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'Not For Tourist' Neighborhood Tours Offer Chicago History...For Chicagoans

 With Chicago for Chicagoans, Patti Swanson aims to acquaint the city's residents with the history and landmarks of their own neighborhoods.
With Chicago for Chicagoans, Patti Swanson aims to acquaint the city's residents with the history and landmarks of their own neighborhoods.
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ALBANY PARK — Chicagoans should be as familiar with the history of their neighborhoods as tourists are with Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile.

That's the premise behind Chicago for Chicagoans, a new series of neighborhood walking tours kicking off Saturday in Albany Park. Thereafter tours will take place in a different community the first Saturday of the month.

Patti Swanson, the one-woman force (for now) behind the tours, cut her teeth as a guide with Wendella Boats and the Chicago Greeter program.

"I really started thinking, 'What if there were tours for Chicagoans where you can come and learn about your place and space,'" said Swanson, who holds down a day job at Northwestern University's library.

"You can walk down the street in your neighborhood a hundred times ... and you don't really look around you," she said. "I want to awaken people to the history around them."

A transplant from Texas, Swanson moved to Chicago five years ago to study architectural history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her major certainly qualifies Swanson as a guide, but she also has a personal connection to the city. Her father's family originally hails from Chicago and, coincidentally, her grandfather was born just blocks from where she lives in Albany Park.

As Swanson started digging into her family's history, she gradually learned more and more about the neighborhood, which made Albany Park a natural choice for her inaugural tour.

In researching and planning Saturday's tour, which steps off at 1 p.m. from the Kimball Brown Line station, Swanson discovered buildings she'd never really "seen" before and wandered into areas of the neighborhood that were new to her.

"I got into Ravenswood Manor. Just walking around there, oh my God, the [homes] are so cute," she said.

Using a mapping app, Swanson developed a route for Saturday's stroll and took a trial run with a friend last weekend to refine the circuit.

"It's important to walk it yourself and say, 'OK, how tired am I?' at the end," said Swanson, who trimmed the path to approximately three miles. "Most people don't really want to walk for more than two hours."

Borrowing a trick from her Wendella days, she spread note cards around her home to memorize relevant facts about points of interest including landmarks and parks.

"For Wendella, I put up post-it notes around the apartment and pretended it was the river — 'And on your left ...,'" Swanson said.

Even with all the preparation, Swanson admitted the thought of Chicago for Chicagoans' debut tour "is a little intimidating," though not so daunting that she doesn't already have a follow-up in the works.

Boystown will be the destination for July's tour, which she's planning in collaboration with queer lady activist and historian Andie Meadows.

"My ultimate goal would be to give a tour with someone who lives in the neighborhood," Swanson said.

The cost of joining a tour is pay-what-you-can, with Saturday's jaunt being offered for free to build up interest. RSVPs via Facebook are encouraged so Swanson can anticipate the size of the group, which will meet at 4755 N. Kimball Ave.

Swanson estimates the tour will take 1½ hours. Afterward, anyone who's interested can head over to El Mogote Restaurant for tacos and margaritas, 4959 N. Kedzie Ave.

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