On our way to visit the Fine Arts Building we walked past the MCA’s former building, located at 237 East Ontario Street. Built in 1915 as a bakery and later home to the corporate offices of Playboy Enterprises, the Ontario Street structure which housed the MCA until 1996 was redesigned by architect Daniel Brenner and opened to the public in October of 1967.
The Fine Arts Building, originally built as a showroom for the Studebaker Brothers Carriage and Wagon Company, was home to Chicago’s first artist colony. Lorado Taft at one point occupied an office in it, as did Frank Lloyd Wright, William Wallace Denslow (the original illustrator for Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz), and Harriet Monroe’s path-breaking Poetry magazine. Today, it is a predominantly musical place, although there are also quite a few yoga studios scattered throughout the building, and a great second-hand bookstore on the second floor that is owned, it seems, by a beautiful grey cat called Hodge. A series of stunning art nouveau-style murals adorn the walls of the building’s uppermost floor, one of which, painted by one Frank Xavier Leyendecker (who was born in Germany in 1876), depicts the classical coupling of Comedy and Tragedy.
The 10th floor mural project was initiated by the brothers Frank and Joseph Leyendecker at the turn of the century and was executed by several of the building’s resident artists. Many of the artists renting studio space in the Fine Arts Building had moved to Chicago to work on Daniel Burnham and Frank Law Olmsted’s Beaux Arts inspired World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Oliver Dennett Grover’s Nymph with Angel and Bird is visible on the left, and Nude with Veils, painted by Martha Susan Baker, on the right. Grover, an Illinois native, painted murals in libraries throughout the United States and Chicago’s own Union League Club. Baker was one of four Chicago artists to exhibit at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and also painted for the Union League of Chicago. If you walk down the 10th floor hallways, be sure not to overlook Frank Lloyd Wright’s former studio in room 1020.