Architecture and elevated railways
The “L” is Chicago’s own rapid transit railway system. “L” is short for elevated railway. Although a lot of the track is elevated there are some subway sections too. The central elevated loop defines the city centre and forms the heart of the network. The system features quite a lot of sharp curves and the little electric trains that have to negotiate them are a bit shorter than subway cars elsewhere as a consequence.
I visit Chicago quite a bit and I ride the “L” every time I go there. It helps that both the main airports, Midway and O’Hare, are connected to the system. I find riding the “L” is quite fun and it is certainly a good way to get around the city.
Chicago is famous for a variety of architectural styles but especially for the “Chicago style” which promoted the new technology of steel frames in commercial building in the early 20th century. Walking around the centre of the city with a good guide book is a fantastic way to appreciate all the different commercial styles. There is certainly a lot to see.
An equally fascinating experience is to jump on the “L” and ride it to the suburb of Oak Park. Then grab a leaflet or a map and do a self-guided tour of some of the best residential architecture in the city; the houses designed by the world-famous architect; Frank Lloyd Wright.
It is best to start at the Unity Temple (1905) which is actually the only public building on the tour. It was one of the first buildings in the USA to use exposed concrete and it has quite a bit of Japanese influence too. It is beautifully restored.
After the temple, walk around the neighbourhood and locate the various residential homes that Wright designed in his early career here. There are several of them in clusters and you can spend a pleasant hour or two walking around looking at them. It is a good idea to end up at the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio where he lived and worked during his early so-called “prairie” period (1889-1909).
Chicago has a few culinary delights too:
I love the Chicago version of the hot dog. It has yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers and celery salt.
There is also the famous Chicago deep pan pizza. It is not to be missed but is often difficult to finish.
The city is also home to the historic Bergoff which is one of the oldest and most famous German restaurants in the USA.
Finally, there is also one of the first restaurants in the world where women were able to eat alone; the historic dining room at Marshall Field’s Department store.
Back in the late 1890s the manager of Marshall Fields, Gordon Selfridge (who later set up the store in London that still bears his name), opened the dining room to encourage women to stay in the shop longer, He realised that they couldn’t really be seen eating alone in any of the city’s other eateries.
The specialty back then was Chicken Pot Pie. It is still on the menu and certainly worth trying 120 years later !