Travels through Time

Unique architectural tours bring the history of Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis to life

Jul 11, 2012

Cruising the City

Even those most intimately acquainted with Chicago’s dazzling skyline should appreciate seeing the city from a new perspective. And that’s exactly the experience offered in the Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. Tucked underneath the Michigan Avenue bridge at Wacker Drive, the Chicago’s First Lady dock is your starting point for a highly informative ninety-minute tour of the city via the north, south and main branches of the Chicago River. A trained docent narrates the city’s history as illustrated through its most iconic buildings—from the Montgomery Ward Warehouse of 1906 to the Tribune Tower of 1925 to Willis Tower of 1973 to the gleaming new Trump Tower. Through more than fifty buildings, you’ll see Beaux Arts, Art Deco, Bauhaus, post-modernist and other styles of the past hundred years and learn how, thanks to a burst of construction and engineering innovation in the 1880s and 1890s, Chicago became the birthplace of the American skyscraper. When the sun is shinning, the weather’s warm and the boat’s gliding along, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to view the city. architecture.org
– KV

Walking through History

One of Milwaukee’s trendiest neighborhoods, the Historic Third Ward boasts lively restaurants, unique shops and sophisticated art venues. But this region of Brew City, which lies just a few blocks south of downtown and stretches east from the Milwaukee River, has a storied past often overlooked by even the most devout Milwaukeean. Historic Milwaukee Inc. offers a ninety-minute Historic Third Ward walking tour starting at the Milwaukee Public Market that provides insight into the Third Ward’s past, highlighting the transition from the Irish occupation in the mid 1800s to the Italians after the fire of 1892. The fire destroyed most of the neighborhood, including some of the oldest buildings in the city. Having to construct an entire neighborhood quickly after the Irish moved out, the Italians used a warehouse style of architecture that remains to this day. Commission Row, now North Broadway Street, housed family-owned wholesalers, food retailers and manufacturers. While some of these spaces remain closed, upscale boutiques and restaurants have taken the place of others since the renovation of the Third Ward began in the late 1980s. historicmilwaukee.org
– GE

Homes on the Prairie

Just minutes north of Minneapolis’s serene Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles offers an even more picturesque neighborhood with quiet streets and unique, mansion homes. This upscale area is known for its historic architecture, especially the homes built between 1907 and 1913 in the Prairie School style, the architectural movement most commonly associated with horizontal lines, broad, over-hanging eaves, and one of the movement’s founders, Wisconsin-born Frank Lloyd Wright. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ self-guided Lake of the Isles Tour is an ideal way to explore this neighborhood. Tour-goers can print a packet with info about each of the ten houses on the tour, and walk, bike or drive from house to house at their own pace. It’s easy to gawk at each home, but the highlight is the Purcell-Cutts House, the former residence and masterpiece of prominent Prairie School architect William Gray Purcell. On the second weekend of every month, visitors can even tour the interior of the home, which the Minneapolis Institute of Arts restored to the period of Purcell’s occupancy, 1913–1917. artsmia.org/unified-vision
– RY

Katie Vaughn is managing editor and Grace Edquist and Ruth Young are former editorial interns at Madison Magazine.

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