Tree Studios, Annexes, and Courtyard..
Address: 601-623 N. State St./4-10 E. Ohio St./3-7 E. Ontario St.
- Year Built..
State Street building, 1894..
Ohio Street annex, 1912..
Ontario Street annex, 1913 ..
State Street building, Parfitt Brothers, with Bauer & Hill..
Ohio Street and Ontario Street annexes, Hill & Woltersdorf..
- Date Designated a Chicago Landmark..
State Street building, February 26, 1997,
Ohio Street and Ontario Street annexes and courtyard, June 27, 2001..
Intended as a home for artists at the turn of the century, the Tree Studios was constructed by philanthropists Judge and Mrs. Lambert Tree using the finest craftsmanship and details of the period.
The original 1894 building facing State Street was designed in a Queen Anne style and is lined with retail storefronts that provided rental income that subsidized the rents for the artists' studios. The 1912 and 1913 annexes built on Ohio and Ontario Streets were designed in the English Arts & Crafts style.
The building's large windows, picturesque details, and distinctive interior courtyard instantly made it a unique cultural oasis and home to many significant artists, including sculptors Albin Polasek and John Storrs; illustrator J. Allen St. John; muralist John Warner Norton; painters Ruth Van Sickle Ford, James Murray Haddow, and Pauline Palmer; and actors Peter Falk and Burgess Meredith. The nation's oldest-known artist studios, the building complex is one of the most distinctive features of the River North neighborhood..
- [image above] Judge Lambert Tree
- [image below] His wife Anna Field Tree [daughter of Marshall Field]
Over each window, is the curved pediment, at the center of which is a tree on a shield and two lines from poem..
Art is long, Time is fleeting
So be up and doing, still achieving, still pursuing..
- A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow..
While Tree Studios is impeccably restored, it is hardly an "artist" community anymore. Unfortunately owned and managed by Friedman Properties, the rent and fees charged are obscene, making it impossible for any real arts community to take hold there again.
The place is now a museum at best -- actually more a mausoleum dedicated to "idea" of the arts. The hallways are sterile and lifeless (carpeting looks as if it's taken from a funeral parlor) and most tenants hardly have anything to do with the arts, unless you consider the sales headquarters for high end office furnisher an "arts related business". The anal-retentive management team seems to drive away any edgy, creative types who might breath a bit of artistic life into this otherwise dull, vapid, work space. Why save a place from the wrecking ball if you are just going to embalm anyway?
Lambert Tree must be turning over in his grave.
Thtas very sad...
Thanks for bringing it to light..
While I know that the renovation was controversial, the reality is that this is River North and NOTHING is going to be affordable for artists. Add into that the awful condition of the roof and woodwork, plus Chicago's housing and building codes and you're left with adaptive reuse as the best compromise possible under the circumstances.
I have to also take exception to the "anal retentive management team" - I came on board as the new Studio Manager only 2 weeks before the comment was posted, and have never met or dealt with anyone at Arts Chicago. I think I know who they are referring to, and I'm sorry that they had such a negative experience with them. In addition to my background in property management I am also a working musician and performer. I consider myself lucky to have the job of taking care of this wonderful building. I came across this post as part of my ongoing research into the history of the property and its people.
I would have loved to have been here in the heyday of the building's use as arts spaces, with the collaborations in the courtyard and signs on the rest rooms reminding artists to put on clothes while in the common hallways. But slamming the entire project because it wasn't the perfect ideal is not fair. It's much like complaining that farming is no longer feasible along Irving Park. Would you have preferred that it was torn down to make way for the 30 story condo project instead?
I have such fond memories of Tree Studios as a child. My aunt and uncle, Will and Diane Duvigneaud, lived there for over 30 years. Diane, an artist and head of the art department at North Central College, and Will, a writer, lived and worked happily there. As a little girl, there was nothing more wonderful than visiting them in that magical place...having tea with Bacia Gordon, and being with John Bercin where times that I will never forget. Reading in the courtyard and listening to classical music made such an impression on me....the studios themselves were sometimes in disrepair...but in the early 60's I believe, there were some renovations done and Diane was instrumental in then not covering their fireplace or change the stairs to the loft as originally planned.
Change is hard....Tree Studios being forever gone would be worse. While I agree, the newness of the buildings interior is nothing like the old...and I am very nostalgic of the gleaming high gloss painted stairs, and the wonderful red doors, with brass nameplates on them, and the scent...nothing like that can be replicated to be sure...but I am glad that the building remains...if not much else of the original studios, the facade at 3 East Ontario remains...as do my memories and my Aunt Diane and Uncle Will's story of living there...I am glad to see it whenever I return
I lived with Marya Lilien Czarnecka for the last 3 years of undergraduate studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1970-73). I have many fond memories from those years. We lived @ 9 East Ontario on the upper floors -- East side. My job was to clean the downstairs one week and the upstairs (bedrooms and bathroom) the next in turn for my rent. I remember vividly when the circus came to town to present their show at the Medina Temple next door. They used the breezeway between buildings as a conduit to get the lions and tigers from their cages (all those trucks full of animals up and down Ontario Street for weeks)to the stage. Their roars echoed off the walls and made their visit one of amplified jungle sounds! Quite surreal . . . Many famous people came for Sunday brunches and dinners. It was a zany and fantastical time of my life. Miss Lilien was quite a "roommate"!! So many happy times and amazing adventures.
Other friends of hers lived in the building as well. I worked at the art supply store @ SAIC and my boss was Natalie Henry. She and her friend Rowena Fry lived in one of the studios on the State Street side. Two lovely little Southern ladies -- so sweet! They had been students @ SAIC decades before me.
Miss Lilien died in 1998 at the age of 97. Hers is a most interesting life -- her days with Frank Lloyd Wright and as a professor at SAIC and the Columbia School of Art. All the people she helped (myself gratefully amongst them), all the fascinating people that came to visit, everything was exotic to me!
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