Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

The Wright trip for stage and scenery

Peck's Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

Peck’s Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

A fall vacation that is not the same-old, same-old awaits 189 miles (about 3 hrs., 20 min.) northwest of Chicago in Spring Green, WI.

 

Water bottles, check. pillow ( I like mine), check. Phone, cords and bathing suit, check. Well, there is a lap pool at The House on the Rock Resort, my weekend retreat.

 

On the agenda is see a show at American Players Theatre which everyone calls APT,  tour Wright’s Taliesin, explore the hilly countryside and stop at Peck’s Farm Market East on the way home for yummy, fresh corn. The town is surrounded by farmland so visitors will be treated to true farm-to-table products that are not just a nod to today’s popular menu phrases.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center near Spring Green Wisconsin. (Photo by Jodie Jacobs)

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center near Spring Green Wisconsin. (Photo by Jodie Jacobs)

For Chicagoans and west suburbanites, I90 to US 12/14 around Madison is arguably the shortest, quickest route. Coming from the northern suburbs, I mosey west over to US 12 because I94 is under construction and it means I can stop at Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond, IL  for chocolate and Kindfolk Coffee inside a boutique center in Cambridge, WI, for a latte.

 

Fortunately, my room is ready even though I arrive closer to lunch than the 3 p.m. check-in. So after dropping my bags, I get directions to the Spring Green General Store for lunch. GPS is fine but I also like to know ahead of time where I’m going.

 

I heard that the Genera Store, alone, is a destination experience. Wow! Can’t believe all the stuff crammed on the shelves and down the aisles. But lunch first. Hmm, heard the soups are good however, I’m going to do a chicken salad sandwich on whole grain ciabatta and wash it down with peach iced tea.

 

After ordering at the counter and receiving a flag from Mexico (lots of countries represented) to ID my order, I find a table on the indoor porch. Totally stuffed, I walk off lunch, peering into boutiques and stopping in Arcadia Books.

 

Outside Freddie Valentine's restaurant in Spring Green. (J Jacobs photo)

Outside Freddie Valentine’s restaurant in Spring Green. (J Jacobs photo)

Then back to the resort to unpack, call Taliesin to book a tour for tomorrow and relax. I get lucky because I should have reserved a tour before leaving home. Fortunately someone had just canceled for the Highlights Tour that goes to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and his studio.

 

APT is also tomorrow and where I plan to do dinner. I ordered a picnic supper when I bought my show ticket.

 

So tonight will try  Freddy Valentine’s Public House in the historic State Bank of Spring Green. Imagine chowing down on great ribs in a bank. I was told by owner David Owen who named it after his dad, that everything on the menu was really fresh.

 

In its seven years, the restaurant has picked up several mentions as one of the best small town restaurants in Wisconsin worth the drive

 

BTW, in this town almost every building is historic. The General Store is in a converted cheese storage building dating to about 1919 that was other things before becoming the store and café in the 1980s. The bank, built in 1915 was listed on Register of Historic Places in 2007.

 

Pool at House on the Rock Resort. (J Jacobs photo)

Pool at House on the Rock Resort. (J Jacobs photo)

It will seem funny going to Wright’s organic, Prairie School style of architecture at Taliesin tomorrow after seeing old, small-town buildings of the same period, today, just a six-minute drive away.

 

Wright first built Taliesin on his family’s large farm in 1911. Then he rebuilt it after fires in 1914 and 1925. It was listed as a Historic Landmark in 1974 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019.

 

The visitor’s center with its great view of the Wisconsin River and where Taliesin tours start and end, is perfect for lunch. Going on the tour was a great way not just to see the inside of his home and studio but also take in breathtaking views of the Wisconsin River Valley in the fall.

 

Back at the resort to relax, I have time before the APT show to fit in some laps in a really attractive indoor pool where high ceilings and glass walls make it feel connected to the outdoors.

 

Refreshed, I drive less than a mile from the resort to the American Players’ campus, pick up my pre-ordered dinner, then picnic at a table before taking a shuttle up the hill. I will be seeing Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” in the outdoor amphitheater.

