THESIS ABSTRACT 2004
Landmark Designation Report and Design Guidelines for the Miller-Kogen Studios District
In 1917, Sol Kogen, son of a Maxwell Street merchant, and the wildly talented Edgar Miller were expelled from SAIC. Miller soon rose in stature as an architect, receiving commissions for decorative windows, sculpture, and murals from Andrew Rebori, Holabird and Root, and Thielbar & Fugard. A restless Kogen spent several years in his father’s business before selling his share and taking a sojourn on the Left Bank in Paris, where he was inspired by the creative energy of artist’s studios. In 1927, Kogen purchased a three-story structure on a quiet side street of nineteenth-century homes and flats in Old Town, and brought in Miller for his architectural experience and repertoire of mediums. Together they created artists’ residences to foster community in avant-garde Chicago. The eccentric Edgar Miller & Sol Kogen Studios at 155 W. Burton Place sparked the development of the Old Town Artist’s Colony.
Living in the units while designing the space, Miller created unique environments embellished with his own elaborate stained-glass windows, carved doors, sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes. Traditional materials were reworked in a contemporary vocabulary and much was scavenged from construction sites or purchased from Maxwell Street junk dealers. Old copper bathtubs were hammered into doors and marble restroom partitions became living room floors. Broken slate roofing tiles appear in decorative brickwork while Victorian tiles were reconfigured into a maze of walkways. The property reveals a treasure around every unsuspecting corner: wide-eyed gazelles, arched-backed weasels, enchanting maidens, catholic saints, allegorical fantasy scratched into wet plaster, brightly colored frescoes, bands of colored and translucent glass.
Miller and Kogen parted ways around 1937, with Kogen undertaking additional ventures on the Near North Side while continuing to work at the Carl Street studios on a number of renovations. Kogen recast a number of Miller’s original sculptures and relief works for additional buildings and resided in the studios until his death in 1957. In the 1980s Edgar Miller returned to the Carl St. studios and was commissioned by some of the then current owners to produce additional work for the studios. As of today, all but four buildings along Burton Place have been altered, although generally in the original spirit of Edgar Miller and Sol Kogen. The City of Chicago is considering designation of a historic district to include the Carl Street Studios to preserve Miller’s work, Kogen’s entrepreneurial skills and the spirit of the Old Town Artist’s Colony.
Thesis Advisor: Vince Michael, Associate Professor, Chair, Historic Preservation
Thesis Reader: Terry Tatum, Instructor, Historic Preservation; Commission on Chicago Landmarks
Second Reader: Lisa Stone, Instructor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Curator, Roger Brown Home and Studio Collection
Larry Zgoda, Larry Zgoda Studio