Monday, February 16, 2015

Judge Tree's Studios
 by: chicago designslinger

[Tree Studio Building & Annexes (1894) Parfitt Brothers, architects; (1912) Hill & Woltersdorf, architects, annex; (2002) Daniel P. Coffey & Associates, architects, restoration and rehabilitation /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

 Judge Lambert Tree was a member of an old Chicago family. And he built this building on the west lawn of the Tree homestead, which had been in his wife’s family – the Magie’s – since 1840.

 [Tree Studio Building, 601-23 N. State Street, 4-10 E. Ohio Street, 3-7 E. Ontario Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Judge and Mrs. Tree were on their way to Egypt in 1894 with a stop-over in New York when they saw a building on Madison Avenue and 56th Street built to house artist’s studios. It made quite an impression on the couple. They were both big supporters of Chicago’s Art Institute and partons of the arts, so the Judge got in touch with the architectural firm Parfitt Brothers and told them to draw-up plans for a similar building that the Trees would construct back home.

 [Tree Studio Building & Annexes, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Tree property filled one square city block and their large, sandstone mansion stood at the eastern edge. So the Judge divided the plot of land in half from north to south and at the western edge built the Studio Building. It would have two-story loft spaces on the second floor with large windows facing the street and skylights to capture the sun’s north light with retail establishments on the ground floor catering to the arts community. He also set-up a trust which would help defray the cost of the upkeep of the building in an attempt to keep rents low for his almost perpetually, financially struggling, artistic tenants. 

  [Tree Studio Building and Annexes, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

After the Judge died in 1910 his house was demolished and the eastern portion of the plot was sold to the Shriners fraternal organization. They built Medinah Temple, a large meeting hall/auditorium right up to the north/south dividing line that divided the Tree property in two. The trustees of the Tree estate filled in the space behind the original Studio Building to the Temple’s back wall with an annex on Ohio Street in 1912 and Ontario Street in 1913. The annexes created a private courtyard which became a little green oasis in a neighborhood that was changing from a quiet residential neighborhood to a busy, noisy, congested commercial and retail district.
The Shriners took an option on the purchase of the Studio in 1920 but let it lapse. Then in 1956 the organization finally purchased the Studio and Annex Buildings in order to maintain control over the old Tree city block. By 1998 with membership falling, the Shriners put the block on the market and for a while it looked like the Studio Building would be demolished for a high-rise residential building replacement. The preservation community waged battle, and after the Mayor made it known that he wanted Medinah Temple spared, a deal was reached with developer Albert Friedman and the buildings were saved, rehabilitated, and painstakingly renovated under the supervision of Friedman and Coffey & Associates architects. The Tree subsidies ended decades ago, so although the studios are still available, the market rate rentals are beyond the means of many a struggling artist.


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