The Fine Arts Building, a landmark in Chicago that is still aptly named, 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 showroom and assembly plant for carriages. Thirteen years later, it was remodeled and repurposed as the Fine Arts Building.
Frank Lloyd Wright had an office in the building and it was where Poetry Magazine first published. Early women’s rights groups were also welcomed into the space.
Though there has been many changes over the last 125 years, it remains dedicated to artists and freethinkers.
These days, it is home to the Chicago Puppet Studio, a gallery of art glass and a bookstore. The building is also used by both music teachers and makers of musical instruments.
It’s also the last place in Chicago that still employs elevator operators.
Two theaters within the building are currently being renovated, including the historic Studebaker Theater.
“We are in the process of remodeling it and revitalizing it to reopen this spring, and we are in the renovation process right now updating all of the audio/video infrastructure, making it a more production-friendly and audience-friendly venue,” said Jacob Harvey, the theater’s managing artistic director.
In the 20th century, the Studebaker Theater presented Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes, Eartha Kitt and many others to Chicago audiences.
Murals on the ninth floor include tributes to theater and the other artistic passions pursued inside the Fine Arts Building.
“It is the home of one of Chicago’s original artist colonies. It’s a 10-story building full of workshop spaces, offices, and studios of local artisans,” Harvey said. “We have everything from dance companies, orchestra companies, architects, music instrument makers … What’s so cool and special about this moment with the Studebaker, what we’re really doing, is creating a space for the live and performing arts to now 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 the building has its unique charms.
“A few times a day we’ll go to the ninth floor and take the stairs down because we’ll hear somebody practicing opera or the cello or violin, and it really has a calming effect on us throughout the day,” Ramirez said. “I think everybody feels like that in the building.”
Harvey said that over the pandemic’s last two years, the building’s unique place in the city became even clearer.
“One of the things that we’ve learned, especially in the last two years, is not only is arts and culture just vital and important to our own emotional well-being, but it is a huge economic driver,” Harvey said. “Because with live theater comes restaurants, hotels, retail, shopping. And what it truly is 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 Chicago Opera Theatre.