Category Archives: architecture

Figge Museum, Hotel Blackhawk, Fred at Up, Faithful Pilot – Davenport/LeClaire

15CEA6D8-3D11-4E3A-9766-C4DE0606B41EFinally made it to the Figge Museum, thanks to the Des Moines Art Center’s Docent program. I enjoyed the French Moderns show, a traveling exhibit from the Brooklyn Museum, but also enjoyed the fabulous outsider art of William Hawkins, an exhibit of John Bloom (liked his rural scenes much more than the work of his known wife Isobel.) The Figge building, the first new major U.S. commission for English architect David  Chipperfield (whose latest commission is an addition to the Met in NYC) is stunning. It’s clad in white  see-through glass with huge windows looking out to the Mississippi and high white ceilings inside.

3E64C07B-6271-4860-BBCF-03065F476E1F.jpegWe stayed at the renovated historic Hotel Blackhawk which was organized by the tour, otherwise I would stick with a much less expensive Airbnb, although the hotel had some charming features including an old-fashioned   atrium lobby and a funky bowling alley /bar in the basement. I’m also curious about the artsy Current Hotel, which has a fantastic rooftop bar called Up, with an outdoor patio with stupendous views of the river and lock and dam. We bumped into the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell who was preparing for a debate today. We wished him well!

4F3675E7-EA61-435F-9E75-58B0DF593684.jpegDinner was very good at The Faithful Pilot, about  a half  hour drive north in LeClaire. Three others joined us and we were all happy with our meals and each other. We all had small plates. Dirck and I had excellent pork belly with potatoes plus mussels in a light tomato sauce. Glad we booked ahead. Small place and busy. It has a cool view of the old riverboat beached behind a glass wall in the local history museum and a  cozy atmosphere, with an occasional train rumbling past, near the riverbank.

We had a mediocre lunch at Lagomarcino’s Confectionery in East Davenport.  Better to stick with their specialties – -candy and ice cream. We did have a good chocolate milk shake. Also went to a nonprofit art gallery in rock island. Other Davenport restaurants to try: Me and Billy Cafe, Front Street Brewery and Duck City bistro.

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Filed under architecture, arts festival, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, museum exhibit

Saarinen House/Cranbrook academy of art – Bloomfield hills 

We got lucky and at the last minute were able to join a previously sold out walking tour of the Art Deco Saarinen house at cranbrook. The 70-minute tour was a great introduction to the entire cranbrook campus but then we got to enter the house that eliel Saarinen designed and lived in with his family in 1930. When I was a high school student at Kingswood/Cranbrook, the House was still the residence of the art academy president (the father of a school friend) but in the 1990s it underwent a major renovation and was opened for tours. There were only 12 of us and an excellent guide. It was my second tour but I still loved it, especially after seeing Saarinen’s train station in Helsinki. (I must return so I can visit Saarinen ‘s summer Home outside Helsinki.)

In the art museum, I found a catalogue of a retrospective of work by ceramicist John Glick, whose work my parents sold at their gallery. Sadly we missed the show which was in 2017 shortly before he died. I was particularly thrilled to find a page about the dinnerware that we recently inherited from my dad and now treasure.

in Bloomfield Hills, must remember to visit Smith House, a flwright House now owned by Cranbrook and open occasionally for tours.

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Filed under architecture, Detroit, Michigan, museum exhibit

Way out of my comfort zone — Helsinki



Saarinen-designed train station

Playing catchup- post-vacation:

This may be one of the nuttier trips I’ve taken: traveling to Helsinki solo with a broken arm. The trip was going to be arduous to begin with– first the overnight boat trip from Stockholm and then finding my Airbnb in an out of the way place. The arm situation doesn’t help. But hey, I did it and it’s no wonder that I am in bed at 8 p.m. yeah!

I sort of slept last night on the ferry and had the grand breakfast buffet. Who knew I could get sick of lox…but I have. I sat next to a kind Swedish man whose young blond son looked at me somewhat suspiciously. Who was this weird American lady with the big cast on her arm? Stuck up a conversation with a group of quintessential upper Manhattan women (inwood?) who I think also thought I was a bit nuts.


Inside the stunning station (a fast food restaurant…grrr)

Just off the ferry, I found my way at the harbor to the #3 tram and got to the Kallio neighborhood. The hard part was finding and getting into this apartment. Thank God for a Shell gas station, which served as a visual marker, and some very kind Finns who helped me out during various times of need. This is a one-bedroom apartment in a functional modern apartment block. It wasn’t well marked and my directions weren’t clear but people helped in all kinds of ways. My host wasn’t here and I realized she wouldn’t be for several hours. Fortunately an extremely kind couple who run a vintage sign shop next door offered to let me leave my bags with them, which was huge! I made my way to a cafe with WiFi so I could connect with dirck who arrived safely in Chicago and is now on the road to Dsm and God knows what, given the flood damage in our neighborhood while we’ve been away.

