The Wright Stuff

No trip to Chicago and Wisconsin is complete without visiting some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.  This is Wright country.  He was born in Wisconsin and lived much of his life there.  At the age of 22, he married and moved to Oak Park, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago, where he built his first Wright Home and Studiohome.  When he opened his own architectural firm, he expanded the home to include a studio. In addition to the home and studio, there are dozens of Wright-designed and Wright-inspired homes in the surrounding neighborhood.

While I had driven by the home and studio in the past, I had never taken a tour, but that was corrected during my latest trip. The stop is really a must for any Wright fan.  The home became a experiment in architecture in many ways because he made changes based on new ideas, many of which found their ways in future structures.  For example, it was in this studio that the iconic Prairie House design was perfected.  The shining example of this style is the Robie House in downtown Chicago, which the Wright fan might want to combine with a visit to the home and studio.
Unitarian Meeting House

Two churches were also on this trip’s agenda.  The Unitarian Meeting House in Madison was built in 1946.  The church’s organ pipes are highlighted by the beautiful front windows.  Ten years later, Wright designed the Annunciation Church in Annunciation ChurchWauwatosa, north of Milwaukee.  One of Wright’s last commissions, he died two years before the groundbreaking in 1961.

If you have the time, there are plenty of other Wright structures in lower Wisconsin that are definitely worth the trip.  Monona Terrace in Madison serves as the city’s conference center.  Beautifully situated on Lake Monona, this sprawling curvlinear structure had a long journey from blueprint to grand opening.  Wright was selected as the architect for the project in 1954 and completed the last revised design in 1959 shortly before he died; however, due to many setbacks, the building was not actually built until 1997.

To the west of Madison, in Spring Hill, sits the famous Taliesin, Wright’s home for much of his life after he left Oak Park, and the Hillside Studio and Theater, which is located on the same parcel of land.  Nearby is the Unity Church and cemetary where many of Wright’s family are interred;  Wright himself was buried there at one time, but his body was exhumed after his last wife died and their cremated remains were buried together in Arizona at the site of his last home, Taliesin West.  On a side note, actress Anne Baxter (Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter) is also buried there.

North of Madison is the cozy Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake State Park on Lake Delton.  I have not yet visited this spot (which is available for private rental, by the way), but it will be on the itinerary for the next trip.

By the way, if you make it to Milwaukee to see the Annunciation Church, head south to Racine to view the S.C. Johnson Wax headquarters.  This structure features curves that were unusual for the time and has attracted tourists ever since it was built in 1939.


Sweet Home Chicago, Part Three: Gene & Georgetti

It’s been nearly a month since I posted “Sweet Home Chicago, Part Two.”  Two research presentations, lots of academic writing and a trip to New York City have occured in the meantime and took me off my blogging path, but I’m back on track now.  I was intending to only have two parts to the last Chicago/Wisconsin trip, but when I spent time in this restaurant, I knew it was worthy of its own post.

Gene & Georgetti logoGene & Georgetti is located at 500 North Franklin Street (at the corner of Illinois) underneath the “L” in downtown Chicago.  The restaurant’s Web site says “come, eat and enjoy.”  I went, boy did I eat, and how I enjoyed it!

Walking into Gene & Georgetti is like entering a time warp to when the establishment was founded in 1941.  The first thing you notice when you walk in is a huge autographed poster-size photo of Lucille Ball.  Then you start to take in the dark red and rich wood interior dotted with pictures of other celebrities who have eaten there.  Instead of looking at those pictures, however, I spent my time observing the characters of the present. 

I sat tucked away at a corner tableclothed table, between the policemen at the bar who just finished their beat and, two tables over, a couple, the female of which looked like she could be on “Real Housewives of Chicago,” if there is such a show.  The servers, dressed crisply in vests and long white aprons, chatted with the bartender in their native Italian tongue while watching a new season of  baseball on TV.

Gene & Georgetti is pricey — that’s why I went for lunch — but the quality and quantity of food is worth it.  I was hoping to get both steak and seafood so I could sample both specialties of the house.  Shrimp De Jonghe, a traditional Chicago dish, consists of shrimp swimming in a pool of garlic, sherry and butter drenched bread crumbs.  The server was kind enough to let me order off-menu and get an appetizer version of the dish.  You know it’s good when you can feel the garlic and butter ooze from your pores!

I knew I would be full after the shrimp (and did I mention the deliciously warm, crusty bread and real butter?), so I didn’t want to order a high-priced cut of steak.  In fact, I opted for the Chopped Steak with Mushroom Sauce.  Good choice, because I barely got through half of it.  Served on its own plate, the steak was as big as my hand!  It came with two homemade sides: hand-battered onion rings and thick sliced potatoes that had been fried.  Each took up one half of the platter on which they were served.  I enjoyed a nice chardonnay with the shrimp and a delicious chianti with the steak.  There was NO room for desert!

My lunch at Gene & Georgetti was one of the most relaxing meals I have had in a very long time.  The servers didn’t rush; at the same time, they always seemed to materialize when I needed something.  The food came out piping hot, was delicious and plentiful. 

