History

When a once-celebrated building is replaced with a cement-and-steel skyscraper, the city loses more than a piece of its architectural legacy. Friedman Properties' president Albert Friedman believes "it's as if our collective memories are being erased. You don't realize how much you'd miss it until it's gone." In his efforts to safeguard Chicago's storied past, Friedman has purchased and revitalized dozens of buildings throughout the city. But of all of Friedman's preservation projects, perhaps the most historically significant—and personal—was a battered building he bought in 2001 known as Tree Studios.

Commissioned in 1894 by art enthusiasts Lambert and Anna Tree, Tree Studios was designed to cultivate an artistic community in Chicago and was home to the nation's oldest surviving artists' studios. Yet despite its enchanting history, the building faced imminent demolition when its owners announced plans to sell the property to a high-rise developer.

The prospect of losing such a unique cultural treasure spurred Friedman to action and prompted the World Monuments Fund to list Tree Studios, along with nearbyMedinah Temple, among the top hundred most endangered structures in the world. In an innovative partnership with city and state officials, Friedman developed a plan to save the entire historic block. This labor of love to restore the structures to their original splendor began in the spring of 2000 under difficult conditions. Friedman discovered that decades of neglect and decay had left the structure nearly irrecoverable forcing workers to spend eight months excavating the basement and repairing the building's time-trodden foundation. Structural members throughout the building had deteriorated, and the roof and interior wood detailing had completely decayed.

Determined to return Tree Studios to its original grandeur, Friedman embraced the challenge of bringing the building up to modern safety standards while restoring its historic integrity. For nearly five years, construction workers and artisans labored side-by-side, rebuilding Tree Studios by hand. Architectural details were re-created from surviving fragments in on-site woodworking shops. Windows and skylights in the upstairs creative studios restored the natural light so prized by earlier generations of artists; and the courtyard, a jungle of weeds, was transformed into an oasis in the center of the city. Soon, a creative community again took root as inventive retailers and artistic entrepreneurs returned to Tree Studios.