The third in my Following Frank series found us traveling to Chicago this past May. These focused trips began several years ago when we took a road trip with friends to Spring Green, WI specifically to tour Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home. That was followed by our trip to Mason City, Iowa to stay in the famous Historic Park Inn Hotel, the newly renovated and last remaining hotel designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Now it was time to fulfill a long planned trip to Chicago by train to tour Oak Park, Ill, home to the largest collection of Wright-designed residential properties in the world! It was always our plan to travel there by train which, we learned, was more expensive than flying. But we were all about the experience!
We arrived at the Amtrak station bright and early for a 7:55 a.m. departure. After comfortably settling in, our eight hour journey began with the rumbling, hissing, and screeching train song. I enjoyed being lulled by the gentle swaying movement except, of course, when trying to walk from one car to another.
Concerned about the quality of food we might encounter on the train, I brought snacks. We soon learned it wasn’t necessary. We were pleasantly surprised to have a delicious breakfast and lunch, both served on white linen cloths and with courteous service!
We arrived at the busy terminal in Chicago where we easily found and retrieved our luggage. Then a short cab ride took us to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency on Wacker Dr. It turned out to be a great location as it was walking distance to everything we wanted to see during our stay.
Following our check in, we discovered Big Bar in the hotel lobby! Time for a toast to Chicago! But, even better, we discovered Big Bar has a designated drink named after Frank Lloyd Wright. No hesitation there! We toasted Frank Lloyd Wright with, well, a Frank Lloyd Wright!
We then walked several blocks to have dinner at the Purple Pig. It had been recommended with a warning to expect a long wait. The wait turned out to be one and a half hours. Fortunately it was a lovely evening, allowing us to enjoy waiting outside on their large patio while visiting with interesting people from all over the country. Rewarded with fabulous food and service, we unanimously agreed it was well worth the wait!
The next morning, we were picked up at the hotel for our private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in Oak Park, Ill. A suburb of Chicago, Oak Park has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world.This collection of homes represents the first 30 years of Wright’s career and allows us to see the development and perfection of his signature Prairie Style architecture.
Our first stop was a tour of Unity Temple, home of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Built between 1905 and 1908, it was among Wright’s favorite commissions. His desire to create a house of worship expressing the powerful simplicity of ancient temples prompted his suggestion that it be called a “temple” rather than a church. Its cubist theme and poured concrete construction were unprecedented in that time.
Unity Temple exemplifies how Wright used materials, color and geometry to define the character of the spaces. He created anticipation by leading us through low, dark spaces until we emerge into high, light spaces, resulting in a sense of awe. It is a perfect example of moving from yin to yang!
Our next stop was Wright’s private residence and workplace during the first 20 years of his career, and where he raised six children with his first wife, Catherine Tobin. His studio was added to the home in 1898 and it was there, with his associates, he developed the new American architecture, the Prairie style, designing 125 structures, including the Robie House, the Larkin Building and the Unity Temple.
We spent a lot of time in the home and studio, enjoying the feeling of the space. It was warm outside and as we emerged to walk the grounds, we noted an ice cream truck conveniently located curbside in anticipation of the tourists. Following the unexpected but welcome ice-cream break, we commenced our guided walking tour of the gorgeous neighborhoods filled with privately owned Frank Lloyd Wright homes.
As we stood outside one of the houses listening to our guide’s description, we observed the owner out on his lawn playing Frisbee with his dog. It was a reminder that regardless of the historical significance of the architecture, it is still someone’s home!
Our tour concluded with a visit to the Rookery building, located in the heart of Chicago’s financial district. Twelve stories tall, it is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.The Rookery lobby was remodeled in 1905 by Frank Lloyd Wright who covered nearly every inch of it with incised and gilded marble. It is stunning!
It was a full and satisfying day of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Upon returning to our hotel, we decided to see more of Chicago. We walked to Millennium Park, a short distance from the Hyatt. Millennium Park is a public park covering 24.5-acres. It was originally intended to celebrate the millennium, but wasn’t completed until 2004, four years behind schedule! Because the park sits atop a parking garage and the commuter rail Millennium Station, it is considered the world’s largest rooftop garden.
Sculptures, pavilions, gardens and fountains are among its attractions. I was especially drawn to Cloud Gate, a sculpture said to have been inspired by liquid mercury. It is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together creating a highly polished exterior with no visible seams. It provides great photo opportunities, as you can see!
The next morning, prior to our return train ride, we took an hour-long architectural boat tour. It is a highly recommended not to be missed look at the windy city’s many historically and architecturally significant and fascinating buildings.
We boarded the train, feeling very satisfied with our whirlwind trip to Chicago! We accomplished our goals and, like all great trips, were rewarded with many more memorable experiences than we could have anticipated.
“The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built.”