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Secrets Behind Open House Chicago: Edgewater Edition

While waiting in line for the Emil Bach House as part of Open House Chicago (OHC), a friend commented, “I wonder how they decide what’s on the list.” I had never really thought about it but with Edgewater being featured for the first time, I realized that this was a question that needed answering.

Garrett Karp the Program Manager for the Open House was kind enough to chat with me to give us an idea about how Open House Edgewater edition happened.

Every year, around 150 locations are featured, out of a list of about 900 ideas. Places are chosen based on popularity and architectural features, as well as support from community organizations. Karp said that they’ve wanted to feature Edgewater for years, but one factor that put Edgewater literally on the map was support from local groups, specifically Alderman Osterman’s office, the Edgewater Historical Society, and the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce.

OHC aims to create geographical groups – so that visitors can walk around a couple of sites and get to enjoy a neighborhood – based around an anchor spot, a building that elicits a lot of interest.   For Edgewater, that was the Edgewater Beach Apartments. Karp explained, “We just perceived Edgewater Beach Apartments as being the most recognizable building in the area that people are curious about.” He even said that had it not been available, they probably wouldn’t have featured Edgewater this year. Interestingly, the Sacred Heart Schools’ Conway Mansion was slightly more popular than the Beach Apartment; each location got about 3000 visitors.

Retired Fireman and Firehouse Owner Tim

Retired Fireman and Firehouse Owner Tim

After that anchor is found, other locations are chosen in the neighborhood, based on their list and suggestions from community groups.   Karp mentioned that they have wanted to feature the mansions in Berger Park for a while and locations like the Episcopal Church of the Atonement are “no-brainers,” adding that it’s listed in the AIA Guide of Chicago and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Firehouse Chicago is a location that wasn’t on OHC’s radar and was suggested by community partners. It was very popular with around 1000 visitors. Its venue manager, Michelle Marchisotta, said that participating was an incredible experience for them, particularly when they met visitors with a personal connection to the space. Her favorite interaction was when two visitors saw a picture of their father, a retired fireman, on the wall and were so excited they brought him with them the next day. Marchisotta said that “The stories he shared are priceless, which is how we feel overall about our first experience being part of OHC.”

One thing that Karp wanted to stress is that planning Open House Chicago is a year-round job. He’s already planning for October 17-18, 2015, and I can’t wait to see what might be featured in Edgewater!


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