My only complaint, if you can even call it that, had to do with the valet parking.  First of all, it’s wonderful that the restaurant offers complimentary valet parking — a luxury that is certainly welcome due to the high price and rarity of parking in the area.  I couldn’t find it, however.  I saw two employees outside (whom I later found out were the valet staff), but they were sitting and talking to each other and I assumed they were on a break.  I parked down the street, illegally but briefly, to run into the restaurant and find out if I had been misled about the parking.  The response, I have to say, was a little snippy — apparently I should have known the employees sitting and talking were the valet staff.  But I tipped big as I turned over my keys and all became right with the world.  The young man who moved my car even brought in my cell phone that I had left on the front seat.  Kudos for the extra effort, and a big “thank you” to Gene & Georgetti for a delightful experience!

“Unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable”

That was the conclusion of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest regarding the shootings that took place on the Kent State campus on May 4, 1970.  Today, 40 years later, we remember the victims:

The Kent FourThe Dead

  • Allison Krause, 19
  • Jeffrey Miller, 20
  • Sandra Scheuer, 20
  • William Schroeder, 19








The Wounded

  • Alan Canfora
  • John Cleary
  • Thomas Grace
  • Dean Kahler (permanently paralyzed)
  • Joseph Lewis Jr.
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • James Russell (died 2007)
  • Robert Stamps (died 2008)
  • Douglas Wrentmore

“Dates and facts are not enough to show what happened in the past when dealing with people.  It is necessary to analyze and delve into the human side of history to come up with the truth. History must be made relevant to the present to make it useful.”  — written by Allison Krause on a final history exam

Kent State Finally Facing Its Past

Forty years ago tomorrow, the Ohio National Guard pointed their guns and shot into a crowd of Kent State students — some protesting, some observing, some changing class.  Thirteen seconds later, four students were killed and nine injured, one of them permanently paralyzed.  The shootings culminated four days of growing tension, protests and violence, and placed May 4, 1970, as a turning point in American history.  It has been a long, controversial journey for Kent State to come to grips with its past, but it looks like the road is finally going in the right direction.

Five years ago, I began researching how Kent State was dealing with its infamous place in history and, from a tourism perspective, I didn’t think it was doing that great a job.  It’s not that the university has not responded to the tragedy of May 4 — it has; however, I think some of the responses have been more “feel good” solutions that focus only on the future.  

For example, the  Center for Peaceful Change (now the Center for Applied Conflict Management), was created in 1971 for “the study and promotion of peaceful and more constructive mechanisms of change,” according to the university’s Web site.  An annual academic symposium on democracy was introduced in 2000.  Again, these are not bad responses — in fact, they serve an important role; in order to analyze a historic event, one must look at the broader context of that event and its impact.  At the same time, however, there must be recognition of the past that explains to visitors what actually happened at the site.  Although this was addressed somewhat by the creation of the May 4 Resource Center,  a public reading room located in the campus library, it did not go far enough, in my opinion.  It took 20 years for a memorial to be erected — a controversy itself that is way too detailed to go into here — and nearly 10 more years for markers to be constructed in the parking lot where the four students laid slain.

As a researcher in a phenomenon referred to as “dark tourism,” I can say that such a reaction is not unusual.  When bad things happen — whether they be of a historic, cultural or criminal nature — the location takes on the image of a “place of shame” — a “gee, we really wished this hadn’t happened HERE”  attitude.   It’s perfectly understandable; it’s not pleasant to deal with a painful heritage.  However, at some point, places of shame of a historic nature must understand their importance and realize that tourists will come to the site to learn about and see that history regardless of whether the place welcomes them.

When I first visited Kent State, I went there not as a researcher, but as a member of the generation so affected by the shootings.  Had I not known about the part of the campus where the shootings occurred, I would not have found the location.  In 2005, when I returned as a researcher, I took note of such things as directional signage (which was very poor and, in one case, contained a misspelling) and places for visitors to park — there were four parking meters at the site where people could park for a limited 15 minutes.  In other words, a clear nonverbal message that “we really don’t want you to stay long.”

Ohio Historical Society MarkerLast month, I returned for a follow-up research visit and I can honestly say I was shocked with the changes that had occurred in such a brief time span.  Directional signage was plentiful and clearly marked the way to the memorial and site.  There were still only four parking meters, but the time had been increased.  Once I parked the car, the first thing I noticed was a marker erected by the Ohio Historical Society, which did not sugarcoat what had happened there.  I also learned of a new visitor’s center and walking tour being developed. 

The tour, which was dedicated today, is simply outstanding!  It consists of seven stops that will take visitors through the events leading up to the shootings and the aftermath.  The marker at each stop features audio and video as well as text.  They truly capture the history of the place.  I can’t imagine that this was easy; the story of May 4 and its place in history is extremely complex.  Also dedicated today were plaques recognizing the site on the National Register of Historic Places — a multi-year effort that recently succeeded.   

Kent State Visitor's CenterA visitor’s center is also being planned; housed in Taylor Hall, near where the shootings took place, it will tell the story of the Kent State shootings, putting them in context of the historical era and discussing their political and cultural impact.  Fundraising is currently underway under the theme, “Be part of history.”

Just 40 years is a significant milestone in a person’s lifetime — often a time for introspection — it appears Kent State has taken the same opportunity to digest its place in history.  The university’s earlier attempts to focus on only the future is now balanced with a reflection on the past in an effort to impact the present.