Two “New” Small Chicago Musems

Well a museum that has already been open for nine years isn’t exactly a new museum, but for a native anything that I didn’t visit on a YMCA field trip as a child, I classify as new.  I left Chicago for other parts during the 1980’s but have visited pretty much every year since.  Of course, visits with children tend to usually include lots of family events and visits to those tried and true museums I visited as a child.  But life moves on and since the kids are grown, we decided that the time has come for new explorations.

Unlike the lucky folks who live north, when we South Siders visit the central city it always requires planning.  Driving has never been an option. Even less so now that every Chicago parking spot requires an investment. Traveling downtown by public transportation usually means caging a ride from a willing family member or a long, tedious bus ride.

Riding the El in Chicago
Riding the El in Chicago

On this last visit when the weather was looking good, we caught a ride to the Orange Line and set out for the north loop. The Driehaus museum and the  recently opened American Writers Museum  are less than a mile apart and  we thought would be a great way to spend a day in the city.

We started at the Writers museum.  The lobby is lovely (despite snide comments in many reviews), with nifty elevator doors and a great looking guard desk. Ordinary, perhaps, when built, but now unique.

Museum Lobby

The American Writers Museum requires a slow ambling view, or you may miss the point here.

As with many small museums, one needs to look up, down and all around to truly appreciate the setting, as designers must work within a small space.  The museum entry has a ceiling covered in books and all walls display important info.

Museum Entrance
Look up at the Entry Canopy

The main hallway has authors in a chronologically ordered timeline.  Walk too quickly and you will miss moving the informational blocks to study different aspects of the writers. Clearly many of the authors will be known. I found it to be great, that I had somehow missed knowing about a few of these authors.  Flip the blocks and find out more or take a photo for future research. Each author has an in-depth discussion of why they were significant. I just started reading a book by Francis Parkman, one of America’s first travel writers.

Check out the word waterfall!  This, on the surface, looks to be simple phrases lighting up. A look through the camera lens reveals a 3D multimedia sculpture.

Book Scroll
Jack Kerouac’s Scroll of On the Road

A special exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road included the original scroll. I’m a fan, but I did not realize that one of my favorite books was written in this fashion.  Very cool!

After a lunch at Protein and Kitchen Bar, a favorite, we set out for our next museum

A pleasant walk across the now sparking Chicago River (a shock to those of us with long memories) lies the Driehaus Museum.  This museum, housed in the former Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson had spent most of the twentieth century as headquarters for the American College of Surgeons. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus purchased the building in 2003. After a five years restoration,  the building now appears as it did in the 1800s.

Dramatic Entrance to the Driehaus Museum

The building houses surviving furnishings paired with elegant, historically appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Foundation  Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. The first floor houses the collection and the second floor a rotating gallery.

Poster
Posters at a Special Exhibition

On this visit the gallery exhibition, an Art-Deco poster collection, featured five different artists.  The guides in the museum were incredibly helpful, offering many additional insights.

They have an amazing collection at the museum as the tradition of the time amongst the wealthy was to employ as many different crafts people to decorate and buy as many things as they could afford in order to impress their peers.  These buildings would have been completely packed with paintings and other artwork.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to these two “new” museums and look forward to finding more of these small gems.

I took these photos with an Olympus Tough as I was traveling light this trip.

Tiffany Lamp
The museum Houses an Impressive Tiffany Collection

St. Pete Beach: My Favorite!

 

Pass-a-Grille
St. Pete Beach

Yes, there is an actual place called St. Pete Beach. It isn’t St. Petersburg Beach and it isn’t even part of St. Petersburg. The Beach sits about as far south in Pinellas County as one can be and it is my favorite beach. Pinellas County has 130 miles of beach   fronting the Gulf of Mexico, with some islands thrown in for good measure. No one can say that we don’t have our pick of beaches. If you arrived here looking for a beach, there are many lists of best beaches published, but these are flawed because repetition of a beach will actually cause the beach to be retired from the list. Often the list will be limited to one beach per state and many of Florida’s beaches have long since been retired: You may just be seeing the runner-ups.  Arguably, I am talking about the strongly held opinion of one person here, but it seems to me that in talking with friends, many locals consider the section of St. Pete Beach called Pass-a-Grille  to be our best beach.  In our mind runner-up beaches include Honey Moon Island State Park  and Ft. De Soto.  St. Pete tends to get the nod from locals because of the reduced hassle factor.  It is one of the last remaining beaches on the Gulf where you can simply drive to the beach; open your car door; and walk across a short boardwalk out onto the beach.

Pass-a-Grille Beach
Another gorgeous sunset

This is great if you have a lot of stuff, need easy access to restrooms, have mobility challenges, or have small children. Though you will have to pay to park right at the beach, free two-hour parking is often available nearby.   It’s just up and out here to a wide sandy beach.  Not only is this beach easy to get to by car, you can also travel there via a charming trolley

Central Avenue Trolley
Trolley awaits passengers

or direct bus from Downtown St. Petersburg.  Still thinking about it, well consider that the beach still sits on a quiet, lightly-traveled road, easily crossed to choose from one of a number of restaurants with amazing views and good food.  One restaurant, Paradise Grill, even sits right on the beach. Rent beach equipment or buy what you need in the shop.

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Perhaps, that is what makes this our favorite…it combines the peace and quiet of the beach with a small town Main street. Combine all this with some of the best sunsets, and you have beach nirvana. Sunset photography is, well, it’s a Gulf thing that even most locals do on a fairly regular basis. St. Pete Beach guarantees locals and tourists, alike, great swimming, photos and food.

Sunset in St. Pete
Sunset in St. Pete

Chicago

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We head back home today. Nasty weather ahead with a tropical depression. We’ve shoehorned a lot of touristing between visits with family.  Back in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up in Chicago the Gold Coast Cost Art Fair on the near-north side was the only art fair in the city. Bookshops weren’t all that common.  Street fairs were unheard of.  Now-a-days, Chicago has art and street fairs every weekend.  Sometimes more than one. And..bookshops continue to thrive. Chicago is a photographers’ fantasy world with all kinds of cool and interesting stuff to photograph.

 

Chicago Building   Hot Dog!   The Bucktown Art Fair on the North Side, and the Port Clinton Fair in Highland Park were great places to shop! Who knew there were two-story food trucks?

Bucktown Art Fair Port Clinton Art Fair

As always we visited our favorite book stores: Half-Price, Book Table and Open Book Bookshop.

Open Book Bookstore

We’ll be back again before the snow starts to fly.