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Three Perfectly Offbeat Itineraries for Open House Chicago

Architecture lovers: planning a weekend of building-gazing? Get out of the city center and try these roads less traveled.

Clockwise from left: Yale Building, Growing Home, and KAMII   Photos: Eric Allix Rogers

ENGLEWOOD

GO FOR THE: Yale Building

The exquisite Yale apartments were originally constructed as a hotel for guests visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition. Visitors will get to see the atrium, brightened by its six-story skylight and yellow walls; fountains and hanging plants add to the French Quarter-style balcony detailing.

And no, this is not where ghost chasers should look for signs of H.H. Holmes’ victims; conduct your seances at the U.S. Post Office at 63rd and Wallace if that’s what you’re seeking.

Stay for THE: Growing Home Wood Street Urban Farm

Urban farming is alive and well on Chicago’s South Side. These 1.5 acres dedicated to growing food and community produce about 30,000 pounds of USDA-certified organic produce annually, all while providing invaluable work experience and job readiness training to individuals looking for extra support in entering or re-entering the workforce.

ON YOUR WAY, STOP BY: KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park

Kehilath Anshe Maarav Isaiah Israel (KAMII) is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Midwest, and the building is a remarkable adaptation on early Israeli architecture. The grounds host a robust garden that annually produces 5,000 pounds of fresh foods for underserved communities—a part of the congregation’s longstanding commitment to social and food justice.

Take an official tour of this building—the tour guides are magnificent, knowledgeable, and a delight. Plus, it’s located just across the street from Obama’s former home.

Clockwise from left: Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center, Lagunitas Brewing Co., and the view from the Nichols Tower Photos: Eric Allix Rogers

GARFIELD PARK / NORTH LAWNDALE

GO FOR THE: Nichols Tower (original Sears Tower)

The recently renovated  Nichols Tower is a part of the enormous Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex that put this neighborhood on the map in the early-20th century. Today, the beautifully renovated tower hosts some of Chicago’s most beloved nonprofits, including Free Spirit Media, UCAN, Turning the Page, and more. These groups bring new resources to the Homan Square area, which suffered enormous disinvestment after the Sears plant closed in 1973. Check out the great views and learn more about how adaptive reuseis necessary for both historic preservation and community regeneration. 

STAY FOR THE: Charles H. Shaw Technology and Learning Center / “Power House High”

Did we mention just how enormous the Sears, Roebuck & Co. campus was? The 41.6 acres contained a massive merchandise distribution facility, auto center, and more. Heck, it even broadcast its own radio station from the top of the Tower. It was also big enough to necessitate its own powerhouse, which became moot after the company moved its headquarters out of Homan Square.

The powerhouse was transformed into a high school in 2009, and has since been a model for sustainability in adaptive reuse projects. It uses geothermal energy for its own heating and cooling, and the original hardware for the power plant (including huge boilers) is restored in the stunning grand hall; conveyors and coal hoppers also remain throughout the building. Each room is unique and marvelous; and, you’ll see it all from the perspectives of current students who will lead OHC tours throughout the weekend.

AND MAYBE GRAB A: Beer at Lagunitas

At 30,000 square feet, this is the largest brewery in Chicago and a second home to the California-based company. Entering the facility is a dance through the main corridor’s psychedelic-painted walls and laser light show as Gene Wilder sings “Pure Imagination.” It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for grown-ups, but with fewer lost children. Tours are free, beers are for purchase, and all ages are welcome (under 21 must be accompanied by an adult).

Clockwise from left:  Bahá’í House of Worship, Dearborn Observatory, and FEW Distillery Photos: Eric Allix Rogers

EVANSTON

GO FOR THE: Northwestern University Dearborn Observatory

The highlight of visiting an observatory is, obviously climbing the stairs to the giant dome housing a telescope. This site boasts the same opportunity, but the original 1880s telescope (once the largest in the world!) is still in use. 

Stay for the: Bahá’í House of Worship

Let’s hope the weather holds out for this year’s OHC; past years have been iffy, but don’t let it stop you from wandering the grounds of the Bahá’í House of Worship. The ornate, Arabesque wall detailings and cast concrete-quartz-mixed materials render the space a light and airy brutalism, seemingly floating next to Lake Michigan.

Some of the most remarkable gardens in the region surround the building and are meticulously sculpted and maintained throughout the year. The faith itself is relatively small and young—just this year it celebrates its bicentennial—and there are only nine Houses of Worship in the world. This year, the House of Worship is allowing photography during OHC, which is an incredibly rare opportunity.

And maybe try a tasting at: The FEW Distillery

It’s named after (who else?) Francis E. Willard, who helped found the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Evanston back in 1874. Architecturally, the building isn’t that interesting. But the distilling process is neat, tastings are $5, and you sneakily enter the building through an alleyway like a true Prohibition-era outlaw.

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