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Great Chicago Writers: Gwendolyn Brooks

It’s always a pleasure to talk about literary giants with Chicago roots who have had profound impacts on both local history and the broader literary world. It goes without saying that no conversation about Chicago greats could happen without exploring the life and work of the legendary Gwendolyn Brooks.

Born in Topeka in 1917, Brooks relocated to Chicago while still an infant. The city’s pulsating cultural heartbeat and intricate socio-political fabric soon formed the canvas for her poetic masterpieces. Behind her ambition stood her parents: her father, a janitor with dreams of becoming a doctor, and her mother, a schoolteacher and a classically trained pianist. Both supported Gwendolyn’s passion for reading and writing.

By the age of 13, Brooks had already marked her literary beginnings, publishing her first poem, “Eventide,” in American Childhood. Her poetic prowess grew from there, and by 17, she became a regular contributor to the Chicago Defender. After her time at junior college and a stint working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Brooks further refined her craft in various poetry workshops and alongside Chicago literary peers, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. This diligent nurturing of her talent culminated in her first poetic collection, A Street in Bronzeville, in 1945.

Gwendolyn Brooks: The Oracle of Bronzeville Monument found in Brooks Park

Brooks’s identity as an influential African American poet, author, and educator is underscored by her portrayal of the day-to-day challenges faced by African Americans. Her poetry and prose traversed a spectrum of themes – from intimate personal experiences to the African American quest for justice and recognition.

Gwendolyn’s vast literary repository boasts significant works. A Street in Bronzeville (1945) offers insights into urban Black life in Chicago. Annie Allen (1949) is a poignant exploration of a young Black girl’s journey to womanhood, and it also made Brooks the first Black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. Maud Martha (1953), her only novel, depicts the complexities of prejudice from both white people and lighter-skinned African Americans. In 1960, she wrote The Bean Eaters, showcasing her evolving poetic style and featuring the renowned We Real Cool. Over the course of her career, Gwendolyn Brooks authored over 20 poetry collections.

A Street in Bronzeville, Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945

She also garnered numerous honors, including the establishment of the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center at Western Illinois University in 1970 and her appointment as Illinois’s poet laureate in 1976. Several schools have been named in her honor, reflecting her enduring impact on education. In 1985, she was appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The centenary of her birth in 2017 was celebrated with special events, reinforcing her lasting literary influence.

Interested in delving deeper into Gwendolyn Brooks’ literary world? Explore her expansive collections available on the Poetry Foundation.

Get Ready to Watch the Chicago Marathon

Autumn in Chicago isn’t just about the crisp air, colorful leaves, and pumpkin-spiced everything. It’s also about the thrilling sound of thousands of feet pounding the pavement, as the city gears up for the iconic Bank of America Chicago Marathon. For our residents at Optima Signature and Optima Lakeview, this October isn’t just any other month; it’s a front-row seat to one of the world’s premier running events.

Circle Sunday, October 8, 2023, on your calendar. The marathon unfolds in Grant Park, with gradual starts ensuring smooth sailing. For those not racing, join the celebration at Abbott 27.2 Fest from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. near the start line for a day full of music, food and fun. While Grant Park’s start and finish zones have some viewing restrictions, the race course offers numerous sweet spots for spectator cheering and encouragement.

The first mile of the marathon, Image via Flickr by Paladin27

The annual footrace is truly a global gathering, where more than 45,000 runners from every state in the U.S., and over 100 countries worldwide come together. Taking the runners on a grand tour, the 26.2-mile route dives deep into the city’s heart, stretching from Wrigleyville to the North, Pilsen and Little Italy to the West and the historic Douglass, near Guaranteed Rate Field, to the South. 

The prestigious event is more than just a marathon; it’s one of only six World Marathon Majors across the globe. For Optima Signature and Optima Lakeview residents, you have the privilege of stepping right outside to cheer on the incredible racers. And for the Optima Verdana community, consider making the short trip down from Wilmette. It’s a spectacle you won’t want to miss. You can find more details about the iconic event here!

Great Chicago Writers: Jane Addams

It’s such a pleasure spotlighting legendary Chicagoans who have left a lasting impression on our local history and beyond, including the twentieth-century icon, Jane Addams.

