Posted: October 18, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I frequently urge clients to think about how they are living as well as how they are working.  Well, tomorrow I’m going to follow my own advice.  I’m taking the day off to attend The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago.  Tomorrow and Sunday, the CAF has arranged to have buildings with architectural significance opened throughout the city.  Two years ago I visited a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Rogers Park.  Last year, I explored a studio in Uptown where Charlie Chaplin worked and an Ace Hardware Store in Bronzeville that was a jazz club in the 1920s where Louis Armstrong and other big name players performed.  This year my plan is to wander the Gold Coast and Downtown.  Since some buildings are only open on Saturday, I need to sacrifice a day of work for a day of wonder.  That’s a pretty fair trade.

If you live in Chicago, check out the open house schedule.  All the events are free, and most of these buildings won’t be open to the public again until next year’s Open House.

Posted: October 23, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on intersections of work and life.]

Living Memory

I’ve always loved history, the stories of great leaders, political movements, wars, science, and invention.  Living in Chicago, the city where the skyscraper was born and so many great architects practiced (and still practice) their craft, I’ve gained an appreciation for a different way of understanding the past.  Last weekend The Chicago Architecture Foundation held an “open house” in different city neighborhoods.  I went with a group of friends to explore Rogers Park and West Ridge.

We started at the Emil Bach House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1915.  Wright’s designs meld the practical and beautiful.  This house, which is currently being restored, was always a stopping point when I took walks in the neighborhood.  It’s striking exterior is matched by an living space that calls us to another way of thinking about how to live

Interior of the Bach House






Bach House from its back yard

Next door to the Bach House is a home that was built four years later in 1919.  For most of its history, it was a large single family home.  Two years ago, it was rehabbed and reopened as Cat’s Cradle Bed and Breakfast.  The new owners have added several bed and bath rooms while retaining the building’s historic feel. 

Cat's Cradle in Rogers Park







We headed west to a large condominium building called Casa Bonita, which was built in the 1920s.  There are many courtyard buildings in Rogers Park and West Ridge, but few  have the lavish features of this building.  We were led on the tour by a resident who has lived in the building for more than 20 years.  She told us about several changes in the building and efforts that have been made to maintain its original appearance.

The Courtyard at Casa Bonita







Further west, near Indian Boundary Park, we visited the Park Castle, a condo building which was also built in the late 1920s.  It has a pool for residents that is decorated with ornate tile and a fountain.

The Pool at Park Castle






The Fountain at Park Castle's Pool







We ended our tour at two theaters:  Lifeline and Mayne Stage.  Lifeline Theatre is now 30 years old, and it is located in an old electrical power station.  During the tour, we were shown how different areas have been remade into rehearsal space and a craft shop where sets are built.  Mayne Stage is located in a building which was opened as the Morse Theater in 1912.  From the 1960s through the 1990s, the space was transformed several times, serving, among other things, as a synagogue and a shoe repair shop.  Now it is a state of the art theater and restaurant (Act One). 

I love to learn about the history of buildings, how they change function and take on new lives.  They are a testament to skill of the architects and designers who make our world a better and more interesting place to live.  Open House Chicago was enlightening and great fun.  I hope the Chicago Architecture Foundation repeats and expands this brilliant concept in coming years.