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!