A Frank Lloyd Wright, SC Johnson, Chicago Architecture Biennial ADVENTURE

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is here! It’s here, and it’s awesome. I’ve been enjoying many parts of the biennial, I did a Studio Visit at Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill, I’ve been to a number of lectures and I’ve pored over much of what is in installation at The Cultural Center.

But the MOST FUN thing so far, has been the trip to Racine, WI to go see the SC Johnson Headquarters done by a Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright. The trip is being offered in conjunction with the Biennial and SC Johnson and it’s FREE. The whole trip, up there and back and the tour guides (who were GREAT) and the bus and everything. FREE. What a treat.

I met my group on a Friday morning at 10AM at the Cultural Center. The SC Johnson bus was clean, big and warm, just like I like my buses! Our tour guide Val, greeted the 30 of us, introduced our bus driver Devon, and off we went, right on time. On the ride up Val filled us in what we were going to see and gave us some cool facts, like that SC Johnson is still a private company and that they paid the money to do these free tours to their headquarters. That’s pretty neat, rock on SCJ.

90 minutes later we pulled into O&H Danish Bakery in Racine. As we got closer, Val really talked up the Kringle. Now, I’ve never had Kringle and I must admit, had never really heard of Kringle, but I love me some pastries and baked goods! You could also purchase a sandwich at O&H, 4 different kinds and they looked delicious. I brought my own lunch and that was fine too.



After purchasing a Cinnamon Bun Kringle (raspberry, pFFFT!) we were back on the bus to go to the headquarters.

*I could only take photographs from the outside. So some of these are mine and the ones that aren’t I captioned.*


You know, Frank Lloyd Wright is not one of my favorites. He just, I get it, I really do, trust me – but he never tickled my romantic side like Sullivan or Burnham. He’s like Mies to me, I get it, I see it and appreciate it and can talk to it, but there’s no fire there.

And there still isn’t really, but HOLY HELL is the campus really neat. We started at the Research Tower (photo above) finished in 1950. The Tower rises above flat Racine and the rest of the headquarters and it totally looks like Superman to me. FLW designed the Administration Building for SC Johnson, but they looked to another architect to build the tower. Wright wasn’t too happy with those designs, so he did his own saying “every building is a great opportunity to do the right thing in every direction.”  FLW told Johnson he could do it for 900K and 4 million dollars later it was finished. It’s basically square floors with rounded mezzanines. THE COOLEST PART of the Research Tower however, is in the facade, the glass you see in the photo above? It’s TUBES.  7,000 Pyrex tubes! It is unreal. And it is filled with light, so light sometimes the employees had to wear sunglasses.

Photo courtesy of:

We left the Tower to walk the campus to the Administration Building. It was a cloudy and cold day so it was fun to see FLW’s “prairie school” in action. The flat of the campus and the flat of the horizon and the angles and planes – it’s really beautiful and so Midwestern and…Image(5)
The color you see over and over is “Cherokee Red” and it’s the theme of the campus. It gives everything a really warm and earthy feel.  Then the Administration Building! The building opened in 1939 – keep that in mind while you’re looking at this – 1939.  The Administration Building is where it’s AT. Here’s a view of the carport, which is totally funky and Jetson-y and then from the carport looking into the Administration Building – I love this:


 When you walk in, the building just explodes in this warm, cozy light. It’s open and airy and gorgeous, of course no photo can do it justice – but all the light from the ceiling is natural and those columns are HOLDING UP THE ROOF!! FLW also made the chairs and the desks and everything, pretty comfy too. It was really lovely in here, if not a little overwhelming. The open floor-space is so everyone could see each other and the higher-ups. FLW wanted to get rid of “the box” and this was quite a way to do it.

Photo courtesy of

Our last stop was Fortaleza Hall – this rocked my world – designed by Norman Foster (2010); oh my gosh, is it PRETTY. It holds the plane that one of the Johnson boys used to follow in his father’s footsteps. It also holds a cafeteria and other employee amenities. It is just gorgeous and it totally follows the lines and curves of FLW while “making it his own.” I’m sure Sir Norman Foster would love that I put it that way:


photo courtesy of SC Johnson

The outside, RAWR:

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At about 2:30 we hopped back on the bus and made it back to Chicago by 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. SO GOOD. I’m so thankful to the Biennial and to SC Johnson (and FLW!) for making this a possibility for us. What a treat, what an amazing morning and afternoon and I consider myself lucky to have been a part of any of this at all.

