Chicago's Fine Arts Building Has 10 Floors But Innumerable Stories On a prime block of Chicago's Michigan Avenue stands the Fine Arts Building. Producer and violinist David Schulman takes us on an audio tour with the people who know the building the best.
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Chicago's Fine Arts Building Has 10 Floors But Innumerable Stories

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Chicago's Fine Arts Building Has 10 Floors But Innumerable Stories

Chicago's Fine Arts Building Has 10 Floors But Innumerable Stories

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Let's go now to a vertical arts colony. It's a building on a prime block in downtown Chicago, originally built for the Studebaker carriage company more than a century ago. And most of its maintenance staff has worked there for decades. Producer David Schulman starts outside the Chicago Fine Arts Building and takes us on an audio tour with the people who know the building best.

DAVID SCHULMAN, BYLINE: It's a beautiful building with all the stone columns that go up and down the building all the way up, or halfway up. And there are carvings, which is befitting a fine arts building. It really looks the part. Hey, how are you, man?

DAVID TAYLOR: My name's Dave Taylor. I'm the assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony. I've been in the orchestra now for about 38 years.

SCHULMAN: The symphony is just a five-minute walk north of here. And that's ideal for us because a lot of the violin dealers are in this building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sixth floor.

BARBARA SATORA: What happened - no paper?


SATORA: OK. We have to go and get the paper for the bathroom on sixth floor. My name is Barbara Satora. I work in Fine Arts Building for maintenance group. I spend more time in this building than in my own home.


SATORA: Yep. That's what I hear when I came here the first time. I did - I had no idea what this building is about. And I thought if there is a music, I'm going to be fine in here. That's how I decided to stay a little bit - 22 years right now.


OLIVER CAMACHO: My name is Oliver Camacho. And I am headed up to studio 721, which is known as the Liederstube. It gets very crowded with people that are hankering to sing, myself included.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Everybody face the other way. I'm going to get changed.

CAMACHO: OK. You walk in and, like, it's a little bit dingy. But it can also be seductive, that you walk in and you hear all of a sudden a cello playing or you go down the hall and then there's somebody practicing vocalese.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing in foreign language).

SATORA: (Foreign language spoken).

This is Vatik Colotta (ph), one of the best elevator operators in Fine Arts Building, driving elevator number one. So he is having very good relationship with his elevator. Tell, Vatia, when the elevator is not working well, what is it, the sound?


SATORA: When it runs...

COLOTTA: Music elevator (laughter).

SATORA: Music elevator.

COLOTTA: (Foreign language spoken).

SATORA: But Vatik has been - how long, 22 years, 23.

COLOTTA: Twenty-three.

SATORA: Twenty-three years he drive the elevator in this building.

HEATHER GARRY: We're going to four.

COLOTTA: Fourth floor.

GARRY: Thank you. I'm Heather, Heather Garry. I'm a corsetiere in the Fine Arts Building. Right now, we're in my studio with my sewing machines and my musical neighbors.


GARRY: Everybody comes in for a corset. It's - people from all different walks of life - men, women, housewives, dominatrixes.


GARRY: To do a fitting, a person has to get pretty close to nude. And being an old building, it does get a little chilly in here.

SATORA: Let's take elevator. Is the elevator making sounds, Vatik?


SATORA: Yeah, it is?

COLOTTA: You see this side and other side? It's scratch. Somebody hide elevator like (imitating elevator noise) (unintelligible).


COLOTTA: Tenso (ph).


SCHULMAN: Who's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: How's it going?

TAYLOR: It wouldn't matter who you name - Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, any of the great violinists who are out there today - they've all spent time in this room at Bein & Fushi.

Sometimes they call me up not because they think I'm going to buy anything, but they know I like looking. And of course, that's sometimes dangerous and expensive, like walking into a Ferrari dealership, especially when they say, hey, here are the keys. Would you like to take it around the block? See that? It's a Strad - one of the two that are in the shape of a guitar.


TAYLOR: Hey, man.


TAYLOR: How are you?

BEIN: Good. How's the Strad sounding?


BEIN: Great.


BEIN: My name is Joe Bein. My father, Robert, is one of the founders of this place along with Geoffrey Fushi.

So that should be brand-brand-new strings.

TAYLOR: Oh, yeah?

BEIN: Yeah, this week...


BEIN: This is actually - this is a very famous violin and one of the most recognizable instruments that Stradivari ever made. It's one of three that Josh Bell's concertized on.


TAYLOR: Oh, it's very resin and fiddled.


TAYLOR: It's rich. It's very beautiful. I never play a bad Stradivari (laughter).


TAYLOR: They're always pretty amazing. Of course, now, they're tremendously expensive. There are a few of the great Stradivari and Guarneri that are up around the $18-20 million range. Most of us who are orchestra players, we can't even dream about that, but...

BEIN: It's funny. I mean, I guess now that you think about, there are things think have passed through here that exceed the value of the building.

TAYLOR: Isn't that amazing?

BEIN: And our total inventory is a multiple of the value of the building.


SATORA: This is Barbara again. I was born in Poland. I went to Krakow and I studied violin and viola.


SATORA: Previous owner needed a Polish-speaking supervisor because elevator operators were speaking Polish. And that's how I came to this building.




SATORA: When people are here, they feel like something is happening in their mind. They can feel this experience as somebody who was here a hundred years ago.


SATORA: Every day is a different day in this building.


MONTAGNE: That's Barbara Satora, along with Chicago Symphony violinist Dave Taylor and a few other people you can find riding the elevators of Chicago's Fine Arts Building. That piece came to us from independent producer and violinist David Schulman.

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