For architecture and history folks like me – who are a nosey bunch, for sure – the birth of the doors open / open house event in France in 1984 was a boon.
Milwaukee’s event seems to get exponentially more popular with each new year and this year, West Bend is kicking off its first installment.
We’re also blessed by the fact that our neighbor to the south – Chicago – is a literally an architectural wonderland and since 2011 has hosted its free event each year just a few weeks after Milwaukee’s.
It’s no surprise that the Open House Chicago is among the world’s largest such event. It takes place this year on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 14 and 15.
Like Milwaukee’s Doors Open, there will also be virtual tours.
Open House Chicago 2023, organized by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, will have about 170 sites in more than 20 neighborhoods that highlight neighborhood investment, community engagement and historic preservation.
Via partnerships with neighborhood groups, arts and cultural organizations and other groups, Open House Chicago also shares suggestions for great shopping, dining and other features in the participating neighborhoods.
You can find complete details on participating sites, virtual events and much more at openhousechicago.org.
Last year, I was excited to get a proper tour of the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, operated by the Friends of the Chicago River. The museum opened in 2006 in one of the bridgehouses at the DuSable Bridge spanning the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue.
It is fascinating, with a close-up look at the mechanisms that open the bridge as well as lots of photographs and panels explaining the history not just of the bridge, but also the river as it runs through the city.
In other years, Open House Chicago has allowed me a look inside other great places, too, including the Central Standard Building, 231 S. La Salle St, in the Financial District, with its beautiful Wintrust Grand Banking Hall; the rooftop of 1 North Dearborn, with its old Boston Store painted sign; the neo-gothic Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue; City Hall; and the Art Deco Chicago Lyric Opera House, among others.
This year, I’d really like to see Henry Hobson Richardson’s Glessner House and the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill offices in the Railway Exchange building at 224 S. Michigan Ave., which I had hoped to see last year, but didn’t.
I’d also love to get a tour of the Riviera Theatre, where I’ve seen lots of shows, but since it’s always dark then, I’ve never gotten a good look around inside, as well as the atmospheric Avalon Regal Theater with its incredible lobby.
If you go, be sure to stop in to see The Blackstone Hotel, which is both beautiful and full of interesting history. The former barber shop space – where the likes of Al Capone and Richard Nixon got haircuts – is rarely seen these days but will be open for the event.
You’ll need the full two days to check out as much as you can, so consider grabbing a room and making a weekend of it.
Recently, I checked out two great options for stays, each offering very different experiences.
The Emily Hotel – named in honor of Canadian artist Emily Carr – is situated a block from the CTA’s Pink and Green Line trains in the heart of the booming West Loop/Fulton Market neighborhood, which is packed with great restaurants, bars, shops, breweries and more, many of which are located in renewed vintage buildings.
The Emily has three great restaurants – the casual Fora in the lobby, the swanky rooftop Selva, with its take on Mexican street food, and, tucked down a secret corridor is the omakase-style Sushi by Bou – and a coffee shop.
The rooms are comfortable and modern and there are amenities like a fitness center and, on the roof, the popular outdoor Rooftop Cinema Club movie theater.
Meanwhile Level River North is something altogether different.
Because Level also has both apartments and extended stay units, there are amenities galore on a scale that outpaces pretty much any typical short-term stay property: a pool, hot tub, semi-private outdoor party spaces with grills, indoor and outdoor lounges, an arcade with free pinball and skeeball, a pet spa and dog run, a kids play room, a large fitness center with a yoga room, sauna, steam room and co-working spaces. Plus, each unit has a washer and dryer, full kitchen and balcony.
There’s another Level property in Old Town that’s also rentable for short-term stays, but I haven’t seen that one myself. I did see the new Fulton Market location, which has a great rooftop space and units more or less identical to the River North location, but that one is not yet licensed for short-term stays, though it should be soon.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.