Born in 1860 in Cedarville, IL into a prosperous family, Because Addams’ family allowed her to benefit from education from an early age, she was able to graduate from the Rockford Female Seminary. Later, Addams traveled to Europe, where she was introduced to London’s Toynbee Hall, a trailblazing settlement house that worked to address the causes and impacts of poverty in the city’s East End. Her visit to Toynbee Hall left a lasting impression, paving the way for her co-founding Hull House in Chicago in 1889 — one of the earliest settlement houses in the U.S. that has become the Jane Addams-Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

Hull House offered educational and social services to immigrants and Chicago’s underserved communities, positioning Addams as a leader of the Progressive Era. Her advocacy spanned a multitude of diverse causes: women’s rights, peace, public health, and broad-spectrum social reform. In recognition of her contributions, Addams was honored as the first American woman to receive the Nobel peace prize in 1931.

Jane Addams-Hull-House Museum. Photo: Sean Marshall

Her experiences at Hull House — and with the Progressive movement more broadly — set Addams on her trajectory as a gifted writer. Her writing career was already in full throttle in 1909 with the release of The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, which shared Addams’ keen understanding of the unique needs of urban youth. She used the book to advocate for enhanced recreational spaces and deeper engagement for Chicago’s underserved young people, while illuminating the dire consequences of growing up in an environment where poverty and lack of access to a better quality of living prevail.

Having found an audience for her explorations of daily life in Chicago, Addams published Twenty Years at Hull-House in 1910, giving readers a look at life inside the settlement house and its impact on the community. 

Inside the Hull House. Photo: At Home in Chicago

The Long Road of Woman’s Memory, which Addams’ completed in 1916, is another exceptional factual account of her expansive impact on women’s rights in America. In it, she gracefully navigates the terrain of personal and collective memories to demonstrate their influence on women’s lived experiences and the larger tapestry of history.

Over the course of her career, Jane Addams authored 11 books and hundreds of essays, editorials, and columns. And more than a century later, the resonance of Addams’s literary contributions remains undeniably profound, echoing through time into our modern world. 

Keen on exploring Addams’ legacy further? Then enjoy a visit to the Jane Addams-Hull-House Museum. The hours of operation are 10:00am to 4:50pm, Tuesday to Friday, and on Sundays from 12:00 to 4:50pm. A suggested donation for admission is $5 per person (University of Illinois Chicago faculty, staff, and students are granted complimentary entry).

Noble-Seymour-Crippen House – Chicago’s Oldest Existing Building

Optima® is always thrilled to illuminate the quiet corners that resonate with historical depth. One such gem, tucked away in the Norwood Park neighborhood, is the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House. More than a mere building, this house is a piece of Chicago’s history, a testament to its rich past and the dreams of its earliest settlers.

The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, with roots tracing back to 1833, is not only older than the City of Chicago itself but also stands as its oldest existing house. Its age, however, isn’t the only characteristic that makes this house noteworthy. Every brick, beam, window and wall, tells a tale of the city’s journey and the individuals who crafted its narrative.

The residence, initially a modest one-story frame farmhouse, was the brainchild of settler and entrepreneur Mark Noble. However, as Chicago burgeoned, so did the house’s grandeur.

By 1868, Thomas Seymour, its new owner, and a prominent member of Chicago’s Board of Trade, transformed it into a sprawling two-story Victorian haven.

Margaret Crippen’s Bedroom. Photo: Norwood Park Historical Society

Yet, the true distinction of the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House lies in its ties to the city’s pioneers: Mark Noble, Thomas Seymour, and the later contributions of the Crippen family. Each influenced Chicago’s burgeoning tapestry. Their legacies, encapsulated within the house’s walls, serve as a living testament to their contributions.

The house, designated a Chicago Landmark in 1987, is the proud home of the Norwood Park Historical Society, where visitors can go on a historical odyssey through Chicago’s early epochs. Its woodwork, decorative elements, and aura transport you back in time, providing a tangible connection to the city’s origins.

For those who enjoy exploration, the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House isn’t merely a landmark; it serves as a journey, a step back in time during the city’s formative years. As we revel in the grand architectural marvels of today, places like this remind us of our city’s foundation. Next time you find yourself longing for a touch of historical elegance, visit the house, and immerse yourself in another page of Chicago’s vibrant story.

