Open House Chicago, where real estate dreams come true

Or at least they do for one weekend.

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My mother is a nosy woman, especially about houses. She likes to peer into windows. When she spots a contractor's sign in someone's front yard or construction trucks in the driveway, she slows down so she can see what's going on inside. Sometimes she'll ring the doorbell and ask to come in. When I was a kid, it embarrassed the hell out of me, especially when she would drag me along to admire somebody's half-destroyed, half-refinished kitchen. Now there's HGTV, which mostly keeps her satisfied. But the funny thing is, since I've grown up and started living in cities, I've become an inveterate window peeper. I can spend hours browsing on Craigslist, Zillow, and Airbnb, especially when I'm supposed to be doing something else, like writing this essay. It's a form of daydreaming.

I realize that Open House Chicago is supposed to be about architecture, not about scouting imaginary real estate. It's run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, after all. Its origins are in the Open House movement that started in London in 1992 as a way to educate the public about the necessity of well-designed buildings (and to prevent the destruction of such landmarks) by inviting them inside to wander around and explore. There are now Open Houses in more than 30 cities on six continents. If you had enough money and lots of free time, you could travel the globe, planning your itinerary based on which city is having its Open House on which weekend. What else is it but an invitation to snoop? What a glorious way to see the world!

But Open House weekend in Chicago in October is pretty glorious too. There are 200 or so buildings you can visit; you can never satisfy all your curiosity in a single weekend, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've seen some lovely tiled ceilings and strange stained-glass windows and danced in a rickety old nightclub in Bronzeville (where we had to sign a release form in pencil before climbing to the second floor; in retrospect, this seems suspicious). My favorites, though, are the apartment buildings, especially the ones with special features, like Park Castle and Park Manor in West Ridge, with their fancifully mosaicked swimming pools, and the Edgewater Beach Apartments, which has everything my future old-lady self could possibly want.

One year my mother came down to the city for Open House. She has always maintained that Lake Point Tower is the only place she would ever consider living here. The Open House tour only extended to Cité, the restaurant on the top floor, but it has great views from every side, which was the whole point. The hallways, the only segments of the residential part of the building we were allowed to see, were plain drywall and distinctly underwhelming. This made us feel better about not getting to live in Lake Point Tower. If we had that view every day, we decided, we would no longer appreciate it. And thus we saved ourselves a million dollars we didn't have.  v