Tahlequah Daily Press

July 14, 2010

Chicago is architecture aficionado's paradise

Press Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — Chicago is an architecture aficionado's ultimate paradise. Thanks to the Great Fire of the 1880s (and, in popular legend, the clumsy or recalcitrant nature of Mrs. O'Leary's cow), the city could be rebuild according to a splendidly harmonized scheme, rather than the ramshackle fashion through which most urban areas take shape over time.

Most of Chicago's buildings conform to the Art Deco pattern, which is one reason my husband and I enjoy it so much. Art Deco, in a nutshell, sprang up in France during the Industrial Revolution, which corresponded with a resurgence in interest in all things Egyptian. Therefore, many of the colors, patterns and themes melded ancient Egyptian with modern concepts. A plethora of metal, marble and geometric lines and patterns collided to give birth to a unique form, and American architects added their own special twist. No other city in America is more exemplary of ideal than Chicago.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is the best way to immerse yourself in the grand design of this city, through a variety of tours showcasing every aspect of its character. We try to take a different tour every time we visit, and each one is a bit different; it all depends on your personal taste. We've done the boat tour on the Chicago River, which takes you past many of the most famous skyscrapers. We've also done a walking tour highlighting many of the city's best 'examples of Art Deco design. Last year, we especially enjoyed a Segway tour that took us along the shore of Lake Michigan and to the museum campus.

This year, for the first time, we took a bus tour, "Highlights By Bus," which lasted from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Chicago's finest historic and modern landmarks were on the menu, including the Rookery, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, and Mies van der Rohe's Illinois Institute of Technology campus. We got to go inside some of the structures, including the fabulous Robie House, and our well-informed docent was able to explain the intricacies, as well as the particular thinking behind the various architects' individual genius. (I've already posted photos of all the highlights.)

Many Oklahomans are familiar with Wright because of his Price Tower in Bartlesville. In the Chicago area, Wright was better known for his design of residential properties, such as the Robie House. Now it's owned by the University of Chicago, but a foundation established particularly for Wright properties maintains it, and is currently restoring it. We weren't allowed to take photos inside, which is a pity, because the lovely etched windows for which Wright is so famous have a much more stunning effect from the inside looking out. Those familiar with Wright also know his designs tend to be more horizontal in nature rather than vertical, so ceilings are typically low, but in Robie House, the open nature that combined the living room with the dining room, while commonplace today, was innovative for its time. A sunken fireplace between the two areas literally beat as the heart of the home.

The extreme "open space" concepts of Mies van der Rohe were not as impressive to me as the Wright and other post-modern designs, but many people were quite taken with the mood orchestrated by such expansiveness (the photo of me with the "silver clouds" was taken in one of these buildings). The student center, however -- with the Red Line train running right over it in a sound-buffering tube -- was extremely interesting.

Check out www.architecture.org for more details (or research these architects individually). If you go to Chicago, do insist that one of these tours be part of the itinerary; you won't be disappointed.

Right after the tour, we grabbed lunch at Al's No. 1 Italian Beef -- the Ontario location, rather than the original Taylor address in Little Italy. I posted a photo earlier of the sandwich my husband and son devoured: a combo Italian beef and Italian sausage monstrosity they find irresistible. Therefore, Al's is always on the agenda for Chicago. I typically eat something less fattening, and this time had the Back of the Yards, which was packed with ham, prosciutto and capocollo. (This choice earned a snide comment from a friend I've had since my days at OU, Mark Solow, who is trying to convince me to kick pork permanently from my life -- no small feat, since it's my husband's favorite meat.) Well... it was just this once!

Next up was another staple of the Chicago lineup, a trip to Spa Space (www.spaspace.com) for some exquisite massage pampering. (Kimpton Hotel guests get a discount, by the way, and coupons are usually available online as well.) I highly recommend Spa Space for the royal treatment, and we've yet to have a massage therapist who wasn't top-notch. My husband had a two-hour Swedish/deep tissue combo, while this time, I enjoyed the signature Space Ritual, which consisted of Swedish massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, Indian head massage and hot stone therapy. While it's true that massages are not inexpensive, if you've never had one, you should try it at least once; we indulge once or maybe twice a year. And it's well worth the money if you choose the right establishment. My therapist, Deanna, is an actual reflexologist, and she explained that pressure point massages of the feet can affect many other parts of the body in a position fashion, and she wasn't kidding. It was difficult for me to get up from the table and walk away! (Cherae, you might wanna comment on this!)

We capped off the evening by taking the Red Line, then a bus, north to the area around Wrigley Field, where a very special pub called Duke of Perth awaits discriminating guests. This place was recommended to me by my good friend and fellow band member from high school, Chuck Letbetter (whom some of you now know as a well-respected art photographer). Chuck was supposed to join us this year for dinner, but due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, had to stand us up (and I'm still deciding whether to forgive him!) I solemnly promise you, the all-you-can-eat fish and chips (with green peas) on Wednesdays and Fridays is more than worth the $9.99 price tag, and it's the best fish and chips we've had on this side of the pond. (That's saying a lot; since my brother lives in Oxford, we've been to England three times.) But the real reason Chuck recommended Duke of Perth was for the extensive (and possibly unparalleled in this part of the country) collection of single-malt Scotches. I myself don't indulge in the swill, but my husband loves it. Lately he's been into Laphroaig, a smoky, peaty concoction, and he got to try all of the vintages available. My son sampled the Scottish beers, and heartily gave them the thumbs-up.

On the way to the pub, incidentally, I noticed another bar, Stretch Bar and Grill, and I simply HAD to have a photo of that, for Kevin Stretch (a fellow classmate from Fort Gibson whom I've known since first grade, and who many of YOU now have the privilege of knowing, as he works at NSU). The pic didn't turn out, so we had to go back later to get it, and wound up somehow with a weird little video clip (also posted).

Maybe we'll learn how to use the camera, which we've had since my son was in high school, before this trip is over!