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Fine Arts: 1903

Fine Arts: 1903

Chicago circa 1903. "Fine Arts Building, Michigan Avenue." Now playing at the Studebaker Theatre: Castle Square Opera Company's production of The Pirates of Penzance. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Photographic Co. View full size.


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Pirate Castle

I could only find two runs of the Pirates of Penzance by the Castle Square Opera Company at the Studebaker Theater. Both of these were from before the circa 1903 date of the photo. The first was from July 22 - 25, 1900 with Miss Maude Lillian Berri in the leading soprano role. Berri reprised her role in the performances that were held April 28 - May 4, 1901. The ad below is from the April 28th Chicago Tribune, and the review is from the April 30th edition.

"The Castle Square company is devoting its week to a revival of "The Pirates of Penzance." The Studebaker was comfortably filled, and although the opera is not among the most attractive either in subject or music of the Gilbert and Sullivan creations, the performance was received with every evidence of enjoyment and pleasure. The book of the "Pirates" appeals less perhaps to American opera-goers than does any Mr. Gilbert ever wrote, it being peculiarly English both in its allusions and its satire, and Sullivan seems to have risen to the plane of the best tunefulness and cleverness only in the second act. Mabel's entrance solo with chorus is catchy and has the true Sullivan swing, but it is the only number in the first act that has. The "Policemen's Chorus," the duet for Mabel and Frederic, and the "Pirates' Chorus" are attractive, however, and make the second act pleasing and deservedly popular.

"The performance last evening was fully up to Castle Square standards, which is equivalent to saying that it was well balanced, carefully staged and costumed, and moved with commendable smoothness. Reginald Roberts, as the paradoxical pirate apprentice, appeared to unusually good advantage, assuming well the boyish guilelessness belonging to the character and singing the music - especially the duet in act II - in highly acceptable manner. Miss Berri made all of Mabel that was possible, both from a dramatic and a vocal standpoint; Mr. Pruette was a capital pirate chief, Mr. Moulan a satisfactory Major General, and Miss Lambert a good Ruth. Francis J. Boyle came forward as a prominent principal in the role of Edward, the sergeant of police. He was an agreeable bass voice, which he uses acceptably, enunciates well, and discovered good abilities as a comedian. He would seem a young funny man of promise. Cora Spicer as Edith and Stella Bonheur as Kate were also new aspirants for solo honors. They have good looks and gracefulness in their favor, and it is believed when they master their nervousness will prove to be pleasing singers."

Elevator Operator

I visited some shops in this building in January of this year. The building still has one elevator operated by a human being; the other elevators (there are about five of them in the lobby) were out of order. You have to use this human-operated elevator because the door to the stairwell is locked on the first floor (although it does open from inside the stairwell, so I guess it meets the fire code). The building was originally built as the Studebaker Building in 1884-1885, and it did indeed house the sales room, service facility, and factory of the Studebaker Carriage Company. The architect was Solon S. Beman, the designer of the town of Pullman (among many other things). In its original form, the building was only 8 stories high and had two little domes on the top floor, one at each end of the front facade. After Studebaker moved to a new building on Wabash Avenue in 1897, Beman was hired to convert this building to artistic uses, which was more in line with its two neighbors on the block: the Auditorium Hotel & Theater (on the left side of the photo) and the Art Institute of Chicago (on the right). He raised the height of the building to its current 10 stories and installed two legitimate theaters on the ground floor. These theaters were made over into four movie theaters in the 1980s, when this building served as the principal art house theater in downtown Chicago. I believe they have now been converted back, although I couldn't tell if they were open for business when I went there in January.


Below is the same view from June of 2017.

Rag in his pocket

He is the very model of a modern window washer

Still worth a visit!

I worked in this building, top floor right windows, for many years. It's still beautiful inside, with most of the original interior quite intact, including in the private offices. It's worth a visit if you are in Chicago: start at the top to see the original paintings on the walls, and walk the stairs down all the way. The whole building is filled with artists, musicians, violin makers, etc.

Largely unchanged

An architecturally significant building, with a good view of Grant Park and Lake Michigan from its front windows. I took a tour in the 90s, and found it to be eerily unchanged from the 19th century, down to the elevator operator and sparsely-spaced carbon-filament lightbulbs in the hallways. The building houses artists and musicians and related offices. L. Frank Baum had an office here and may have written some of his work in it.

Don't jump!

Henry! Get back in here!

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