Greetings, Route 66 roadies! Whatcha doin’ this coming Thursday?? That would be December 11th. Really: aren’t you tired of people whining about how you can only see the northern end of Route 66 in the summer? SO untrue!! Everyone complains about the weather, but you can still tour the route if you’re clever. “Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” as the great Daniel Burnham said, and work in two or three the same day. And stay nice and dry, too, for the most part. Genius!
If you’re in Chicago, there are FOUR Route 66 landmarks you can tour indoors this week on Thursday (one at a time!), two of them thanks to the lovely docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. These individual building tours take you places that the general tours (and the general public) don’t get to visit. Most CAF walking tours run about $15, unless you’re a CAF member (then they’re free; it’s well worth becoming a member if you plan to do more than two tours a year. Tell Santa you want a membership for Christmas or Hanukkah!). We hasten to add that we will be starting up CuriousTraveler Tours in 2015, and we’ll be doing all these Route 66 buildings in custom tours as well — but if you’re in town now or coming for the holidays, CAF is your default choice at the moment.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago at Jackson boulevard and LaSalle Street welcomes your visit to its Money Museum between 8:30am and 5:00pm Mondays through Fridays — except, of course, on bank holidays (heehee!). It’s free, and you can get a photo of yourself with:
1. With your face as the center of a bill,
2. With a $1M briefcase, or
3. With the display case of $1M in $1 bills (that’s a lot of bills), as opposed to the $1 million piles of $20s and $100s.
Next, just down LaSalle Street, is the Rookery Building, aka just The Rookery, designed by Burnham & Root; according to a Chicago magazine poll a few years ago, it’s Chicagoans’ favorite building in our fair city. Where else do you get a combo of Burnham, John W. Root and Frank Lloyd Wright?? Nowhere!!!
Third is the monumental Union Station, which Burnham and his assistant Edward H. Bennett included in their 1909 Plan of Chicago. Unfortunately, because of Burnham’s death in 1912, the completion of Union Station had to be supervised by one of his successor firms, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. This is the classic model for so many of the nation’s other grand railway stations, and you’ve seen its huge marble waiting room in so many films. Now’s the time to really see it up close and personal and notice things you never have time for when you’re on the way to or from work (yes, it’s a huge commuter station, too).
You can visit this page to learn more about CAF tours.
Finally, there’s Big Willie (you sense a double entendre? Oh YES! Wag one if you have one), i.e., the Sears Tower (naw, we don’t call it by its new residents’ name — this is Chicago!). For 25 years from 1973 to 1998, it was the tallest building in the world. That’s always open for tours, and it has the eye-popping, vertigo-inducing Ledge in addition to one of the greatest views in town (the other would be at Big John, aka the John Hancock Building), although they will dock you $18 just to ride up to the 103rd floor and look around. You can read about our nerve-wracking trip to the Ledge here.
If you want to make it a three-day event this week instead, in addition to all those tours on Thursday you can throw in the Chicago Board of Trade Building on Wednesday the 10th and the Monadnock Building on Friday the 12th. The Chicago Board of Trade Building (better known to you Batman film fans as the stand-in for the Wayne Building) is at Jackson and LaSalle. The CBOT is a muscular example of Art Deco construction at the base of the financial district, flanked by two Classical Revival architectural landmarks across the street, the Illinois Merchants Bank/Continental Illinois Bank Building (yeah, Bank of America owns it, but we built it) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. This is one of the places that makes Chicago an international money town. As for the Monadnock Building, it’s a Burnham & Root classic and that tallest load-bearing masonry building in the world (north half; by the time the south half was built, poor John Root was dead, but Holabird & Roche were able to persuade the building’s developers, the Brooks brothers, that steel framing really would work, which lots of people doubted right after the Great Chicago Fire).
Next week, there are two other Route 66 landmarks to tour. On Wednesday the 17th, there’s a CAF tour of the Art Institute of Chicago; it’s the most expensive walking tour they offer, but it’s a good deal — in addition to the CAF tour of the complex, it includes admission to the museum for two days (you’ll need every moment of that if you want to do the museum justice). If you’re a CAF member, you only have to pay the $18 museum admission; but if you’re an AIC member, too, then it’s free!! Then, on Thursday the 18th you can tour the Railway Exchange Building, aka the Santa Fe Building. In addition to being at the Gateway to the Eastern Terminus of Route 66 (heck, it’s part of the gateway), it’s also CAF’s home, right across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, and it has a fab gift shop you can visit for those hard-to-buy-for people on your list (the AIC’s gift shop is great for that, too: two brilliant gift sources on one intersection! Isn’t Chicago great?). The Railway Exchange is also where Daniel H. Burnham, who is reponsible for so much of what downtown Chicago looks like, had the offices of D.H. Burnham & Co. and created the famous 1909 Plan of Chicago. You can’t miss that one.
Have we given you enough to see for now? No?? Well, don’t forget that on any weekday morning, by appointment, you can also tour the Gaelic Revival wonder that is Old St. Patrick’s Church at Adams and Desplaines Streets. Check the church’s website for info on reservations.
Happy holidays, dear roadies!
Until next time,
Your Route 66 tour guide, Marie