Designing a University of Chicago Tour

Special for the University of Chicago, we’ve just developed a new tour of the University of Chicago campus and surrounding neighborhoods. The University of Chicago hired us to offer this tour for “Family Weekend,” when parents, siblings and grandparents of undergraduate students come to Hyde Park to learn more about the student experience. While the tour is not open to the general public, we thought we’d share a bit about how we developed this new bus tour on Chicago’s South Side.

Both myself and Amanda, our Executive Director, are alumni of the University of Chicago’s Master of the Arts Program in the Humanities and we will both be leading this University of Chicago tour. Accordingly, we’ve spent a bunch of time over the past month collaborating on how to best show off our alma mater and the neighborhoods that surround it. It’s a lot of work to create tours that are fun, educational, and which connect folks with the places they’re visiting, so we wanted to share what that process is like.

University of Chicago tour campus Hyde Park Chicago skyline drone photo
A bird’s eye view of what we’ll see on the University of Chicago tour. Photo: Pawel Skrabacz

Plotting a Route

The first step in designing our University of Chicago tour was picking out the route for the busses to follow. The University of Chicago campus and surrounding neighborhoods have so many gorgeous buildings and historic spots. First we chose places we knew we had to include, like the libraries, Promontory Point, Museum of Science and Industry, and the Logan Arts Center. Then we played around with secondary locations that could get tour guests to see a variety of both highlights and overlooked spots.

With so many sites to visit, we could run the risk of just burying our guests with names and dates. It’s no fun to catch a glimpse of a building, hear its name once, and then speed right past it. So the route had to find the right balance between quantity and quality. And with just 75 minutes for the tour duration, we had to plan out the route strategically.

University of Chicago tour Jeanne Gang Campus North Residential Commons Jeanne Gang
Jeanne Gang’s new Campus North Residential Commons are part of our University of Chicago tour. Photo: Alex Bean

Taking the University of Chicago Tour for a Test Drive

Amanda has been guiding walking and bus tours for groups for more than a decade now. I joined the team last year and have literally walked through the soles of my shoes while leading walking tours this year. But I have yet to do a bus tour, so Amanda and I planned a test drive of the newly designed route.

Our plan was to spend an afternoon cruising the route through campus, Hyde Park, Washington Park, Jackson Park, and Woodlawn. The experience would let us get to know the directions and timing of the route, while also letting Amanda coach me on bus tour presentations.

The actual drive-through wound up taking about 2.5 hours. It’s not that we got lost, though I did take a few wrong turns. Instead, we kept on discovering interesting new buildings or pausing to go over the fantastic stories each of us had learned in our research.

Refining and Researching Our Discoveries

The final step in creating an awesome bus tour experience for our guests was to go back over our notes and polish it into a finished product. Amanda took notes on her phone while I drove, so we were able to use that as a blueprint for filling out the tour. Amanda was able to fill in a lot of material based on previous tours and research.

I leapt in to fill the remaining gaps in our knowledge. Back in my student days, I’d purchased a campus architecture guidebook. Using that and some online sleuthing, I was able to track down some fantastic stories and facts for our University of Chicago tour.

My favorite anecdote might be the campus legend that the Prince of Wales toured Hutchinson Commons in 1924. When told that it was modeled after Christ Church Hall at Oxford, he replied that the resemblance was remarkable, but that the windows were never washed at Oxford. The windows at Hutchinson Commons were only washed once in the 50 years after that comment was made.

University of Chicago tour law school Eero Saarinen night
Our University of Chicago tour won’t be at night, but what a cool shot of the Law School! Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil

Perhaps a University of Chicago Tour for a Group?

We’re publishing this post a day before the University of Chicago tour runs. It’s been a lot of effort, so Amanda and I are terribly excited to show off all our hard work. Of course, now that the tour has been created, feel free to get in contact if you’d ever like to arrange this as a private tour for you and yours.

– Alex Bean, Content 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
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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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