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The Illinois Obscura Society of Atlas Obscura was created in partnership with Enjoy IllinoisSign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois. 

Illinois Obscura Society Launch Party 2015 from Atlas Obscura on Vimeo.

Last Friday the 13th, the Illinois Obscura Society hosted an event for 450 curious onlookers at the legendary Salvage One event space. Guests were treated to acts of contortion, mind reading, high-altitude juggling, spooky stories, and a brass band to bring it all together. In conjunction with Enjoy Illinois, the Illinois Obscura Society is born!

article-imageMichael Reyes poses with a brilliant costume for the evening's entertainment.

 

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Inside the Park Inn Hotel (photograph by Dan Hatton)

Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings are prized, celebrated, and priceless works of architecture. While some Wright houses and buildings can be visited and toured, there are a few scattered across the United States that can also be rented. In these "Rent-A-Wrights" one can enjoy his design principles while cooking dinner, watching TV, doing laundry, or even drinking beer in a backyard created by one of the most gifted architects of the 20th century. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy lists 14 Wright buildings that are available for overnight stays, with 12 of them having working websites with rates and other information.  While these buildings are all interesting in their own way, four of these have particularly unique stories.

 

THE DUNCAN HOUSE 
Acme, Pennsylvania

One of Wright’s pre-fabricated designs, the Duncan House was originally built in 1957 in Lisle, Illinois, but was due to be demolished for a McMansion development. A Johnstown-area construction firm along with help from the Conservancy had the house dismantled, cataloged piece by piece, and reconstructed in western Pennsylvania. This house contains many hallmarks of Wright’s Usonian style, such as a carport instead of a garage, natural lighting, and the color Cherokee Red. The house also features a basement, which is rare in a Wright house.

The house is on the grounds of Polymath Park and Resort, along with three other houses designed by two of Wright’s apprentices, Peter Berndtson and John Rattenbury. Tours visit all of these houses, and the resort is within an hour’s driving distance of Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater, and the not-to-be-overlooked Kentuck Knob.

article-imageParallel lines surround the Duncan House. (photograph by the author)

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Usonian houses had carports. (photograph by Sara Hoffman)

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Free Spirit Spheres (Photo by Kyle Greenberg on Flickr)

Over the years, a lot of children - and those young at heart - have tried their hand at making a treehouse, usually by dragging some scrap wood to a tree in the yard and balancing it precariously between some branches.  Perhaps they had some basic design knowledge to let them make it a little sturdier.  But we've found some treehouse makers worldwide who've taken the art to a whole new level.

FREE SPIRIT SPHERES,
Qualicum Beach, Canada 

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Free Spirit Spheres (Photo by flossieteacake on Flickr)

Tucked away in the woods on Vancouver Island, engineer Tom Chudleigh runs the Free Spirit Spheres retreat, another treehouse-hotel. Unlike conventional treehouses, however, Chudleigh’s sphere-shaped houses are not perched on the branches of trees – they are between them, supported on a web of ropes woven between the nearest trees.

All the spheres at Chudleigh’s resort are of his own design, cleverly tucking table, chairs, kitchenette, and bed into a compact space – the smallest sphere is only nine feet in diameter. The two bigger spheres also have a built-in speaker system for guests who want to test the sphere’s acoustics. Currently there are only three spheres on site, but Chudleigh is seeking to expand.

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Tucked away in an apartment building in the city of Burlington, Vermont is an extraordinary wall painting known as the Lost Shul Mural. The mural, which adorns the apse of a former synagogue--“shul” means synagogue--was hidden behind a wall for 25 years. It is the only known remaining example of pre-Holocaust Jewish synagogue folk art in the United States, and one of the best-preserved surviving examples in the world.

article-imageThe Lost Shul Mural today (Photo by Amanda Levinson).

The story of the mural begins in 1889, when a group of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants built a wooden synagogue in Burlington they called Chai Adam. In 1910, the congregation hired a Lithuanian Jewish artist named Ben Zion Black to paint a mural in the style of religious Jewish art then popular in sanctuaries across Eastern Europe. The mural depicts the curtains of a tent, pulled back to reveal bright rays of divine sunlight shining down on an ornate crown - the scroll beneath it reveals it is the “crown of the Torah.” The crown hovers above the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. These tablets, in turn, are flanked by two lions, symbols of the Jewish people. For the original congregants of Chai Adam, the mural provided not only spiritual comfort; It was also an important cultural link between the old world of Lithuania and their adopted homeland.

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Illinois Week on Atlas Obscura was created in partnership with Enjoy Illinois as part of the launch of the new Illinois Obscura Society. Sign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois.

article-imageBas relief from Chicago Stadium at St. Ignatius College Prep (Photo by Jyoti Srivastava, Used with Permission)

Chicago isn’t just a city. It’s a collection of neighborhoods built and defined by ethnic groups and cultures from across the world. Nowadays a lot of those old neighborhoods look much different than they did over 100 years ago but bits and pieces of these places still echo the history of the people, places, and events that helped to shape the way the city lives today. With a little determination and exploration you can visit some truly hidden relics that most Chicagoans don’t even know exist. 

 

Architectural Remnants at St. Ignatius College Prep
1076 W. Roosevelt Rd

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Architectural Remnants at St. Ignatius College Prep (Photo by Photo by Jyoti Srivastava, Used with Permission) 

Originally built in 1870, St. Ignatius College Prep is one of Chicago’s oldest and most prestigious high schools. But the historic academic building isn’t the delight here. In the early 1990s, school president Father Donald Rowe began collecting pieces of classic Chicago architecture destined for demolition, figuring these artifacts would complement the school nicely.

Over the course of two and a half decades the school has acquired gorgeous remnants from places like the Chicago Stock Exchange (built 1893), Chicago Stadium (built 1930), Corn Exchange Building, The Ogden Avenue Viaduct (built 1932) and the Record-Herald Building, among others. 

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Flowerpot from Chicago Stock Exchange Building, now at St. Ignatius (Photo by Jyoti Srivastava, Used with Permission)

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