Oak Park : Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds

The Chicago suburb of Oak Park is probably best known for its connections with Frank Lloyd Wright. I mentioned his Home and Studio are here in a previous post and also a large number of fine examples of his work. Twentieth century novelist Ernest Hemingway was born on Oak Park Avenue in 1899 so I decided to visit his home and museum to find out more about ‘Papa’. He left Oak Park as a teenager for a world of adventure and I’m not sure he ever came back.  My Michelin Chicago Guide says “He later derided the conservative suburb for its ‘wide lawns and narrow minds'”.

North Oak Park Ave

North Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park

Hemingway Museum

The Hemingway Museum

To get to Oak Park I took the bus down Michigan Avenue to the Loop business district and then the Green Line El Train to Oak Park Avenue. Straight up from the station, on Oak Park Avenue itself, and just a few minutes walk from it, is the Hemingway Museum. This is the place to find out all about the novelist and his life but for the tour of his birthplace you need to book a ticket in advance. Luckily I was able to join the next tour.

Hemingway Birthplace

Ernest Hemingway Birthplace, 339 North Oak Park Avenue

The birthplace is just another 5 minutes walk along the same avenue of gracious homes and low-rise apartment buildings. The tour was as interesting to me for the guide (whose home it now is) as for what I found out about Hemingway. Still, he (the guide/owner) had managed to furnish the house with some original artefacts and furnishings and all the rest seemed very much in keeping with the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Breakfast Table

Breakfast with the Hemingways


The Room where ‘Papa’ was born

We learned that Ernest and some of his siblings were born in this house but that his family actually lived diagonally across the street and that this house was the home of his maternal grandparents.

Photographs around  the House and the Museum show Ernest and his elder sister looking remarkably alike.

Hemingway family photo

Ernest (left) and Marcelline (right) with their Grandfather

“The two were a year apart in age, and their mother early on decided to raise them as twins, even to having them photographed in matching gowns and bonnets in the style of the day. Whatever injury Ernest felt he had suffered from such embarrassments, it may have been Marcelline who made the greater sacrifice: she was kept out of school for a year so they would be in the same class, and, despite her own considerable talents, she seems to have willingly stood in his shadow a good deal of her early life.”

[Idaho Librarian book review]

I can’t say I’m very familiar with Hemingway’s work. I’ve read his “A Moveable Feast” and didn’t really warm to him. Recently I read “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain a novelised version of his life with Hadley Richardson, his first wife. Oh, and I saw him in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris

After the House Tour I made my way back to the Museum. There was lots to read and look at and time was getting on so I had skip through much of the Museum. Here are some pictures of the displays and film posters.

Nick Adams display

Ernest Hemingway’s early trips to Michigan made a big impression on him and he relates lots of his own adventures in The Nick Adams Stories. Nature had a huge influence on many of his works.

Family picture

Hemingway with his family

Film posters

In Love and War

Hemingway-related Cinema Posters

On my return to the train back to Chicago I diverted briefly to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple on Lake Street. It was already closed to visitors that day. Read about the Temple and the current restoration programme here.

Unity Temple

Unity Temple


Charnley-Persky House Museum, Chicago

CPH Welcome

Welcome to The Charnley-Persky House, Chicago

These days Chicago is famous for its architecture and I would highly recommend one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation Architectural Tours – by bike, on foot, by bus, by boat and even on the elevated train. On one of our earlier visits I did their River Cruise along the Chicago River ending up out on Lake Michigan for a magnificent skyline view of the city.

On another visit I travelled out to Oak Park famous for it’s Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour and the sheer number of Wright designed homes in the immediate neighbourhood. Then last time, in 2007, we travelled south to the University of Chicago and did the Robie House Tour.

Michelin Chicago 2013

As it’s 6 years since we were last in Chicago I bought a new 2013 guide book Michelin Chicago and was delighted to find that there was a further Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public just a few streets away from our hotel at Delaware Place.

Charnley-Persky House front

Front View – Charnley-Persky House

The James Charnley House is at 1365 North Astor Street in a lovely tree-lined residential area called Gold Coast. The houses are very big here and many of them are worthy of a mention as there is 2.3 mile walking tour describing many of them in my Michelin Guide. 

Rear CPH

Rear View – Charnley-Persky House

Arriving at the house in good time – tours are (in theory) limited to 15 – I signed in and waited around for ours to begin. More and more people kept turning up (over 30) but that didn’t seem to stop our docent (tour guide) from welcoming us all. I had my $10 note ready to pay but it turns out that the Wednesday at noon tour is free. No wonder it was so popular.

Close-up CPH

Front Detail – Love the Doggy Bowls – Gold Coasters love their dogs!

The introduction took place in the tiny shop which had formerly been the family kitchen and from where we headed out across the street to study the exterior before entering through the front door and being shown the ground and first floors.

James Charnley was a wealthy businessman who dealt in the railways and in lumber. The house was built in 1891 and was of a completely new and different style with very few classical references.

Designed by famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan of the firm Adler & Sullivan in 1891, the Charnley-Persky House is a National Historic Monument as well as one of the few surviving buildings that displays the combined talents of Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The house embodies Sullivan’s desire to develop a new form of American architecture that would break with the past and would express new American ideals. Wright called it “the first modern house in America”. This new style heralded a fundamental change in architectural style.

The Charnley-Persky House is recognised as a seminal house in the development of modern residential design as well as a keystone in the architectural philosophies of Sullivan and Wright.”

[From the Charnley-Persky House flyer]

But what is the Persky connection? Also from the reverse of the flyer :

In 1995, funds to purchase the house were provided by Chicago philanthropist Seymour H. Persky. The Charnley-Persky House is the national headquarters for the Society of Architectural Historians, a membership organization that promotes the study and preservation of the built environment worldwide.”

Ground floor hall

The ground floor hall is filled with light from the floor to roof atrium

Inside the house, interestingly, it didn’t seem so big. There were just two rooms plus hall or landing on each floor. Charnley being in the timber trade the house features lots of beautiful wood – mainly white oak but mahogany in the dining room.

Roman and Chicago Common brick

It is built of Roman brick with Chicago common brick used for the lower, unseen levels. There is no garden and no coachman or coach house. The first floor balcony (our guide insisted it wasn’t a loggia!) is the only outside space.

Balcony detail

Balcony detail – circles and squares are found throughout the house design

You can see in the photo of the rear of the house that there’s just one window at the back.It’s the beginning of a FLW trademark to let as much natural light into the house as possible. The staircase runs up the back of the house but despite the lack of windows on the east side light filters in through the wooden bannisters.


The fancy metal work and leave patterns are typical Louis Sullivan designs whereas the geometrics are very Frank Lloyd Wright.

The house has been wonderfully renovated since being taken over by the SAH and although it’s empty of original furniture the fixtures and fittings have been preserved virtually throughout.

Gas and electric light

Original gas and electric light fitting

The 45 minute house tour lasted well over an hour. Afterwards I took the bus south along Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) to the Loop Chicago business district for a quick look at The Auditorium Building and afternoon tea at a favourite Chicago restaurant Russian Tea Time.

Auditorium Building

The Auditorium Building is now The Roosevelt University

The Auditorium Building launched the careers of architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. … [It] ranked as the tallest and heaviset structure in Chicago when it was completed in 1889. The pioneering multi-use building … incorporated a 400-room hotel, a 17-storey office-tower and a 4,000 seat theater.” [Source: Michelin Chicago, 2013]. It is now occupied by The Roosevelt University.




Interior Photos of the Auditorium Building

Russian tea

Russian Tea at its Best!