Wilmette Spotlight: Wilmette Historical Museum

We believe in grounding our cutting-edge architectural designs in the rich tapestry of history. Which is why we’re always eager to introduce our residents to landmarks that echo the past and cast their influence on modern design. One such treasure nestled in the heart of Wilmette and near Optima Verdana® is the Wilmette Historical Museum.

The Wilmette Historical Museum is more than a mere repository of artifacts and old photographs. It’s another page in the Wilmette village’s history, inviting its visitors to walk through time. Housed in a charming, vintage 1896 building, the museum itself stands as a testament to the architectural prowess of a bygone era. With its Victorian elegance juxtaposed against the modernity of Wilmette’s streetscape, the museum offers a tangible link between past and present.

Upon entering, you’re welcomed by a rich collection of exhibits, each meticulously curated as a panorama of Wilmette’s evolution. From its indigenous origins, through its growth spurred by the railroads, to its transformation into a modern suburb, the museum narrates tales that inspire admiration for those who shaped this beautiful village.

What sets the Wilmette Historical Museum apart is its unique perspective on architecture and urban planning. The exhibits delve into the minds of the architects, town planners, and everyday citizens who dreamed of a thriving, harmonious community. Through sketches, blueprints, and firsthand accounts, the museum provides a deep dive into the principles that influenced Wilmette’s development.

Wilmette Historical Museum Interior, Photo Credit to Wilmette Historical Museum

In the heart of it all is a lesson on balance. How a village, rich in heritage, managed to integrate modernity without sacrificing its soul. How town planners and architects worked in tandem, ensuring that each brick laid or tree planted resonated with Wilmette’s overarching vision.

For our residents with an appreciation for the deep roots from which our contemporary residences spring, a visit to the Wilmette Historical Museum promises a rewarding experience! They’re open Monday-Thursday and Sunday from 1pm-4:30pm.

Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park

At Optima®, we relish the opportunity to immerse our residents in experiences enriched by cultural discovery and aesthetic delight…which is exactly what you can expect when you wander through a captivating wonder nestled in the heart of Chicago – the Garden of the Phoenix.

Situated within the lush expanses of Jackson Park, the Garden of the Phoenix, once known as the Osaka Garden, gracefully expresses the timeless allure of traditional Japanese aesthetics. With a history that dates back to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, it stands as a picturesque landscape on its own, while also serving as the canvas for cross-cultural dialogue between Japan and the United States. 

As global nations joined the Exposition, Japan, in particular, sought to cast an enduring impression in Chicago. And with the inception of the Phoenix Pavillion between 1891-93, the U.S. received its first glimpse of the refined nature of Japanese architecture and landscape design. It even drew the attention of a young Frank Lloyd Wright and served as a revelation in his practice. 

In 1935, the land surrounding the Phoenix Pavilion was transformed into a picturesque Japanese strolling garden that harmoniously blended with its surrounding environment. However, the escalating tensions between Japan and the U.S. during World War II took a toll on the garden, which fell into disrepair for decades due to a lack of funding. In 1981, the Chicago Park District completed efforts to restore and reimagine the garden, working with luminary landscape architect Daneji Domoto. Once the work was completed, the garden was renamed ‘Osaka Garden’ to honor Chicago’s sister city relationship with Osaka, Japan, strengthening this unique cross-cultural bridge.

Over the past several decades the garden has enjoyed waves of transformation. In 2013, the garden welcomed a new resident, Skylanding, a mesmerizing art installation by Yoko Ono. With 12 large steel lotus petals rising from the earth, Ono’s vision of peace and harmony came alive, inviting visitors into a unique, multi-sensory encounter.

Yoko Ono's Skylanding
Yoko Ono’s Skylanding sculpture, Jackson Park. Photo: Richard Bartlaga

Today, the Garden of the Phoenix breathes harmony and balance within the energetic pulse of Jackson Park and will be home to the Obama Library. As a symbol of rejuvenation, resilience, and enduring friendship, the garden offers a cherished sanctuary within Chicago’s vibrant cityscape.

Chicago Sculpture Spotlight: Ceres by John Bradley Storrs

At Optima®, we have a keen appreciation for the confluence of form and function in architecture. It is with this sense of admiration that we turn our spotlight to a piece of Chicago’s history that is as breathtaking as it is groundbreaking. This iconic gem, standing sentinel over the city, is none other than the Ceres sculpture, an embodiment of Modernist art and a testament to the vision and talent of Modernist American sculptor, John Bradley Storrs.