 

American Players Theatre outdoor venue. (J Jacobs photo)

American Players Theatre outdoor venue. (J Jacobs photo)

As the sun sets behind the trees, the seats start to fill with people more inclined to trekking up the hill than I was. Surprised by the many people who seemed to know each other, my seatmates explained that Apt audiences return every year like they do.

 

Not surprising, was that the show turned out to be every bit as good as the version I saw in Chicago a few years ago because APT attracts actors, directors and choreographers from TV, film and regional theaters.

 

Now I’m thinking I should come back next year.

 

For more restaurants, places to stay and things to do visit SpringGreen.

 

 

Take a Palm Springs escape back in time

Frank Sinatra House, Palm Springs (Jake Holt photo)

Frank Sinatra House, Palm Springs (Jake Holt photo)

 

It’s not too late to get tickets for An Afternoon of Jazz at the Modernist Loretta Young Estate  or a architectural Bus Tour of Palm Springs neighborhoods where such stars as Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack took refuge from Hollywood or hob nob with VIPs at Palm Springs Modern Committee Annual Gala Benefit  at the Lawrence Welk Estate or see designer Christopher Kennedy’s renovation of the  Modernism Week Featured Home: La Vie en Rose  a 1958 home in posh Vista Las Palmas that backs up to the San Jacinto mountains.

You get the gist of this escape. It’s a trip back to mid last century architecture and homes of famous people who wanted to be within a director’s calling distance of LA studios or not too far from Las Vegas stages.

A mere 119 miles southeast of Los Angeles and about 230 miles from Las Vegas, Palm Springs, CA sits on the always sunny (more than 350 days) western edge of Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert. The events just mentions are a few of the dozens of tours and activities taking place in and around Palm Springs during the town’s annual Modernism Week, Feb. 14-24, 2019.

The bonus is two, really good shows in the Palm Springs Convention Center. Feb. 15-18, 2019. One is the high-end, Art Palm Springs. The other is a dealers’ Modernism exhibit. Feb. 15-18.

The week, actually 10 days, celebrates the area’s reputation for having more mid-last century homes than anywhere else in the world. Here, old homes are not torn down but are instead, preserved for people who appreciate mid-1900s designs. Indeed, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the area on its America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations architecture list in 2006.

Modernism Week happens twice a year, October and February. The fall event is small but the February one runs out of tickets to some of the popular tours and lectures. Check Tickets to see what is left and snap them up before you go.

 

Bus tour of Palm Springs (David A. Lee photo)

Bus tour of Palm Springs (David A. Lee photo)

 

Do a bus tour

Definitely get tickets for the Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour. Taking  about 2.5 hours, the bus drives around Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods, and past Desert Spanish estates.

Knowledgeable guides tell stories about the stars and are likely to explain that the Palm Springs area was chosen because of what was then the studios’ “two-hour rule.” Actors had to be available within a couple of hour’s driving time for film and photo shoot calls..

It’s where tour guides have been known to say, “There is Frank Sinatra’s home, Twin Palms. When he was ready to party he hoisted a Jack Daniels flag between the palms.”

Mid-century architecture is so valued that the much photographed  gas station at the foot of the area’s Tram, is on the tour as a re-purposed Visitors Center.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama have gotten away from cameras here but it is also a resort and golf area for folks who like its year-round summery weather.

 

Go to the Convention Center shows

At the Modernism Show, wander around the booths of dealers who specialize in 20th century design movements to see furniture and accessories similar to what your parents or grandparents cherished that are now back in style.

At the Art Palm Springs show check out the post war and contemporary art works.

 

Shop, Visit Galleries, Relax

There is so much to do during Modernism Week, that you should schedule in down-time. Stay awhile to explore the area, shop the boutiques and art galleries. One of the best galleries is Heather James in neighboring Palm Desert. Oh, and get in some golf and spa time. The Greater Palm SpringsVisitors Bureau has lots of ideas.

 

 

 

First in series that updates “downtown” Chicago hotels

 

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photo by J Jacobs)

As a Chicago-based  travel writer I’m constantly receiving notices of new hotels going up, remodeling taking place at older, established hotels and changes being made regarding check-in conveniences, a TV’s room information and hotel  restaurant options.

They range from comparatively inexpensive to high end, large, convention-sized lobbies and meeting rooms to boutique size with small lobbies and little meeting space. And from casual, pick up and go breakfast bars to open-kitchen designed trendy-food emporiums.

