Friday, October 14, 2011

Inside the Chicago Motor Club: a preview of openhousechicago, October 15 and 16, a celebration of architecture giving access to 130 sites, many rarely open to the public

It started with OpenHouse London, almost twenty years ago, a weekend of public access to great spaces that are usually private and inaccessible.  By this year's edition, which took place just last month, they were  up to "700 buildings of all kinds opening their doors to everyone - all for free," and estimates of the number of participants is edging up towards a quarter million years.

"I don't think we'll be quite as big this year," said Bastiaan Bouma of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, "but we have ambitions to be just as large as London."  Bouma was talking about openhousechicago - he's managing director - which is bringing what's now an international program to Chicago this Saturday and Sunday, October 15th and 16th. opening up over a hundred locations, most rarely, if ever, open to the public.
And not just downtown.  Bouma estimated that about 40 of buildings are in or around the Loop, with another 90 spread out across the city, from Loyola on the far north, to the square-mile U.S. Steel site on the far south.  It's an opportunity to showcase not just the usual suspects downtown, but to introduce people to the Chicago's lesser-known jewels in the outlying neighborhoods, many of which have now been doubled-battered, first by the tsunami of foreclosures, and now with banks turning increasingly to demolition as the best way to cut their losses.
click images for larger view
Tours are grouped into five diverse neighborhoods, each with their own tour hub.  In Bronzeville, its K2 Architects' Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center on Greenwood just north of 47th, in Rogers Park, the Warren Park fieldhouse, etc.  Participants are responsible for getting themselves to the neighborhood, but once there, "hop on-hop off" shuttles will be available to move them from site to site.  Most, however, are within walking distance of each other, and, as Bouma suggested, the bicycle may be the ideal way of navigating the festival.
We've written about this fantastic festival before.  The great, keep-sake quality guide that ran in the Thursday Trib should also be available at many of the event sites, but even better is the very top-notch openhousechicago website, which is packed with information, great photographs, and maps - it even lets you create your own itinerary. 

Victoria Thornton, who founded the original Open House in London and has led the growth of the Open House Worldwide into what is now a dozen cities, from New York (also this weekend) to Helsinki to Tel Aviv, was on hand yesterday at the press launch for the Chicago edition at the long-shuttered Chicago Motor Club building on east Wacker.
The 17-story story 1928 skyscraper by Holabird & Root was picked up at auction this past June for $9.700,000 by Aries Capital, whose Chairman and CEO Neil Freeman was also on hand Thursday.  Aries has been involved in projects from the Whitehall Hotel in Chicago to the renovation of the century-old Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans.  In Chicago, they're pairing up with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, whose portfolio includes the renovation of the former Chicago and Northwestern Power House west of the river, and the former Goldblatt's store in Uptown.
Yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Time's David Roeder reported Aries estimates the cost of bringing the Motor Club building back up to speed as a hotel as somewhere between $42 to $62 million.  As a hotel, the Motor Club has at least one great advantage: sitting just to the east of Harry Weese's Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist, it offers great, largely unobstructed views down the river to the west.
We didn't get a chance to sample those views on Thursday, but did get to see the three-story, light-filled lobby.
Even with the current peeling paint and cracked glass, it's splendor endures in the Art Deco ornament and chandeliers, and a northern wall largely covered by John Warner Norton's massive mural depicting an abstracted map of the United States.
This Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16, you can check out the Motor Club lobby for yourself, as well as over 130 other sites, from churches, to swimming pools, to architects offices, mansions, shops, and everything in between, including a truly rare chance to climb to the top of the original Sears Tower.
Get your walking shoes and check out the full list of choices for openhousechicago.


Anonymous said...

One has to wonder why someone ripped out the original floor... was it made of an inferior material and this banal new floor is considered a "improvement" ?

Michael said...

Hey, just wanted to say thanks for calling my attention to this entire event. I took my kids to a dozen of the buildings last weekend, mostly in Garfield Park and Rogers Park-- not the most spectacular ones, mostly, but we all enjoyed it a great deal (I put a Flickr slideshow here:

We had been to Fallingwater earlier in the year so I was really pleased with how my 13-year-old picked up on the Wrightian motifs at the Emil Bach House and discussed them with offhand confidence, the little culture vulture... anyway, thanks for calling attention to it and I hope they do it again and we can go again next year.

Michael said...

Sorry, link doesn't seem to work. Anyway, look for Open House set here:

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