I went down to the open air market at the harbor and found some great crafts and gifts…better than anything else on this trip. I already wish I had more time in this city. It feels more exotic and foreign than our previous stops. The market was serving reindeer and moose; selling dyed fur cuffs and socks from Russia. The architecture is very dramatic and feels Soviet modern in places, art nouveau ornate in others. The Saarinen train station is amazing and people don’t seem to notice. They are too busy traveling through it. I also went to the Kamppi chapel, (aka Chapel of Silence) a stunning modern high wooden pod in the middle of a busy brutish shopping square. The idea is to step into it and enjoy the silence of the plain, airy space. It was designed by a Finnish firm and opened when Helsinki was  the 2012 World Design Capital.

Tonight I had a weird Turkish kebab at Doner Harju, a block from this apartment in  Kallio , which is known for its funky restaurants. Tomorrow, I have to pace myself and make some choices, given my limited physical abilities and all the things I’d ideally love to see. Such is life. (Next trip: visit the cool marketplace, Teurastamu.)

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Filed under architecture, Scandinavia, THE ARTS

Windy city: cafe zinc, studio gang show at art institute

Blustery day in Chicago, with the winds especially fierce along Michigan avenue so after a pleasant lunch at cafe zinc ( cream of mushroom soup, egg salad sandwich) I got a bus pass and some ear muffs at Walgreens and hopped onto the 151 bus to the art institute where I caught what I believe is one of the last days of an exhibit about studio gang, the architecture firm of Jeanne Gang, which designed the fabulous Aqua building in downtown Chicago and lots of other buildings as I learned from the exhibit. Well worth a visit. I also popped to see the small collection of folk art at the institute. I didn’t have enough time or energy to go to the Picasso in Chicago show that just opened.

20130221-232530.jpg this is a cool building in Iowa, near grinnell.

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Filed under architecture, Chicago, DINING

Good deal on tix to tour FLWright’s home and Studio in Oak Park or Chicago’s Robie house

I don’t want to know HOW Amazon knows that I’m going to Chicago soon – and probably to Oak Park as well. It’s all a little too Big Brotherish for me. But I guess it’s nice to be offered a good deal – as Amazon has done – on tickets to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park (although I’ve done at least two times and probably won’t do again – at least during my next trip to Chicago in February.) But thought I’d pass it along in case anyone else is interested. The offer is also good for the Robie House on the South Side, which I also toured a few years ago.

Two Tickets for a Guided Interior House Tour

Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
Sold by LivingSocial
The Details

Get a glimpse inside one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous works with this offer from the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust:

  • $15 ($30 value) for two adult tickets for a guided interior tour beginning February 2
  • Explore Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park or Robie House in Hyde Park
  • Tours last about 45 to 60 minutes
  • Both locations are National Historic Landmarks
What You Need to Know
  • Limit 2 per customer, up to 2 additional as gifts
  • Limit 1 per couple per visit
  • Each voucher valid for 2 people at choice of Chicago or Oak Park location
  • Advance reservations highly recommended
  • Without advance reservations, guests will be placed on the next available tour upon arrival; space on each tour is limited and is filled on a first-come, first served basis
  • Availability is greater on weekdays; morning arrival is recommended
  • Please note that the museums have limited access for those with mobility restrictions
  • Entire value must be used in a single visit
  • Valid for all published guided interior tour dates beginning February 2, 2013 through November 17, 2013
  • Available for use beginning February 2, 2013

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Filed under architecture, Chicago, Illinois

One of top 15 architecture cities….Mason City, Iowa!

Stoney Creek Inn

Front of the Park Inn Hotel (right) and side of the City

People from beyond Iowa tend to find it remarkable that Mason City Iowa has such a treasure trove of Prairie Style homes – by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright. But Conde Nast travel mag is in the know: It recently listed Mason City among the top 15 cities in the world of noteworthy architectural history, according to Wright on the Park, a Mason City nonprofit instrumental in restoring and reopening The Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining hotel designed by Wright.  The hotel plus the Wright-designed Stockman House (both of which offer public tours) and the Rock Crest-Rock Glen residential area, where you can take a self-guided tour of the area’s historic homes including many Prairie Style homes, no doubt won Mason City the same destination nod as cities including Barcelona (presumably for Gaudi!) and Tel Aviv. Word has it the restaurant has opened at the hotel (it wasn’t opened yet when I visited about a year ago.)

