The Palace of Fine Arts

1745 Columbia Dr Chicago

Written By HistoryCop

HistoryCop was founded by Ray Johnson, a life-long Chicago area resident and history buff who is a former criminal investigator.

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Charles B. Atwood who also designed the Peristyle and the Anthropological Building. Like all of the other Great Buildings of the fair, it was covered by a material called Staff which was a resilient mixture of Plaster of Paris and jute or hemp fiber which could be easily molded and painted to look like granite or marble. The planners of the fair borrowed this idea from the Paris Exposition of 1889. In fact, most of the planners had attended the Paris Exposition and frankly, why re-invent the wheel? From its inception, the World's Fair was only meant to be a temporary exhibit. The planners actually figured the salvage figures into the overall financial feasibility study. How much cost could they recoup from the salvaged steel, iron, wood and brick of this temporary city? So then why does the Palace of Fine Arts still exist as the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry? Well, that question is two-fold.

Insurance on the Artwork

No legitimate fire insurance company would even attempt to insure the priceless artwork from around the world in a wood building covered in staff. So, in order for the World's Columbian Exposition Company to receive fire insurance, the insurance companies demanded that the building be made of a skeleton of brick and then covered in the staff material.

The Field Columbian Museum

Since the building was made of brick and already semi-permanent the Palace of Fine Arts became the Field Columbian Museum following the fair. Artifacts that were not auctioned or returned to their exhibitor were housed in the Field Columbian Museum which is where our current Chicago Field Museum of Natural History got its start. Many of the leftover exhibits from the fair were from the Anthropological Building and can still be seen at the Field Museum in its current location.

Museum of Science and Industry

In 1922, the Field Museum opened in its current location on the Museum Campus. The artifacts from the museum were shipped mostly by a temporary rail system and the Field Columbian Museum became vacant and neglected.

Julius Rosenwald

In 1916, Julius Rosenwald took his family on a European vacation. He noticed that the only museum his children really liked was the Deutsches Science Museum in Germany. The kids enjoyed doing hands-on activities and Rosenwald thought to himself that Chicago needed this kind of Museum.

Rosenwald pitched the idea of converting the deteriorating Field Columbian Museum into a Science Museum to the city fathers and South Park Commissioners but there didn't seem to be much interest. So, being an intelligent, persistent guy, he enlisted the help of the Commercial Club of Chicago and paid for a European vacation for the decision makers and asked them to please visit the Deutsches Museum. Of course, they accepted and upon returning changed their minds. Rosenwald donated $3 million dollars of his own money to the project and the South Park Commission issued bonds for the remaining $5 million needed.

The work began in 1927 and all of the artwork on the exterior of the building was painstakingly recast in more durable and not so white, Indiana Limestone. The same limestone used in the construction of the Pentagon. The Museum opened on June 10, 1933, as Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry just in time for Chicago's second world's fair, The 1933/34 Century of Progress Fair. The Museum today is roughly 99% identical on the exterior as it was in 1893 when it was covered in the less durable and pure white staff.

Nearby Exhibits

The World's Fair Bathroom

You may have noticed the small church-like building at the intersection of Science Drive and Columbia Drive. This is currently a bathroom and was a bathroom from as far back as 1886 according to Park District Archives maps. It was one of the over 1,500 bathrooms or water closets during the World's Fair and probably one of the flagship bathrooms of the James B. Clow & Sons Company who received the contract to provide the toilets. Early on in the fair, there were pay toilets for 5 cents and free toilets. The pay toilets gave you the luxury of a sink and towel while the free toilet was no frills. The pay toilets had souvenir tickets with one letter each so you could collect the "C", "L", "O" and "W" tickets to complete your collection. There was so much resistance and anger directed at having to pay to use the toilet that eventually all the toilets were free.

The Norway Building

The Norway Building was modeled after a Stave Church and was the first of the Foreign Buildings completed. It stood just north of Science Drive in the grassy area just east of the Museum of Science and Industry. The Chicago Norwegian population came out and had a parade for its dedication. One newspaper reporter asked, "Where did all these Norwegians come from?". Chicago was a city of many ethnic groups but many kept to their own neighborhoods and very seldom ventured out of them so while Chicago was very diverse in the late 1800s, many had no idea how diverse.

Following the close of the Exposition, the Norway building was moved to a lakeside estate in Lake Geneva which would eventually be purchased by the Wrigley family and used as a private movie house. The building was later purchased in 1935 by a wealthy Norwegian named Isak Dahle who moved it to his rural retreat in Blue Mounds where he charged 5 cents for people to visit. This place would become the "Little Norway" and ran as an attraction by the Dahle family from 1937 until they had to shutter their doors in 2012. A descendant of one of the original woodworking artists, Olav Sigurd Kvaale, hatched a plan with the help of the Norwegian government to move the building back home where it all began. The building is now back home in Orkdal, Norway where it stands as a testimony to the history of Stave Churches and the historical skills of Norwegian woodworking.

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The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

The Palace of Fine Arts

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