Born in Chicago in 1885, John Storrs was a sculptor who left an indelible mark on the world of American Modernism. Schooled at some of the finest art institutions, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Académie Julian in Paris, Storrs’ work blends the classical with the modern, and the human with the industrial.

His contribution to the Modernist movement was unique in its ability to bridge contrasting worlds. His work was firmly grounded in the traditional forms of sculpture, yet boldly embraced the dynamism and aesthetic of the burgeoning machine age. His sculptures captured the soul of a society caught in a transformative period with the comforts of the old world, giving way to promises of the new.

John Bradley Storrs, Photo: Chicago History Museum

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Storrs’s iconic Ceres sculpture. Perched atop the Chicago Board of Trade Building, rising majestically at the southern end of the LaSalle Street canyon, Ceres is a tribute to the Roman goddess of agriculture — a fitting emblem for a building that was home to the largest grain exchange in the United States.

This 31-foot figure, however, is no ordinary depiction of a goddess. Storrs deviated from the typical portrayal of deities in classical realism. Instead, he rendered her in a form that was abstract and streamlined, reflecting the popular Art Deco style of the 1930s. This faceless figure, devoid of any discernible features, was a deliberate departure from tradition. Storrs recognized that from the ground, the details of Ceres’s face would be lost. In response, he sought to create a silhouette, an impression, something that would be striking against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

Initially, the abstract representation of Ceres drew mixed reactions. However, over the years, it has come to be celebrated as an integral part of Chicago’s architectural landscape — a symbol of the city and a beacon of the Art Deco era.

We are endlessly fascinated by the harmonious architectural aesthetics and symbolic functionality found in Ceres. This beloved Chicago icon remains a timeless testament to Storrs’ profound creativity, encapsulating the spirit of Modernism, standing as a monument to an era that dared to redefine the rules of art and architecture.

2023 Modernism Road Rally Tour

At Optima®, we are always excited to share unique architectural experiences that reflect our passion for design. So mark your calendars, Modern enthusiasts, we have some fantastic news for you! The second biennial Modernism Road Rally Tour of Homes is returning to celebrate the Mid Century Modern architectural legacy of Chicagoland. Launched in 2021, this biennial event takes place in different community areas of Chicagoland. This year’s edition will lead you through the captivating south suburban enclaves of Flossmoor and Olympia Fields.

The 2023 Modernism Road Rally Tour showcases homes designed by renowned midcentury architects such as Keck & Keck, Edward Dart, and Bertrand Goldberg, as well as architects like Edward Humrich, John McPherson, and John S. Townsend. Participants will have the opportunity to admire the exteriors and enjoy limited interior tours of select homes, offering an intimate glimpse into these architectural gems.

The event organizers have partnered with the Foundation for the Preservation of Flossmoor History for this year’s edition. A percentage of the proceeds will contribute to the restoration of the historic Wagner Building, which is scheduled to open in time for Flossmoor’s Centennial in 2024.

Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl, situated in the charming 1920s-era downtown Flossmoor, will serve as the event headquarters. After exploring the architectural marvels, participants can join the post-event party at the Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, a former railroad stop transformed into a lively social hub.

Flossmoor, founded in 1924, experienced a construction slowdown during World War II, followed by rapid postwar development. Its neighboring community, Olympia Fields, started in 1913, primarily as golf cottages surrounding the famous Olympia Fields Country Club. Post-World War II, the legendary modernist subdivisions of Graymoor and Country Club Woods were developed, boasting numerous outstanding examples of Mid Century Modern architecture.

Participants can purchase tickets for the tour, post-tour party, and sculpture tour online. The event also offers a trolley shuttle service along the entire tour route on Saturday, included in the ticket price (reservation required at the time of ticket purchase). Event check-in will be available at Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl for all paid attendees on Friday, June 23, from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM, and Saturday, June 23, from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

The second biennial Modernism Road Rally Tour is an exciting opportunity for architecture enthusiasts to delve into the fascinating world of Mid Century Modern design in Chicagoland. At Optima®, we are delighted to share this event with you and hope you enjoy exploring the rich architectural heritage of Flossmoor and Olympia Fields. Don’t miss out on this unique experience, and be sure to reserve your tickets here in advance! 

Please note that there will be no walk-up ticket sales available.

