There is no ‘closed sign’ for the city of Chicago. In fact, the city opened wide the doors to some of the most charming, mesmerizing, and exclusive buildings this past weekend.
Of course, I participated and ventured into the Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, and South Loop neighborhoods for the annual Open House Chicago event.
I came across this event last year and traveled far north from my south side apartment to explore the diverse neighborhood of Rogers Park and West Ridge. Ironically, I live in the area now. So this year, I decided to head southwest to explore areas that I really had no idea existed, and would not go to on an everyday basis. The neighborhoods are not necessarily the highest ranked on ‘IT’ places to live. However, these neighborhoods provide their own unique and rich contribution to the history of this city. Some house some of the coolest bars and restaurants in the area, and steadily become major influencers of innovation and future commerce in Chicago.
My first stop was the Back of the Yards neighborhood. An area that is most famously known for being the home of the Union Stockyard and its immortalization in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book, ‘The Jungle.’ While in Back of the Yards, I visited The Plant. An enormous facility just west of the old Union Stockyard, the was previously a meat-packing facility. The location is now used as a business incubator; entrepreneurs who use the space are setting the path for urban farming and food production. While I was there, I grabbed a delicious pastry from Pleasant House Bakery and met with a founder from Urban Canopy, an organization that plants gardens in low-income neighborhoods. The Plant is home to a monthly farmers markets as well and is the future site of a beer distillery.
I continued my tour of the southwest neighborhoods and headed north to the Stockyards Brick, a former meatpacking warehouse as well, that is now the home of salvaged building materials. The stockyard was truly fascinating! It was one of those places that had me at a lost for words because of the immense amount of history that was literally, beneath my feet.
My next stops were all in the Bridgeport neighborhood. The list consisted of a historical repository of architectural ornaments(say that three times fast), a Buddhist Temple, and a Catholic Church. All three shared an immense amount of beauty, unusual architectural elements, and people who were excited to share knowledge about the ‘homes’ that are a part of their everyday lives.
The last stops on my south Chicago tour took me to the South Loop. A neighborhood of big residents, like McCormick Place and Soldier’s Field. It is home to popular music venues such as the Shrine and Reggie’s. However, the neighborhood has managed to maintain its rock star qualities, without giving into its northern neighbor’s tourist traps. Embedded in this neighborhood are some pretty spectacular homes. The two that I visited during the Open House was the Clark House and Wheeler Mansion. Both beauties in their own right. The Clarke House models that of Greek revival architecture, a style that is not too common in midwest, which is always refreshing amongst all of the Beaux Arts influence. It is also one of the oldest buildings within Chicago’s original boundaries. The Wheeler Mansion is a survivor of not only the Great Fire of Chicago but of also a great modern day parking lot. Yes, a parking lot. Thankfully, the mansion became a restored home turned boutique hotel, which maintains the sophistication of the 19th century with a few modern perks thrown in.
Doing something like the Open House was an accurate seek. It was about venturing out of my comfort zone and trying something new. Believe me; it wasn’t easy for me to go to the Back of the Yards neighborhood knowing the reputation that it has. But, if I didn’t, I would not have met some truly inspiring people who are helping to better the city or had some bomb desert! I encourage everyone to seek something out of their every day this week. Take advantage of the little and big things that Chicago has to offer.
You will not regret it!