If you’re interested, there’s still lots of time to go! Just click here.


The Long Walk Home

I know for most people Mondays are Mondays, but for me, Mondays are Fridays. I have one Pedway Tour on Monday mornings then I’m done at noon. This past Monday, I had wrapped up “tour season” on the previous Sunday. It had been a busy day and a busy weekend and hell, a busy season.  It was MondayFriday, it was 70 degrees in November, it was only noon and I had the whole day in front of me.

I decided to walk home from downtown.

And not only walk home, but take my time with it. To go slow. To backtrack. To walk in places I’ve maybe never walked due to other choices. To take my time in parts of the city I’m usually rushing through.

I started at Lake Shore East because I find it fascinating. It’s all these new residences just east of Michigan Ave. Some are calling it the new “East Side” and it really does feel like a a whole new neighborhood. There’s tons of Pedway access, a market, a school and an awesome park, all tucked away where you might not imagine:

There’s a funny little access point to the lake here, alongside a building, through a fence…


Then I walked by the lake for a bit, beautiful day:


At Illinois, I decided to get off the lake front and walk by the buildings that line the lake, like, specifically the apartment buildings by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at 860 LSD. I can’t believe I never explored back in there, looked at them from up in between, it was pretty sweet:


I kept walking by the buildings next to the lake until I got to the SURGICAL SCIENCE MUSEUM and it’s creepy and calming sculpture. It’s a strange sculpture, the physicality is um, not even close to right from what I can tell:

From there I worked my way in a touch so I could walk through Lincoln Park.  I took a serious rest under this tree on a bale of hay, you know, like I do:

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At Belmont & Clark, I was SO close to just getting on a bus, but shoot, at this point, I’m only 2 miles! They’ve torn down the Punkin’ Donuts, pave paradise and all that:


I got to Wrigley RIGHT while they were tearing down the sign, the news was there and stuff, it was neat:

wrigleysignbig wrigleysign

And a mile or so later, I made it. I made it home:


It was a really beautiful walk, took me about 4 hours to do it REALLY slow. I walked in parts of the city I haven’t ever walked, or haven’t walked in ages. I was happy to find that there is still so much to see, so many streets I wanted to walk down and explore even more, so many parts of the city I still am not familiar with.

I’m thinking about doing this walk as a tour someday, not really a tour, but putting together a four hour walk and just doing it with people….would you go?

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Early Morning Tours – Catching Worms

I like to do walking tours that have a bit of edge to them. I have a highlights tour that I do, that’s pretty standard. There are lots of guides in the Pedway now, but when I started, I was the only one. The Binoculars Tour is one of a kind, that’s for sure. Niche. I like niche tours, for awhile my tagline for Chicago Elevated was going to be, “scratch that niche.” I decided against that…

But out of all my tours, the tour that is the MOST niche, the tours I have the hardest time getting people to actually go on, are the early morning tours.

This summer I had an “EarlyBird Tour” that started at 7AM on Sundays. The first few weeks I had a small amount of people sign up, but since it was still spring, often the weather was not cooperating. One Sunday I had two ladies sign up and by the time they showed up, it was POURING. We all looked at each other and then looked at Wildberry down the street and that was that. They promised to come back.
And for the rest of the summer,  no one signed up for the EarlyBird Tour.  Late July, I took it off the schedule. Done and done. Out of sight. Then just last week my two cancelled ladies let me know they would like to come back for the EarlyBird Tour, it’s the end of the season, they’re coming and we’re going. The night before I double-checked the weather (as tour guides do) and saw that we were going to have a beautiful morning.

I woke up at 5:30 – took a quick shower in the dark – and left my apartment at 5:45. I walked through the dark Chicago streets to the train; I rode it so quietly with my fellow man, all of us respecting the early hour. By the time I got downtown every building was this cool shade of blue.

Tour started at 7:00 and sunrise was at 7:14AM.

Once I met the ladies, we altered our tour route a little bit so we could make it to the lake by sunrise.

And it was the most glorious thing. Worth everything. Worth of all of it. Honestly? I’m not sure I’ve ever been downtown for a sunrise before, in 45 years of living here, I believe that was a first.

And I know it was amazing because my tour guests were oooohing and aaaaahing as much as I was – “I’ve never seen it like this.” “This is so amazing, how beautiful.” “I’m so glad we did this.” And as we pulled ourselves away from the lake and went meandering into Maggie Daley Park we kept remarking about how neat it was to see the park with no one there.

