410 S. Michigan
There are no buttons outside the elevators in the Fine Arts Building—you have to wait in view of the glass doors, because if the operators don't see you as they go by, they're not likely to stop. Once in a while an elevator will shoot past a floor before the operator notices the people standing there, at which point he cranks the wheel back around and retreats to pick them up. The three elevators are original to the building, which opened in 1885 as a factory and showroom for Studebaker carriages and was remodeled in 1898 to house artists' studios and galleries. In the lobby is a plaque for Tommy Durkin, who was an elevator operator there for 55 years until he retired in 2010. "Operators never wanted to leave," says a building maintenance man. The two on duty the day I visited had been working there for 18 and 25 years, respectively. They're likely to catch on quickly if your intent is to go joyriding in their elevators—but they probably won't care. —Julia Thiel
BEST 100-YEAR-OLD MURALS
FINE ARTS BUILDINGDid they ever think we would look at them enviously a century later and try to imagine being them—artists and writers and social reformers, all occupying Chicago's first artists colony, downtown? Harriet Monroe started Poetry: A Magazine of Verse here, where others were working on the Dial, the Little Review, the Saturday Evening Post. This was the home of the state suffrage group. Portrait painter Ralph Clarkson started a salon called the Little Room in his studio, joined by author Hamlin Garland, architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, and commercial artists Frank X. and Joseph C. Leyendecker. The brothers organized the painting of eight murals, all art nouveau-esque, featuring nymphs, angels, scantily clad outdoorswomen, and Greek figures. You can still take the human-operated elevator up to the tenth floor and see the murals. Stroll down the hallway, accompanied, as I was the other day, by violin playing on one side of the hall and notes from a cello on the other, and you'll see plaques marking the studios of famous former tenants: Frank Lloyd Wright, illustrator John T. McCutcheon, sculptor Lorado Taft. One night in April this year musicians presented an evening of poetry in the Fine Arts. In a hundred years, will wistful artists look back at that performance and yearn for the cross-pollination in the arts of 21st century Chicago, when the building tenanted visual artists, music and voice teachers, photographers, dancers, designers, and architects? —S.L. Wisenberg
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Chicago Reader's Best Of
Take a look at the "Best Of" Edition for mentions of the Fine Arts Building and the Flatiron Building.