How to Make a Great Chicago Tour Guide

Hello, Chicago Detours followers and Chicago architecture enthusiasts! I’m Jenn and have recently joined the Chicago Detours staff as Marketing Manager and Tour Guide. Since I will be authoring many blog posts, such as our most recent post on ways to explore Chicago, I wanted to introduce myself and share a bit about the architecture tour guide training process here at Chicago Detours.

First, I’d like to share a little bit about me. I’ve been studying architecture and design for the past 10 years and have a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Prior to Chicago Detours I worked, studied, and led tours as a docent for three years at Mies van der Rohe’s internationally famed Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.

Farnsworth House Mies van der Rohe architecture

I’m a lover of all things art, architecture and design with a soft spot for Mies (of course), modernism, and the Bauhaus. In addition to exploring Chicago’s rich architecture over the years, I’ve enjoyed traveling nationally and abroad and experiencing new cultures. After architecture my second favorite thing would be food. I can still imagine the taste of that Wiener Schnitzel from Vienna – sigh.

food travel

Training as an Architecture Tour Guide

In addition to working in the office at Chicago Detours, I’ve been training as an architecture tour guide for the Loop Interior Architecture Tour, which has turned out to be a unique and fun but intense process. More akin to three post-graduate courses in Chicago architecture, history and culture rolled into one eight-week program, the training process has immersed me in the historical background, factual information and forgotten stories of the places we go to on the tour. I’ve read everything from architectural history books, like Constructing Chicago by Daniel Bluestone, to Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field & Co. by Lloyd Wendt. We have also been reading archival books forgotten to time, such as this 1911 Chicago Public Library Handbook.

While the tone of our tours is casual and we keep a fun, educational dynamic, guides must have a depth of knowledge to be able to share new ideas to help guests relate to the city and its architecture. To facilitate this exchange, the Chicago Detours training process also includes detailed discussions on educational dynamics as well as customer service and hospitality. Therefore, our tour guides are not only knowledgeable, but they are approachable, too.

In addition to these studies, my favorite aspect of Chicago Detours’ tour guide training program is the visual engagement of Chicago architecture that we indulge in on the Loop Interior Architecture Tour. Training for this tour has gotten me to notice architectural eye candy at some of the tour stops that I had never seen before, even as a longtime Chicago architecture scholar.

Cultural center chicago architecture
Photo Credit: Kate Joyce

On the tour, when we aren’t engaging with the architecture, we are often using the iPads which have historic photos and video clips on them. The use of iPads turns a talking head of a typical tour into a dynamic tour experience, and I’ve enjoyed learning about cool places to find historic photos and videos, like Mediaburn Archive.

See You Soon!

As an experienced architecture tour guide, I can say that this is the most thorough training process I’ve undergone and am glad of it. The Chicago Detours training program has taken me beyond what I learned in previous docent trainings by focusing not on just a script, but on all te roles of a great tour guide, from being an expert to an educator to a city liaison and travel consultant. This infinite learning process will help me continue to grow and learn as a Chicago Detours tour guide.

I look forward to exploring Chicago architecture, perhaps with you, in the near future.

–Jenn Harrman, Marketing Manager and Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

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