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Docent Spotlight: Harry Hirsch

Posted on October 13, 2017

Meet Harry Hirsch, one of more than 100 volunteer docents for the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady Cruises. This year marks Harry's 19th year as a CAF docent. If you see Harry at the dock or aboard our vessels, be sure to say "hello"!

Why did you become a CAF docent?
I took the Historic Skyscraper tour in 1997, the summer I had retired. I enjoyed the tour very much. The docent told me that training was offered every year in September. I applied, but it was too late for the 1997 training so I had to wait another year.

Tell us about your most interesting job.
I was employed by Chicago Transit Authority for 40 years, starting as a graduate trainee and retiring as Vice President of Planning. My first assignment was three months as an “L” conductor. I loved it.

As a child, what did you want to do when you “grew up”?
I wanted to be a street car motorman.

What is your favorite building on the tour and why?
Who is my favorite child? I enjoy 333 Wacker at Wolf Point for its shape and color and contextuality. I like the Merchandise Mart where I worked for 38 years.

Tell us about a memorable experience as a CAF River Cruise docent.
Several years ago I had some “suits” on the boat, a group from Denver. It was a windy day and the Wabash Avenue bridge was being repainted. As we went under the bridge I heard a yell and saw several of the “suits” splattered with paint as several cans had blown off the bridge.

Where did you grow up?
I was born on the West Side of Chicago near Van Buren and Western, then lived in Englewood near 59th and Halsted. Then my folks moved northwest to Elston and Irving Park. When I married I moved to Hyde Park. I have lived in Evanston for 44 years.

What are three passions of yours besides architecture?
1. History: I love reading biographies and historic research. 
2. Trains: I enjoy trains, although its largely through magazines and not travel these days.
3. Music: I love music of all kinds. I have sung in our church choir for over 30 years.

Where in Chicago are your favorite places to….
Experience the great outdoors
Chicago's Lakefront

Enjoy a delicious dinner
Trattoria D.O.C. in Evanston on Main Street

Play tourist for a day (besides the CAF River Cruise of course!)
Chicago Botanic Garden

What’s something about Chicago that is a “hidden gem” of yours?
Alta Vista Terrace (Learn more about this one-block historic district in Lakeview)

What has been your most interesting CAF River Cruise guest interaction? 
Last week a visitor from Switzerland gave me a small medallion from Switzerland and then almost immediately a visitor from Sweden gave me another tiny medal. I also enjoy hearing from international travelers how well they understand me and they ask me if I ever worked in radio.

What is something people are surprised to learn about you?
I am not and never was an architect.