Chicago architecture tour goes virtual

October 12, 2020
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This will be the third year the Austin neighborhood will be featured in Chicago Architecture Center’s annual Open House Chicago

Reduced from the 352 sites in 38 neighborhoods it offered last year, organizers say 100 or so sites will be showcased this month. Five of those sites are in Austin, compared to nine featured last year.

Kehrein Center for the Arts, Austin Town Hall Cultural Center, Third Unitarian Church, the Austin State Bank building and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church will be featured from Oct. 16 to 25.

This year’s architecture tour highlights Austin and some of the neighborhoods targeted by the city’s INVEST South/West initiative.

Open House Chicago gives people a chance to explore neighborhoods they ordinarily wouldn’t, said Michael Wood, senior curator for the Chicago Architecture Center.

Connecting the event to INVEST South/West diverts some attention from the more popular neighborhoods like The Loop and spotlights Chicago’s disinvested neighborhoods instead, he said.

“This is the type of content that excites us, and we like telling the stories of the city. It helps people understand the city more and come away with civic pride, a willingness to lend a hand and to want to believe in a bright future for the city.”

Chicago Architecture Foundation President Lynn Osmond tweets about INVEST South/West initiative.

Because of COVID-19, some changes have been made to this month’s event. Instead of the usual two-day weekend, Open House will last 10 days. The festival is also moving online and outdoors with interior design tours being swapped for virtual and self-guided outdoor tours.

Some spots were cut out of this year’s event since in-person architectural tours won’t happen during the pandemic.

A new app will be available starting Oct. 14, allowing visitors to bike or walk trails while learning about a specific architect or historical era. The series of routes are accompanied by audio tracks voiced by architectural design experts.

Austin’s half-mile trail, just west of Austin Boulevard, shows off the 19th century shingle-style homes designed by Chicago-born architect Frederick Schock.

The houses helped to make the community the residential enclave it is, inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright to later emulate the style throughout the Midwest. The houses are located houses located at 5749 and 5804 W. Race Ave., and 5804 and 5810 W. Midway Park.

Catholic Charities Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center, the former Austin Bank of Chicago building, also was designed by Schock in 1913.

In 2017, the building became the Peace Center, which offers services to those who have experienced trauma. The 185 people who visited the center last year got to see the vault, marble floors and peace garden that’s next to the building.

“We utilize it, not just as a building with services, but as a community center,” said regional director of community relations Christie Richardson. “We’ve held events there for (Rep.) La Shawn Ford, and for groups like the NAACP because of the open space we have.”

More than 200 people visited the Kehrein Center for the Arts during last year’s event. A former Catholic school left vacant from 1977 to 2008, the space is now home to Catalyst Circle Rock charter school, Circle Rock Ministries and an 850-seat auditorium.

“It represents fine arts in our community,” said Sharon Morgan, director of community outreach. “The community has a space where they can showcase their talents. We can showcase talent that people don’t have to go downtown to see.”

Admittance to Open House Chicago is free.

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