The Fine Arts is one of those dark, nubbly old buildings that is completely invisible to the average passerby. Raise your eyes to its marvelous details and the robust massing of this Michigan Avenue survivor, and you may be swept up in the visible history before you.
Built for the Studebaker Carriage Company in the days before they made sleek little automobiles, the structure was designed by architect Solon S. Beman in 1885 as a showroom, with assembly floors above. Eleven years later, Studebaker relocated to Wabash, and converted the original building to artists' and musicians' studios. Beman razed the top floor and added three stories with a modernized roofline. You'd never know by looking that the marquee for the Fine Arts Theater was once a driveway into the carriage showroom.
The "Studebaker Theater" and "The Playhouse" on the ground floor were once movie theaters, but the Studebaker survived the four-plexing relatively intact. The vaulted passage between the theaters was punctuated by four elaborately decorated elevator cars, only one of which is currently in operation.
Upstairs, the painful strains of beginning violin mingle with more accomplished archipeggios spilling over the transoms from individual music lessons. Wandering the halls, look for small markers identifying past residents of note. Margaret Anderson's "The Little Review" was published here, circa 1914-17, and other "little" magazines such as "Dial" and "Poetry" had offices in the Fine Arts, too. Architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Howard Van Doren Shaw worked here. Today, architects continue to enjoy the building's unique features, including the Fine Art's interior light well.
Early nineteenth-century details endure, from the graceful harp and garland motif on the exterior doors to the advice overhead in each foyer that "All passes - ART alone endures." Terrazzo floors edged with mosaic tiles have stood up to 100 years of shoe leather. The woodwork throughout the building is remarkable, but the carved brackets of the staircase leading from the 9th floor to the top are worth special scrutiny. On the 10th floor are some lovely murals suffering from benign neglect.
Longtime tenants on the street level include the Artists' Snack Shop, and Booksellers' Row, a great used bookstore with knowledgeable staff.
ever-expanding hub of the southeastern United States, Atlanta has grown from
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