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 significantand personalwas 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
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.