Rediscovering the Fine Arts Building

I recently took a tour of the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Ave. I had been there a number of times before, but always on some  mission that did not include really looking at this old treasure of a place. It was built by Studebaker in 1885 as an assembly plant and showroom for its horse carriages. Yes, Studebaker was in the carriage business before it began making cars. The lower three floors were the showrooms, supported by two huge granite pillars that made it possible to construct the open space needed. The smaller rooms above that were for assembly.

But what took place after Studebaker’s tenure is what sets the building apart. In 1898 the original architect, Solon Beman altered it into an arts center with a romantic Venetian Court, studios and two theaters.  It became a thriving center for the arts and arts-related businesses including the offices of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wizard of Oz originator, L. Frank Baum. Many upper floors are lined with murals by past tenants. The art colony thrives today and packs the building with art galleries, studios, violin makers, and artists of every stripe. And it’s the last major building in Chicago with elevator operators.

Go in, take the elevator to the tenth floor and walk down the open stairway. Look around. See the murals. Find Wright’s old office; it’s marked. You’ll see wonders you never dreamed of in a place you can almost feel embraces the artists and receives their love in return.  And be sure to see the Venetian Court. It’s still there. Don’t miss it!

Venetian Ct.


About Chicago Stories

I'm a Chicagoan, have been for fifty years. I've had a consulting business in the city for thirty-eight years, working with many Chicago companies and organizations and others around the world. Before that, I worked the city's race relations agency for five years.I am a volunteer tour guide for Chicago's Greeter Program and introduce visitors from around the world to this beautiful city. I'm also a writer of several professional books as well as poetry, essays and fiction. The city has become my inspiration, education and entertainment. View all posts by Chicago Stories

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