The Fine Arts Building, a Chicago landmark that still lives up to its name, is seeing some interior spaces renovated to their former glory.
The building, 410 S. Michigan Ave., opened as the Studebaker Building in 1885 as a car showroom and assembly plant. Thirteen years later, it was remodeled and turned into a fine arts building.
Frank Lloyd Wright had an office in the building and it was there that Poetry Magazine was first published. The first women’s rights groups were also welcomed into the space.
Although there have been many changes over the past 125 years, it remains dedicated to artists and free thinkers.
Today it houses the Chicago Puppet Studio, a glass art gallery and bookstore. The building is also used by music teachers and musical instrument makers.
It’s also the last place in Chicago that still employs elevator operators.
Two theaters in the building are currently being renovated, including the historic Studebaker Theater.
“We’re remodeling and revitalizing it to reopen this spring, and we’re currently renovating all of the audio/video infrastructure, making it a more production and audience friendly place.” , said Jacob Harvey, artistic director of the theater.
In the 20and century, the Studebaker Theater introduced Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes, Eartha Kitt and many others to Chicago audiences.
The ninth-floor murals pay homage to the theater and other artistic passions pursued inside the Fine Arts Pavilion.
“It’s the home of one of Chicago’s first artist colonies. It’s a 10-story building full of workshop spaces, offices and workshops for local artisans,” Harvey said. “We have everything from dance companies, to orchestra companies, to architects, to musical instrument makers… What’s so cool and special about this moment with the Studebaker, what we’re really doing, it’s ‘is to create a space for the living and performing arts to re-exist in the building in the same way that the fine arts exist in the building right now.
Javier Ramirez of Exile in Bookville says working in construction has its unique charms.
“A few times a day we go to the ninth floor and down the stairs because we hear someone practicing opera, cello or violin, and it really has a calming effect on us throughout the day,” Ramirez said. “I think everyone feels that way in the building.”
Harvey said that over the past two years of the pandemic, the building’s unique place in the city has become even clearer.
“One of the things we’ve learned, especially over the past two years, is that not only is arts and culture vital and important to our own emotional well-being, but it’s a huge economic driver. “, said Harvey. “Because with live theater comes restaurants, hotels, retail, shopping. And what it’s really about is a shared community experience.
The Studebaker Theater within the Fine Arts Building presents the Chicago Jazz Orchestra in May. Later in the year, they host the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Opera Theater.