Archive for the ‘Tree Studios’ Category


Tranquility Within Reach

Popped into Design Within Reach at Ohio and State, to check out their 10% sale. But I ended up checking out the view out their window.

You know, I’m talking about the store in the old Tree Studios, just behind the Bloomie’s in the old Medinah Temple. *

I loved all this before restoration, the courtyard hidden away in the middle, with the fountain, and just a few artists milling about, was as close to Brassai’s Paris as you could get in Chicago. We were all worried what would happen to this place when big money came in to “restore” it.

Well, first of all, from Ontario Street you look up at the great room inside the old Tree Studios and you see that the bank that went in there did a lovely job of restoration. They hung just the right number of small, colorful, squared-off Arts and Crafts lamps from the ceiling, so that at night, it brings the place alive in an 1893 kind of way.

As I walked around inside the Design Within Reach (not at all my first time in there), they too did a great job of restoration, look at this warm beauty:

But the best was, today the door to the courtyard was open. I had not been able to see how the courtyard faired in the renovation until now. And so, I went through the door, and into the courtyard, and I had this pleasant little surprise:

I say “little” in the best of all possible ways. This is the sort of a little place, built before people zoomed through cities in SUV’s, that cities need. A place to meet somebody. The kind of storybook setting in which Bob Dylan could place interesting characters:

They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark,
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones.
‘Twas then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.

They walked along by the old canal
A little confused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel with a neon burnin’ bright.
He felt the heat of the night hit him like a freight train
Moving with a simple twist of fate.

A saxophone someplace far off played
As she was walkin’ by the arcade.
As the light bust through a beat-up shade where he was wakin’ up,
She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate
And forgot about a simple twist of fate.

This is still a Chicago jewel. One of the best little squares in town. It’s protected, it’s tranquil, it’s long and narrow so you’re forced into an intimate contact with the buildings on the left, which are human scale in a way I wish they still built ’em! The buildings on the left give the eye a marvelous push-pull interplay, the awnings slope down towards us, the doorways reced and invite us in, the bay windows come out to get us, and there’s very little solid, it’s mostly all glass.

Contrast this with the later building on the east side (the one that chopped this courtyard in half!) – see how flat it is, how much less alive it is, and how much less it enlivens the space around it and therefore the life of anybody (You!) interacting with it, looking at it, walking past the energy and emotion that every building gives off (as music does when we’re around it.) The building on the east side has balconies, but even they’re flat! Not real balconies that you can step onto. And who would want to anyplace more than here! Whereas on condos that back up to expressways, we do put balconies people can go out on! Who would want to there?

So the next time you’re at Bloomie’s, or Design Within Reach, or if it’s warm out, go into any one of the stores in the old Tree Studios. Look for an open back door. Go through it, and into this wonderland.

10% sales come and go. A tranquil urban setting is forever.
Or is it the other way around?


*Intended as a home for artists at the turn of the century, the Tree Studios was constructed by philanthropists Judge and Mrs. Lambert Tree with fine 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 artists. Tree Studios is the nation’s oldest-known artists’ residence building.

Dylan lyrics copyright © 1974 Ram’s Horn Music