Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tree Studios

Tree Studios, the continuing gift of Judge Lambert Tree (JWB, 2011)
A few days back I showed you two statues that Judge Lambert Tree donated to the city, the statue of the French explorer LaSalle that stands at the corner of LaSalle and Stockton and “A Signal of Peace” that stands just north of the Diversey Harbor inlet on the lakefront path.  You’ll find that blog entry here.

Lambert Tree was born in the nation’s capital in 1832, the son of a post office clerk.  He was educated in private schools, enrolled in the University of Virginia, and began to practice law in 1855.  It was in Washington, D. C. that the young lawyer sought advice from Senator Stephen A. Douglas concerning the best place in the West to begin his law practice.  Douglas recommended Chicago, a city that gained almost 100,000 souls between 1850 and 1860, moving from the twenty-fourth to the ninth largest city in the union during that decade.

It was in the law offices of Clarkson and Tree on the corner of Lake and Clark Streets, so the story goes, that the newly transplanted lawyer first met Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln, just a few years away from the presidency, dropped by Clarkson and Tree to borrow a law book.  Tree leant him the tattered volume, and after a time gave up hope of ever seeing it again.  That was when Lincoln returned with the book, having had it rebound before returning it.  This act of thoughtfulness and honesty may well have been a lesson that Lambert Tree carried with him for the rest of his life.

The image of Mrs. Annie Tree on the Ohio Street annex  (JWB, 2011)
Tree didn’t hurt his chances in his new city by marrying Annie J. Magie, the daughter of a Chicago pioneer, in 1859.  By 1864 Tree was President of the Chicago Law Institute and in 1870 he was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court.  In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to France, where he worked for three years and where he commissioned the LaSalle sculpture.

As a judge Lambert Tree took a determined stand against corruption, one of his first official acts involved an investigation of the city council that led to a trial, the outcome of which yielded the first conviction for corruption in Illinois.  It was the first . . . evidently not the last.

Lambert Tree was also a strong supporter of the “City Beautiful” movement, a motivation that led to the position for which he is most remembered today – as a patron of the arts.

Ornamentation above Ohio Street entrance (JWB, 2011)
There were the sculptures, of course.  But there was also the first artists’ colony in the country, which Judge Tree established in a studio building that still stands today on State Street between Ohio and Ontario.  The original building, at 600 North State Street, was designed to house European artist who had come to Chicago to work on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The studio building was constructed on the Tree family’s property; Judge Tree’s home stood on Wabash where the Medinah Temple-Bloomingdale’s Home Store is now located.  Tree Studios would have been a half-block walk to the west.  The Parfitt Brothers designed the airy ateliers with retail space at street level, and the project was completed in 1894.

The Ohio Street entrance to Tree Studios (JWB, 2011)
Judge Tree died in 1910, whereupon his widow sold Tree Studios to the Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, using proceeds from that sale to construct two annexes to the original studio building, each building finished by 1913, each running east and west on Ohio and Ontario streets.  By 1912 the Tree family home was gone and Huehl’s and Schmidt’s Medinah Temple stood in its place.

Over the years an impressive list of artists used the studio spaces in Tree Studios.  John Henry Bradly Storrs, the sculptor who created the statue of Ceres that stands atop the Board of Trade building, was one.  Albin Polasek, who created the Masaryk Memorial in Hyde Park and who served as head of the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for over 30 years, was another.

Ohio Street entrance to Tree Studios (JWB, 2011)
The Tree Studios and annexes were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in December of 1974; it was 23 years before Chicago landmark status came, but that was only for the original building on State Street.  Finally, in 2001 did the building on Ohio and Ontario receive landmark status.

By that time Albert Friedman, a real estate developer, had come to the rescue, announcing a plan to save Tree Studios, Medinah temple and the courtyard between the two, restoring the badly deteriorated exterior ornamentation, converting the temple into Bloomingdale’s Home Store, and re-purposing the Studio buildings for retail space and business offices.  The deal was moved along as the city contributed $17.5 million dollars in Tax Increment Financing money to the project.

The renovation, orchestrated by Daniel P. Coffey and Associates, led to Friedman Properties receiving the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation President’s Award from Landmarks Illinois.

So this block survived the caprices of time, largely intact, bringing a charming sense of historical character to a section of the city where high-rise towers predominate.

I think Judge Tree would render a favorable verdict.

1 comment:

Martha said...

Very nice article I am doing research on Tree Studios because we have a painting by one of the artists who lived there, Louis Grell, in our upcoming auction. If you would like to see it, please visit