Enchanted forest

We giggled and took photos and went over to the Bean, the day had definitely broken, the Bean was shining, yet still no one was there, about 8AM now and we still had all of Millennium Park to ourselves.


And I marveled that this tour didn’t do well.

I know people think it sounds like a neat idea and I also know most people have 9-5s and a Sunday sleep-in day is something – but I can’t tell you how amazing Chicago is at 7AM in October. I can’t tell you how awesome it felt to get a tour done, exercise and all, and be done by 8:30 and to have the whole day in front of me. Most people were still sleeping – and we were all finished, smiling, happy with our decision.

I always feel like I share experiences with my fellow tour guests. It’s what I love about my job, we all bond in a short amount of time – but on this morning, we all felt really close to each other. It was special.

If you’re thinking right now, “wow, I really should have gone on one of Margaret’s early bird tours, shoot….” it’s okay! You still have a chance. Because the Winter Tour is back everyone! Heated coats baby – and I’m giving it another shot again this year – an 8AM Winter Tour.

If you think we felt like badasses at 7AM on a Sunday on a beautiful day in October, just imagine how gorgeous it’s going to be in December, right before Christmas – quiet so quiet, up before the world, wandering through this beautiful city, honoring the cold and lovely lake, battery-operated heated coats keeping us cozy….

You can sign up for the Winter Tour here.


Cooler By The Lake

On a tour recently, I’m walking with a young, very neat couple from Kansas; we’re yapping about all kinds of things: Chicago, architecture, what we’re like, what they’re like and it really felt like we had covered a lot of information. And then:

“So, what about the lake?”


“The lake, what is your relationship to the lake?”

And I just stared at her for a minute, trying #1 – to take in the question, #2 –  to figure out how in the hell I should answer it. It’s so big, it’s such a big question.

“Oh we LOVE the lake!”

“Do you swim in it?”

“HELL YEAH WE DO!” Some of us anyway.

“Is it like…beach?”

“HELL YEAH IT IS!” Some of it anyway.

Some is more rocky, some is cement, some is beach, some is grass. Yup. I’m right. It is a big question.

Lake Michigan is the 5th largest lake in the world. It is the 2nd largest great lake by volume and 3rd largest by surface area AND it’s the only great lake that is entirely in the USA. It is an average of 279 feet deep and over 12 million people live on it’s shores.

And it is the heart and soul of this city, but also of your beloved tour guide.

I grew up on the North Shore in Wilmette. Wilmette hugs Lake Michigan like fake minks hug cold North Shore bodies. When I was a child (I spake as a child), we went to the beach every day. My mother would wrap up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in wax paper, our trusty season passes saftey-pinned to our towels and off we would go to the beach. We arrived at 10AM and left at 4PM. All day. Every day.

When I was 10 we were allowed to ride our bikes to the beach. Maybe one of us would leave to go to White Hen in the middle of the day to pick up snacks. But every day, every single day we would go to the beach.


When we were teens, we would go drink there, or be angsty there, or kiss someone there.

I moved to NYC in 2000. On my bad NYC days, which were numerous, I rode my bike for thousands of miles just so I could see the beach at Coney Island. I WENT TO CONEY ISLAND TO FIND PEACE AND BEAUTY. Poor me. But it reminded me of the lake, there was a beach and water and sky and a city behind me – I sat in cigarette butts, smelled Nathan’s hot dogs and pretended that I was sitting on one of the miles of beaches in Chicago.

When I moved home a year later, I started running. At first I preferred long city blocks, I was eager to be in Chicago’s middle, not it’s edges. Last summer I started running to the lake. And then, I started doing something SO RIDICULOUS, you won’t believe it. I started going IN.  My phone and my running shoes sat forlornly on the shoreline as I splashed and played in the water. Then I would lay on the beach and let the sun dry me off, looking at the lake stretched out so far in front of me I could never and have never been able to see to the other side.


This lake has been with me since I can remember, well, really anything. But every day it’s new to me and through that, the city is new to me. It is a mirror of my own mind – windy and angry one day, calm and serene the next. It is a silent partner, easily taken for granted and just as easily adored.  It is our protector on hot, sultry days and our adversary during vortices. It is our backdrop and our stage, our boundary and our freedom, our business and recreation. And it is quite literally, a part of every one of us.  We let it be what it is. We don’t ask too much from it and we don’t expect more than we ask. We are in it, it is in us, we are a part of it and it is most definitely a part of us.

A great lake indeed. Maybe even the best.




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