Edgar Miller Legacy advances the appreciation of the life, philosophy and work of Edgar Miller.
In August 1927, Sol Kogen purchased a three-story mansion built in the 1880s at 155 West Carl Street (as the street was named until the 1940s), which stood on three city lots. Kogen partnered with Edgar Miller to help transform the structure into an aesthetically enticing studio and living environment known as the Carl Street Studios. Since neither Kogen nor Miller had sufficient knowledge of structural principles of architecture, they often relied on Miller's friend Andrew Rebori as a consulting architect.
From the outset, Kogen and Miller’s central idea behind Carl Street Studios was to create a series of unique art studio apartments that would open out to enclosed communal exterior spaces dotted with gardens, fountains, koi fish ponds and, of course, installed art. Kogen and Miller’s planned artist studio complex would feature interior and exterior spaces that would themselves be works of art, not merely functional spaces where artists could create art independent of the built environment.
When you approach, look for the tiled sidewalks leading you into a gated entryway with ornately designed columns. Peering through the gate, you can see a plaque that mentions Sol and Miller, the founders of the project in 1927. Look up and you see stained glass details, Bauhaus-inspired architecture, and intricate brickwork.
The building was once a historic 1800s mansion, purportedly a one-time residence of a Chicago mayor. There were originally 17 studio residences, including the “big house” studio, which was occupied by Sol Kogen until his death in 1954. There is no Unit 13, so one might be confused and think that there are 18 units. Today many units have been combined into larger residences, while maintaining most of the original artistic details, and incorporating new artist’s work which almost always attempted to emulate Miller’s founding aesthetic.
The Kogen Studio occupies most of the original Victorian structure, and then the other studios were constructed around it like a European village, one unit on top of the other, attached to each other’s walls, and with secret doors and passageways leading from one to the next.
Many notable artists and characters found their way into the Carl Street Studios from the 1920s to the modern day, but the peak of activity was certainly back in the 1930s, when everyone who was looking for a good time would wind their way to this sultry neighborhood enclave to mingle with the bohemian crowd that had taken root. Artists such as John Norton, Eddie Millman, and Edgar Britton-- all famous Depression-era muralists-- lived at Carl Street Studios for some time. Boris Anisfeld, an internationally famous Russian painter and set designer, also made the Studios his home from the mid-1930s through the 1970s after he left his homeland. Artist Diego Rivera was known to have visited while he painted a series of murals across the Midwest, and Telulah Bankhead, a groundbreaking actress-celebrity who paved the way for later starlets like Marilyn Monroe, was a frequent visitor when her touring stage performances came to town. Later residents included David Garroway, a founding host of the Today show, and renowned film critic Roger Ebert.
One little secret...Tunnels, like catacombs, sit just beneath the courtyards, and are where the artists stored much of their recycled and reusable materials, including beautiful Teco and Grueby tiles. Over the decades, Kogen used these materials on many of his Old Town projects, so that today, very few of the antique tiles remain. Still, the tile room is kept under lock and key because, by the 1990s, too many were disappearing as souvenirs of temporary residents and their guests.