St. Augustine College is undertaking the restoration, renovation and reuse of portions of the St. Augustine College campus, formerly home of Essanay Studios. Essanay Studios, 1333 -1345 West Argyle Street, was designated a Chicago Landmark by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on March 26th, 1996, and acknowledged as the most important structure connected to the city's role in the history of motion pictures.
The main objective of this initiative is focused on the redevelopment of the Charlie Chaplin auditorium, a former film production space and adjacent areas as a multipurpose event space that ties into the other spaces in the College.
Key areas of this initiative include:
- The 1345 West Argyle building exterior a determination of existing condition of the terra cotta entrance the development of a plan for repair and maintenance, and treatment recommendations that preserve the integrity of the entrance.
- The 1333 West Argyle 2-story structure both interior and exterior an architectural evaluation for character defining features, a determination of existing condition of the buildings structures, development of a plan for repair and maintenance, treatment recommendations that preserve the integrity of the building.
- The 1333 West Argyle 2-story structure the development of renderings based upon the recommended architectural reuse and reconfiguration to meet the uses based on the programming of the building and including estimated cost projections to complete these improvements.
- The 1333-1345 West Argyle sidewalk and public spaces repairs to the sidewalk, landscaping, and lighting.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (Wikipedia, City of Chicago Landmarks Commission and other sources)
The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company was an American motion picture studio. It is best known today for its series of Charlie Chaplin comedies of 1915. The studio was founded in 1907 in Chicago, Illinois, by George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson, originally as the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company. On August 10, 1907, the name was changed to Essanay ("S and A").
Essanay was originally located at 496 Wells Street (modern numbering: 1300 N. Wells). Essanay's first film, An Awful Skate, or The Hobo on Rollers (July 1907), with Ben Turpin, who was then the studio janitor. The film was produced for only a couple hundred dollars and grossed several thousand dollars in release. The studio prospered and in 1908 moved to its more famous address at 1333-45 W. Argyle St in the Uptown area of Chicago.
Due to Chicago's seasonal weather patterns and the popularity of westerns, Gilbert Anderson took part of the company to California, moving from Northern to Southern California and back on a regular basis. This included locations in San Rafael and Santa Barbara. They opened the Essanay-West studio in Niles, California, in 1913, at the foot of Niles Canyon, where many Bronco Billy westerns were shot, along with The Tramp featuring Charlie Chaplin. Eventually the studio moved all operations to Los Angeles.
Continued film use
The Essanay building in Chicago was sold to Wilding Pictures, a subsidiary of Bell and Howell formed by two former Essanay Studio employees. Then it was given to a non-profit television organization, WTTW Corporation, which sold it. One tenant was the Midwest office of Technicolor. Today the Essanay lot is the home of St. Augustine's College and portions of the two buildings were occupied by Essanay Stage and Lighting Company, another film industry company.