new find is Few Spirits at 918 Chicago Ave. It is tucked away in an alley, so find 916 and head down the alley to the left. A small local craft distillery named appropriately after Frances Willard Few Spirits, they make a number of gins, whiskeys and bourbon. I enjoyed a tour along with a tasting. My favorites were the rye whiskey and the newly released single malt whiskey. The bourbon and the barrel gin, seasoned in oak barrels, were also good. The labels and branding all are taken from scenes of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
Writers Theatre, Glencoe.
Theatre buffs, make a beeline for the Writers Theatre in Glencoe. Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal says that this is one of the best regional theaters in the country. Their productions are really excellent!! They recently moved into their new building, designed by well-known Chicagoan Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, at 325 Tudor Court.
The design is really outstanding and well worth the drive from the city. While in Glencoe, you can grab a bite before or after the show at Guildhall Restaurant & Bar, 694 Vernon Ave. This is a wonderful addition to the local food scene, as there were very few options before.
I always stop in at Glencoe Roast Coffee, a block from the theatre at 700 Vernon Ave., as they carry Intelligentsia Coffee, roasted in Chicago.
Guildhall Restaurant & Bar, Glencoe.
Make the trek to Plano, a southwest suburb, to see Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House. This substantially glass house has only been open for public view the last few years, after a local group raised money to buy it from the last private owner. It is truly spectacular! Make an appointment for the guided tour online before you go. You can spend a little more for an interior photography permit, which allows you to stay in 10 minutes longer to shoot pictures of the beautiful contemporary interior and furnishings. Fall is the time to go, when the changing leaves are spectacular as seen from the house located at 14520 River Road. Before or after your tour, stop for a bite with the locals at Sherry’s American Cafe downtown at 1 E. Main St.
Logan Center for the Arts, Hyde Park.
The University of Chicago and Hyde Park has some of the best cultural institutions in the city. Make sure to visit the following:
The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts – University of Chicago is the university’s new performing arts center on the south side of campus at 915 E. 60th St. You can’t miss this wonderful, contemporary high-rise building. Throughout the year, there are art exhibitions, concerts and performances in dance, music and theatre, lectures and film screenings.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, one of the most beautiful buildings on the U of C Campus, is a gorgeous chapel from1928. You can attend programs throughout the year, organ recitals, choral music on Sunday mornings and special holiday presentations, such as Handel’s Messiah. The chapel is located at 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.
At 1155 E. 58th St., the Oriental Institute is an important museum, world-renowned for the history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East. It has a wonderful permanent collection with galleries devoted to ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia and the ancient site of Megiddo. There are special exhibitions as well.
Founded in 1915, The Renaissance Society is an independent, non-collecting museum of contemporary art which supports new artists and commissions many new works. Located at 5811 S. Ellis Ave., on the U of C Campus, it is worth the visit.
Smart Museum of Art, Hyde Park.
Smart Museum of Art, at 5550 S. Greenwood, is a small museum with a strong collection in Asian art, European art, modern art and design, and contemporary art. Across from the Smart Museum is the Court Theatre at 5535 S. Ellis Avenue. It has been one of Chicago’s top theater companies for over 60 years.
At 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House was designed and built between 1908 and 1910 and is a great example of Wright’s Prairie School Style. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 27, 1963 and was on the very first National Register of Historic Places list of October 15, 1966.
When in Hyde Park, visit A10 Hyde Park Eatery & Bar, a great restaurant at 1462 E. 53rd St. The restaurant features small plates, pizzas, pastas and sides for lunch and dinner.
The Ed Paschke Center, Jefferson Park.
Ed Paschke was a well-known Chicago artist. Born in 1939 in Chicago, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work incorporated images from print media and other elements of popular culture, and can be found in many museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
A new museum, the Ed Paschke Art Center, recently opened in Jefferson Park, featuring Paschke’s work, a replica of his Chicago studio and work by other contemporary artists and photographers. Located near the Blue Line station in Jefferson Park, at 5415 W. Higgins Ave, it is a short drive from the Kennedy Expressway off the Lawrence Avenue exit.
Before or after your visit, make sure to try Gale Street Inn around the corner at 4914 N. Milwaukee Ave. It has been in the neighborhood for over 50 years and is known for its barbecue ribs. The barbecue salmon was really wonderful as was the pork chop entree. The service was also excellent.
Gale Street Inn, Jefferson Park.
