Thursday, August 15, 2013

From Auto Parts to Art - Mana Contemporary opens at landmark Warshawsky tower in Pilsen

click images for larger view
It's one of the landmarks of the near Southwest Side skyline, the 14 story, 198-foot high tower just to the west of the 450-foot-high smokestack of the now closed Fisk Generating station.  It's said to be the tallest industrial building in Chicago, and it's made even more prominent by the soaring radio tower at the top.
The complex, sprawling down Throop Street as it dead-ends at the South Branch of the Chicago river,  was designed by noted Chicago architect George Nimmons, and constructed in 1926 as a warehouse and garage for Commonwealth Edison and it's massive Fisk Generating station just next door.  Baby Face Nelson worked there as a mechanic for a year-and-a-half.

According to Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, the tall tower supported the company's in-house radio radio communications system.  It was one of the first companies to have radio dispatch communications, and the tower allowed the quick dispatch of trucks and equipment to emergency repairs.
Sometime in the 1960's, the building was acquired by Warshawsky and Company, the Chicago auto parts powerhouse. The firm Roy Warshawsky had inherited from his father Israel had boomed with the soaring demand for auto parts during the Great Depression and World War II.  By 1947 the store at 1900 South Wabash took up the entire block, “the biggest automotive department store in the world.”  In the Throop Street complex, employees filled 8,000 orders a day.

After suffering a stroke, Roy retired in 1991, and would die in 1997.  In 1996, after promising workers the Throop street warehouse would be modernized, the company instead abandoned the complex for a new 800,000 all-on-one-level facility in LaSalle, Illinois.  None of the 500 employees were given an offer to relocate.
Now the facility has become the Chicago outpost of Moishe's Self Storage, began in 1983 by Israeli former law school dropout Moishe Mana as a moving and storage firm in Jersey City, New Jersey.  According to a New York Times article by Allan Kozinn. expanded rapidly and is now in nine cities, including Chicago.
Mana Contemporary is a new offshoot to provide climate-controlled storage and support to artists.  In Jersey City, there is now a million-and-a-half square feet with about 120 painters, sculptors and photographers renting studios.  A basic idea is not just providing storage, but getting art out from behind closed-doors and on display.

In Chicago, Mana is creating a 300,000 square-foot facility to serve the burgeoning Pilsen/Bronzeville arts community.  Once you get past the long introduction, you can see interior views of the new facility in this promotional video . . .

According a recent press release, the build-out is on the 5th floor of the Throop Street complex.  The studios - from 200 to 2,000 square-feet -  will be arrayed around a central support space that will include “three galleries, 70 additional studios, a library featuring art books donated by the family of gallerist Donald Young, a multipurpose classroom sponsored by the University of Illinois Chicago, a 3-D print shop, and a 2,000-square-foot restaurant and culinary arts center led by chef Eric May. ”  According to co-founder Micha Lang, “We'll have a shipping company.  We'll have a framing company and we will have a crating company.”  (But “no welding or wood working in our building!!” and it says on the website.)
In conjunction with this year's Expo Chicago, which runs September 19-22 at Navy Pier, Mana Contemporary Chicago will be holding an opening reception from 1 to 5 p.m. on September 22nd,
which will include the first show in the 2,000 square-foot gallery. of the work of painter and sculptor Ray Smith.  In that same September 19-22 time frame of Expo Chicago, Mana Contemporary will also be hosting a satellite show by the Brooklyn-based Fountain Art Fair, founded in 2006 as “the first of a new influential generation of alternative fairs.”  There will be shuttle bus service between Navy Pier and Throop Street.


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brenton engel said...

Any photos anywhere of inside the top floor / observation deck?

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