Wilmette Landmarks: Robert and Suzanne Drucker House

As part of our Wilmette Landmark series, today we’ll cover a home steeped in an architect’s very own familial bonds. A home that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013 — The Robert and Suzanne Drucker House. Designed by one of Chicago’s iconic Modernist architects, Harry Weese.

An Overlooked Modernist

His practice was inexhaustibly creative. Rooted in the Modernist and Brutalist architectural styles which laid the groundwork for efficient and functional living spaces. His most famous work, the Washington Metro system, not only showcases Weese’s unique design approach but also illustrates how he prioritized the user experience with his coffered concrete vaults and meticulous attention to detail. Weese never shied away from innovation, all the while quietly detaching himself from the architectural dominance of Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Drucker House

Quietly closed off from view, the front of the Drucker home is a wonderful expression of Weese’s personal brand of Modernism — a synthesis of International Style, Scandinavian, and Midwestern influences. The home’s geometry is obscured by slatted screens and maturing cedar trees. The house is L-shaped. Consisting of two wings running parallel to the street and the other angled in a way that allows for sunlight. This L-shaped arrangement also allows for an expansive view of the front yard.

The back of the home, on the other hand, embraces its deep rectangular lot and thoughtfully placed windows. Along with a screened porch resembling film reel that takes advantage of natural light to cast the home’s image. The indoor and outdoor living space almost seem to be brought together through this effect, all while maintaining complete privacy.

Side view of Robert and Suzanne Drucker House
Side view of Robert and Suzanne Drucker House. Photo: Susan Benjamin

Weese built the Drucker house for his sister Suzanne and her family. It largely reflects Weese’s experimental approach to Modern design, and is informed by geometry rather than ornamentation. Furthermore, the house exhibits a remarkable focus on flexibility instead of adhering to a traditional layout that — when combined with how the Drucker family lived — created a universally functional residence that could accommodate the family’s lifestyle.

In its interior, the home is compartmentalized into zones delineated by screens and bookspaces. Each room flows effortlessly from one to another, the kitchen in particular being planned with convenience and ample storage in mind. In 1963, as the Drucker family began to grow, a second floor was added to provide more space.

As Optima® continues to embrace all that Wilmette has to offer, taking the time to highlight unconventional pioneers who blurred the boundaries of style and functionality is always a pleasure. We encourage you to take a slow drive to see this magnificent home and all that it has to offer on 2801 Iroquois Rd in Wilmette, IL.

 

 

The Oak Circle Historic District

How A 156 Year-Old Chicago Suburb Withstood The Test of Time

Nestled in a corner of Wilmette, IL the 156-year old suburb north of Chicago and located on the Lake Michigan shore, stands the Oak Circle Historic District. It is a small grouping of 15 early twentieth-century houses. Each built primarily in the Craftsmen style with magnificent detailing from the Prairie School of Architecture, both which were born from the Arts and Crafts movement. 

Amazingly, the original integrity of 14 of the houses have survived the onslaught of time, enabling them to join the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Walking through the peace and tranquility of the Oak Circle Historic District leaves one bewildered of how graceful the path is. The curvature of the street adds considerable charm and status to Wilmette’s signature brick-paved streets. Venturing deeper, the houses reveal themselves — similar in style while each remains wonderfully and amazingly varied. The Prairie style motifs unabashedly present themselves from one home to the next — horizontal planes, leaded glass windows, the use of brick and wood — all coexisting in aesthetic harmony.

Red vitrified brick
Red vitrified brick. Photo: Historic Pavements

Twelve of the houses on Oak Circle are bungalows, the house type most closely associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The bungalows, along with the other homes on the block, showcase a variety of features found in Craftsman architecture, as well as the distinctive bands of windows with geometric patterns of small-pane glazing associated with the Prairie style.

The 12 bungalows also exhibit a variety of floor plans. Some are one-story, some one-and-a-half, but no two are exactly alike. True to the Arts and Crafts ideal of being close to nature, the bungalows share a distinctive horizontal emphasis in tandem with the midwestern landscape.

Optima Verdana® in Wilmette
Optima Verdana® in Wilmette

Oak Circle is a treasure trove of sights waiting to be explored. Just only blocks away from the Wilmette public library and a 7-minute walk from Optima Verdana®, it’s a delightful architectural and historical landmark with boundless charm that reminds both residents and visitors why Wilmette remains a vibrant, delightful community!

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