I love exploring Pilsen, checking out new restaurants and visiting its artists’ studios and murals. High on your list should be:
The National Museum of Mexican Art is one of the top cultural institutions in the city with an emphasis on Mexican art and folk art. It celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2012, and, in the fall, they always have great altars for the Day of the Dead and often bring in Mexican folk artists for special markets and demonstrations. Check out their current exhibitions at1852 W. 19th St.
The new Pilsen hot spot is Dusek’s, located in the historic Thalia Hall that was built in 1892. Opened in 2013, Dusek’s has a farm-to-table menu created by Michelin starred Chef Jared Wentworth, of Longman & Eagle, with beer pairings in mind. Before or after dinner, make sure to visit Punch House, a dark and cozy bar downstairs, which in addition to other drinks, features eight housemade, draft punches daily by the glass, carafe or bowl. A great concept! Both establishments are located at 1227 W. 18th St.
Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport has moved north to Pilsen and taken over the former Nightwood restaurant at 2119 S. Halsted St.. You can stop in for coffee and a pastry or sweet or enjoy one of their famed meat or royal pies at the Pleasant House Pub. I enjoyed a Sunday brunch and loved the chicken balti pie made with all-natural chicken in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds along with buttered peas in mint. It is a perfect spot to eat while visiting the Museum of Mexican Art or one of the local galleries nearby.
Pleasant House Pub.
Just under 30 minutes from downtown Chicago are the tree-lined suburbs of Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest. Here you can see some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous homes and tour his home and studio and the famous Unity Temple. Why not make a day out of it and enjoy the attractive downtown area and walk and drive the neighborhoods exploring his architecture? You can access the sites by car, by taking the Green Line from the Chicago Loop or the Metra Union Pacific West Line train from the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
To fortify yourself, start the morning at Blue Max Restaurant and Coffee Bar at 26 Lathrop Ave. in Forest Park. They roast their own coffee on the premises and offer a full range of coffees plus a large selection of breakfast and lunch items.
Next stop is Wright’s famous Unity Temple at 875 Lake St. Make sure to book online, before you go, through the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. Guided tours of the interior and self-guided audio tours are both available. Wright designed and built the church from 1905 to 1908, and the building elements and architecture are great examples of his organic design. Make sure to take note of his use of natural light, his decorative art or stained glass, his light fixtures and furniture. You will visit the social area as well as the main auditorium or sanctuary.
Walk a short distance to downtown Oak Park to grab a bite for lunch. Save room for dessert at Sugar Fixé Patisserie at 119 N. Marion St. It is a great spot for a macaron or cupcake!
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.
Next, pick up your map and audio guide from the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio to start your walking tour of the neighborhood. You can just buy the larger map or book an audio tour, which comes with the neighborhood map and audio guide for narration; I did both. You will see some of his famous homes: the Arthur B. Heurtley House at 318 N. Forest Ave., which was one of my favorites; the Laura Gale House at 6 Elizabeth Ct.; the Peter A. Beachy House at 238 Forest Ave.; the Frank Thomas House at 210 Forest Ave.; the Hills-Decaro House at 312 Forest Ave.; and the Nathan G. Moore House at 33 Forest Ave. This district has the world’s largest concentration of Wright-designed structures.
At the end of Forest Avenue, you will pass Austin Gardens, where you can enjoy Oak Park Festival Theatre in the summer months. They feature plays by Shakespeare and others in a great outdoor setting; perfect on a summer night.
On Chicago Avenue, you can see some of Wright’s older homes: the Walter H. Gale House at 1031 Chicago Ave.; the Thomas H. Gale House at 1027 Chicago Ave.; and the Robert P. Parker House at 1019 Chicago Ave.
Head west to River Forest, where you can see Wright’s Waller Gates House at Auvergne Place and Lake State; the William H. Winslow House at 515 Auvergne Place; and the stunning Isabel Roberts House at 603 Edgewood Place from 1908. There is also the Chauncey Williams House at 530 Edgewood Place and the J. Kibben Ingalls House at 562 Keystone Ave. from 1909.
Petersen Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Oak Park.
Then, stop for an ice cream break at Petersen’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream at 1100 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park. Two blocks from the Wright Home and Studio, it has been open since 1919 and in this location since 1931.
End your day at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. Located at 951 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, this was Wright’s first home and studio, where he developed the Prairie Style of American architecture. I would book the guided interior tour online, before you go. Photographers can buy a photography pass for an extra fee. I enjoyed seeing the home, but the tour of his architectural studio, where he and his associates worked, was the highlight.
Time permitting, walk east from the Home and Studio to the Ernest Hemingway Foundation to visit his birthplace and museum at 200 N. Oak Park Ave. You can book a tour, visit the exhibitions, buy Hemingway’s books or attend a special program.
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