There are about 25 ot choose from just in the Loop, another 13 hotels on and near the Mag Mile (Northern Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street (Oak is also considered the Gold  Coast). Another 25 hotels are in the River North Area just west of Michigan Avenue.

All of that means Chicago visitors have an abundance of choices.  Some travelers may consider that good news. Others might find it overwhelming. Fortunately, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism website the hotel category is broken down by area type and other options.

But travelers should be aware that even when supposedly speaking the same language, hotel and room descriptions translate differently to listeners and speakers.

Having unpacked in all sorts of accommodations in the US and abroad, I have found that words such as roomy, with a view and convenient to sights and shopping, may mean one thing to a traveler and something different to hotel managers and public relations or sales agents.

I found out that a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago meant if you walked out onto the balcony and craned the neck you probably could glimpse the famed structure or crammed into a corner of the room and stood on tiptoe you could get a glimpse of Lake Michigan.

The big question is – are new and remodeled hotels meeting the needs and wants of business and vacation visitors today? The first quarter of the 21st century saw big changes in electronic communications and food and exercise trends.

Please give input in the comment area or send an email to jjtravelsmart@gmail.comof what you look for in a hotel. Email addresses will not be shared. Comments will be helpful when looking at other Chicago hotels.

The hotel series will look at new and updated downtown Chicago hotels starting with Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and  Hotel Julian,  two boutique hotels that opened in October 2018.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian

If looking for a new boutique hotel that is near some of downtown Chicago’s sights you will find two excellent options in Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian.

I liked them both for different reasons but what surprised me when visiting them when they opened was room size. They both were what people in real estate use when describing small houses – cozy.

Compared to some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in good European hotels, the rooms probably could be described as spacious but Americans might describe them as efficient. The room sizes and accompanying narrow desk and closet space are following a trend I’ve noticed in other recently redeveloped Chicago buildings turned into hotels such as the London House.

What the two hotels lack in room size, and size is merely a judgment call, they make up in good vibes and good location.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

The hotel sits where the Museum of contemporary Art resided before it moved a few blocks north. It does not overlook Michigan Avenue in spite of its title but it is a few blocks east so is within easy walking distance of the Water Tower Place (indoor shopping mall), the John Hancock Building’s 360 Observation Floor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier (Includes Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Lookingglass Theatre and the Dreihaus Museum.

Restaurants of all cuisines and price points are also nearby.

For” time-out” from running around, the hotel has a pool, an airy fitness center that has two Peloton Bikes, a lobby where board games are set out ready to use and a bar where people in the neighborhood stop by.

Meet Corgan, a robot "bowtler" at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Meet Corgan, a robot “bowtler” at Aloft
Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Its restaurant, Re:Fuel, is basically a pick-up and go type, self-serve food bar available 24-7 and WI-FI is free throughout the hotel. A hotel guest looked comfortable working on his lap top in the food bar area.

The vibe here is fun. Corrigan, a robot “bowtler” instead of a butler, mingles with lobby guests, tells jokes and when programed at the desk, delivers items to rooms upon request. there is also music on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors who appreciate modern art and good design that incorporates light and bright colors in halls, nooks, rugs and in room and lobby spaces will find this hotel to be a comfortable home while in the city. Aloft Chicago Mag Mile is  at 243 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 600611

 

 

 

 

Hotel Julian

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

The hotel has moved into and risen in the historic Atlantic Bank Building on the west side Michigan Avenue just north of Millennium Park.

Designed by famed architect Benjamin Marshall and completed in 1916, it had just 12 of its originally planned 17 floors built.

Now, the Oxford Capital Group that recently redid the London House building as a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, has beautifully redone the terra cotta clad structure and added five floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Confined by the building original bones, public and private spaces are narrow but from the gourmet “About Last Knife” dining space to the contemporary-designed rooms the descriptive word could be “sleek.” High ceilings make the rooms look and feel larger than they are. The fitness room is small but has a Peloton Bike.

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

A side benefit of adapting needs to space is that instead of an ironing board rooms have steamers. In our family this means not having to hang clothes in the bathroom and turning the shower to hot.

Positioned in the market as a luxury hotel, it has Frette linen and robes and Panpuri bath products designed for the hotel.

