THE LOOP — Instead of looking around, Loop tour guide Margaret Hicks wants Chicagoans and visitors to look up at what she calls "Chicago's biggest secret."
The bubbly self-employed tour guide just launched a new service she calls the "binocular tour," in which she arms participants with bright red specs and guides them through "the artistry, the images and animals and gods and monsters that grace our buildings," she said.
Hicks, a former Chicago Architecture Foundation docent, lost her job in 2008. The following year, she launched Chicago Elevated, her own tour service with unique offerings like a tour of the city's famous disasters and a walkthrough of the underground Pedway system.
A new tour offers binoculars and expertise on some of the hidden gems of the Loop:
Hicks says the binocular tour is already booking up, so much so that she's considering launching a second series in Uptown next summer.
At a preview of the binocular tour, Hicks effused about small, decorative features that edge the Cook County building, Chicago Temple and Burnham Center.
"Daniel Burnham basically had a Paris fetish," she says, "which you can see when you look at the side of this building. Everything screams 'Paris!' from the fleur de lis to the patron saint, St. Genevieve."
Hicks explains the subtle differences between "gargoyles" and "grotesques" — figures only qualify as gargoyles if their mouths function as downspouts.
"It has the same root as 'gargle,'" she offered as a memory trick. "If it isn't spitting, it's a grotesque."
Tribune Tower and the Oriental Theatre are also stops on her full, 90-minute binocular tour, which covers about a mile and a half of ground in the Loop.
Hicks says she draws on her Second City training to keep the tours light and entertaining, but researches her subjects with the help of her Architecture Foundation friends to make sure they're accurate and informative as well.
The binoculars tour costs $28 for adults and $15 for kids. It starts at Daley Plaza, where Hicks waits for tourists in a bright red hat under the Picasso.
Binocular tours are regular scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays at 1 p.m., and private tours are available by appointment.