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Filed under architecture, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Amazing views and vertigo at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis

We finally visited the new (okay five-year-old) Guthrie Theater last weekend during a visit to the Twin Cities. What an astonishing place. Designed by Frenchman Jean Nouvel’s (2008 winner of the Pritzker Prize)  its odd-looking exterior is a  rounded cobalt highrise (echoing the nearby historic flour mills downtown) with a protruding platform that sticks out towards the Mississippi River like a bridge lopped off in mid stride.  As suggested, we took the very narrow steep elevator that reminded me of an elevator in the London Tube system to the fifth floor and walked out on the platform which we had all to ourselves on a quiet Saturday morning in late October.  Astonishing views of the River,  St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge, bright sunshine bouncing off the blue glass, and I felt like an ant whose antenna had been ripped off. Dizzy. Disoriented. Dazzled.

Inside, the strange interior – soaring spaces with cut out windows offer very precise views of the river and city and a lovely green landscaped park dotted with fiery red-leafed trees – also had me feeling woozy. We rode the elevator up to the ninth floor for another dazzling view, this time through huge panes of yellow-green tinted windows. Interesting how the glass totally changed the view we’d seen several floors below. We also walked around the curving space lining one of the theaters and through the sleek darkened bars on the fifth floor.

Building tours are available the first Saturday of the month. Next time, we’ll go to a performance there at one of the complex’s three stages (the “thrust stage” and Shakespeare seems good idea.)

for photos and more info: see

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Filed under architecture, Minneapolis, Uncategorized

Pilgrimage to new FLWright hotspot in Mason City

Just back from a tour of the Historic Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Fantastic$18 million renovation of the 101 year old hotel and bank buildings (now a lovely hotel with 27 rooms.) And the FLWright aficionados have discovered the place – both tours offered today were full of people, some almost as knowledgeable as the docents giving the tours. Next time, I’ll have to book a room and stay for the night. Also found a good place to eat – new spot about two blocks west of the hotel call Chop with very affordable salads, sandwiches, egg dishes served in stylish room with FLWright overtones (same ochre colored, scallop patterned plaster walls etc.)/ Lovely day.

Did I mention this is the only hotel designed by FLW that remains? (I think there’s a hotel in Oklahoma that’s in a FLWright building but it wasn’t originally designed as a hotel. Must doublecheck that.)

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Filed under architecture, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Here’s how to book a room at the FLWright-designed hotel in mason city

Here’s the scoop on staying at the new  FLWright-designed hotel that’s reopening in August for business (101 years after it opened.) The hotel – which falls under Stoney Creek Inn auspices – just started taking reservations this week, through one person who I’ve yet to reach. The rooms are available in August (don’t know when specifically). There are 27 guest rooms according to the website. Prices still unknown.

To find out info go to :; to call for a reservation call 1-800-659-2220 (press 3 after the first spiel; then press 4 after the next spiel.)

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Filed under architecture, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, LODGING, Uncategorized

Last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel reopening sept. in mason city

Finally, after over 20 years effort, millions of dollars, and a massive painstaking renovation, the world’s last remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is scheduled to reopen  in Mason City, Iowa in early September (with a soft opening in July, word has it).  No word yet on how many rooms or what it will cost to stay at what will be known as “The Historic Park Inn Hotel” (first opened in 1910).

The hotel is one of several architecture-related reasons to visit this northern Iowa city, which has worked hard to preserve and promote its Prairie School buildings. A new Architectural Interpretive Center formally opens in May. Next door to the center is  The Wright-designed Stockman House – which I toured last fall and is well worth a visit. Tour season  begins in May, I believe. And there are walking tours of all the other Prairie School homes in the area.

Here’s more details:

  • The Historic Park Inn Hotel – first opened in 1910 – will reopen as a boutique hotel. A celebration is being planned for Sept. 6-11 (the week marks the 101th anniversary of  the hotel’s original opening).
  • The long effort to revive the hotel cost about $18.5 million project,  spanned three different owners of the property, most recently a citizens group that bought the building for $1 from the city after the hotel got no takers on eBay.
  • First opened with an adjoining Wright-designed bank, the hotel (one of six designed by Wright) started deteriorating in the 1920s and closed in 1972. It fell into further disrepair after being converted into apartments and small businesses.
  • Mason City is well-known to architecture enthusiasts for its Rock Glen/Rock Crest National Historic District, the largest grouping of Prairie School homes unified by a common natural setting in the U.S.

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Filed under architecture, DESTINATIONS - Iowa