Historic Homes of Prairie Avenue

Prairie Avenue, south of the Loop, was the city's first "Millionaire's Row," and its most famous address is Glessner House, 1800 S. Prairie Ave. (tel. 312/326-1480; www.glessnerhouse.org). A must-see for anyone interested in architectural history, and the only surviving Chicago building designed by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the 1886 structure represented a dramatic shift from traditional Victorian architecture (and inspired a young Frank Lloyd Wright).

The imposing granite exterior gives the home a forbidding air. (Railway magnate George Pullman, who lived nearby, complained, "I do not know what I have ever done to have that thing staring me in the face every time I go out my door.") But step inside, and the home turns out to be a welcoming, cozy retreat, filled with Arts and Crafts furnishings. Visits are by guided tour only; tours begin at 1 and 3pm Wednesday through Sunday (except major holidays) on a first-come, first-served basis (advance reservations are taken only for groups of 10 or more). Tours cost $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, and $6 for children 5 to 12.

A visit to Glessner House can also be combined with a tour of the nearby Clarke House Museum, a Greek Revival home that's the oldest surviving house in the city; tours are given at noon and 2pm. Combination tickets for both Glessner House and Clarke House cost $15 for adults, $12 student and seniors, and $8 for children 5 to 12. Admission for all tours is free on Wednesday.

To get to Prairie Avenue, catch the no. 1, 3, or 4 bus from Michigan Avenue at Jackson Boulevard; get off at 18th Street and walk 2 blocks east.

Wright's Oak Park

Oak Park has the highest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed and -built houses or buildings anywhere. People come here to marvel at the work of a man who saw his life as a twofold mission: to wage a single-handed battle against excessively ornamental architecture (Victorian, in particular), and to create in its place a new form that would be, at the same time, functional, appropriate to its natural setting, and stimulating to the imagination.

Not everyone who comes to Oak Park shares Wright's architectural philosophy, but scholars and enthusiasts admire him for being consistently true to his vision, out of which emerged a unique and genuinely American architectural statement. The reason for Wright's success could stem from the fact that he was a living exemplar of a quintessential American type. In a deep sense, he embodied the ideal of the self-made and self-sufficient individual who had survived, even thrived, in the frontier society -- qualities that he expressed in his almost-puritanical insistence that each spatial or structural form in his buildings serve some useful purpose. He was also an aesthete in Emersonian fashion, deriving his idea of beauty from natural environments, where apparent simplicity often belies a subtle complexity.

The three principal ingredients of a tour of Wright-designed structures in Oak Park are the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour, the Unity Temple Tour, and a walking tour -- guided or self-guided -- to view the exteriors of homes throughout the neighborhood that were built by the architect. Oak Park has 25 homes and buildings by Wright, constructed between 1892 and 1913, which constitute the core output of his Prairie School period.

More Frank Lloyd Wright Homes -- In addition to Robie House, several of Wright's earlier works, still privately owned, dot the streets of Hyde Park. They include the Heller House, 5132 S. Woodlawn Ave. (1897); the Blossom House, 1332 E. 49th St. (1882); and the McArthur House, 4852 S. Kenwood Ave. (1892). Note: These houses are not open to the public, so they can only be admired from the outside.

The Wright Stuff in the Gold Coast -- Architecture junkies may want to visit the Charnley-Persky House, 1365 N. Astor St., in the Gold Coast (tel. 312/915-0105 or 312/573-1365; www.charnleyhouse.org), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan in 1891. Sullivan was Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural mentor, and although Wright was a junior draftsman on this project, Sullivan allowed him to become involved in the design process. The result is an important landmark in modern architecture that rejected Victorian details and embraced symmetry and simplicity. Free 45-minute tours of the interior are given on Wednesday at noon. A 90-minute tour of the home and the surrounding neighborhood is offered Saturdays at 10am year-round ($10); an additional tour is given at noon April through November. Reservations are not accepted.

The Wright Plus Tour -- Die-hard fans of the architect will want to be in town on the third Saturday in May for the annual Wright Plus Tour. The public can tour several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes and other notable Oak Park buildings, in both the Prairie School and Victorian styles, in addition to Wright's home, his studio, and the Unity Temple. The tour includes 10 buildings in all. Tickets, which go for $100, go on sale March 1 and can sell out by mid-April. Call the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (tel. 708/848-1976; www.gowright.org) for details and ticket information.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.