Named for the patron saint of travelers, Hotel Julian is well situated for visitors who want to see the Art Institute of Chicago or Cloud Gate (The Bean) and activities in Millennium Park while in town.

It is also near the Theatre District’s shows at Goodman TheatreChicago Theatre and the Broadway in Chicago productions at the Ford Oriental Theatre, all a few  blocks  west of the hotel.

Hotel Julian is at 168 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60601

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five things to do in Chicago for Spring Break

Here are some ideas of where to go and what to do whether visiting Chicago from out of town or planning to take advantage of the city if living in its metropolitan area.

 

Take an architecture tour

Chicago is known for its architecture – whether it’s the fabulous Louis  A. Sullivan Auditorium Theatre at Congress Parkway west of Michigan Avenue, the Rookery designed by Danial Burnham and John Root, with a grand atrium redesigned by  Frank Lloyd Wright on LaSalle Street or the Aqua Tower, an undulating multi use building designed by Jeanne Gang and her Gang Studios on North Columbus  Drive that includes the Radisson Blu hotel.

The Architecture Foundation does excellent art deco and other walking tours and has a good boat tour on the Chicago River. There are also other good architecture boat tours such as those done by Wendella.

The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

See movie and TV filming sites

Chicago is a popular movie and TV location site. A really great way to see the city is to take the Chicago Film Tour.

More than 80 movie and TV shows have been filmed in Chicago including The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Sting, Spiderman, The Fugitive and North by Northwest so the tour goes from Wrigleyville on the Northside to China Town south of the loop and lots of places in between.

It takes close to two hours but while on the bus you also get movie shots on a TV monitor and background information from very knowledgeable guides.

 

Combine  Millennium Park with a lunch break

You’d never guess that any eyesore once used by the Illinois Central Railroad could be turned into the gorgeous 24 plus- acre park of gardens, walkways, remarkable sculptures, fountains, art work and public concert spaces that is Millennium Park.

The park stretches along Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street on the North to Monroe Parkway on the South. But what first catches the eye is the interesting stainless steel ribbon-like top of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.  Its lawn is covered by an artistic sound grid.

Stroll the park to see the Lurie Gardens, the sculptures by Chaikaia Booker in the Boeing galleries section of the park (up now through April 2018, the 50-foot high towers of the Crown Fountain desiged by Jaume Plensa (the towers have changing faces of Chicago residents and the tower spits water into a wading area and the park’s famed Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean.

A 66-foot long elliptical sculpture by Anish Kapoor, The Bean is where visitors go to take selfies. Chicago’s clouds and skyline are beautifully reflected on the Bean’s polished stainless steel surface.

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Leave the park by way of the Nichols Bridgeway, a long pedestrian bridge going from the park up to the Renzo Piano restaurant and the Bluhm Family Terrace in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. The restaurant, named for the architect Renzo Piano who designed the Modern Wing and the Bridgeway, is a terrific lunch spot with a view of the city. But you need a reservation.

If you haven’t snagged one go out onto the Terrace to snap photos and go back down to the park where you might be able to get a table at the Park Grill below the Bean.

 

Enjoy Chicago’s music scene

If you like blues, jazz or folk, find out who is at The House of Blues, Andy’s, Green Mill or The Hideout. For classical programs check Orchestra Hall, the Civic Opera House and the Harris Theatre. Also look up the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park, host of the Blues Fest, for free concerts.

 

Indulge in a short but wonderful “staycation”

Lots of hotels downtown Chicago have a workout room however few have the space for a good-sized pool and a great spa. Stay and book a spa treatment at the upscale, Oriental influenced Peninsula Hotel overlooking Chicago’s Magnifenct (shopping) Mile on North Michigan Avenue and swim in its half-Olymic length pool. You can also order drinks and lunch there.

Or  stay at The Langham, a five star hotel on the Chicago River with British roots. Aside from a fine lap pool and spa, the hotel is known for its traditional tea, good services and spacious rooms. Located in a former Mies van der Rohe skyscraper on Wabash Avenue, the hotel is also well situated for downtown and Magnificent Mile exploration. When reserving ask about the room’s views.

 

Chicago really is a terrific destination even for a few days. Enjoy!

 

 

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