Carriage building turned to a fine art

Fine Art Building, Chicago

Fine Art Building, Chicago

Just as Chester’s central library incorporates a fine example of early automobile architecture, so Chicago’s Fine Art Building is based on the Studebaker Carriage Works of 1884-5.

The five Studebaker brothers started out in the 1850s building wagons for the military, for the California gold rush and for those pioneers’ covered wagon-trains that figured in a landmark 1960s television series.

Gradually they extended their repertoire to more genteel passenger carriages.  Their works was at South Bend, Indiana, and in 1884 they opened their showroom, designed by Solon Spencer Beman, at 410 South Michigan Avenue in central Chicago.  It was designed to receive carriages in kit-form, which were lifted to the upper storeys in small pieces and then assembled floor by floor until they reached the ground-floor showroom where they could be sold and immediately trundled out on to the street.

Chicago’s birth as a cultural centre grew from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, celebrating the quatercentenary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.  In the afterglow of the World’s Fair, as it’s more commonly known, the Studebaker building, which stands in the same block as the Auditorium Building of 1889-90, was adapted in 1898 as a centre for artists of all kinds, and it continues today as a venue for painters, musicians, dancers and designers –

The adaption included two auditoria, the Studebaker Theater and the smaller Playhouse Theater, both of which were earmarked for restoration some years ago:

During the 1898 renovation a series of murals by Martha Baker, Charles Francis Browne, Frederic Clay-Bartlett, Oliver Dennett Grover, Frank X Leyendecker and Bertha Menzler-Peyton were installed on the tenth floor.  Take the ancient lift, and enjoy the sounds of the resident musicians going about their daily work.

The Fine Art Building provides regular events for the public:  see

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture ‘Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago’ please click here.


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