THREATENED: Dispute Over Historic Tours at Edgar Miller Designed Glasner Studio Results in Legal Actions

Petition to Landmark the Kogen-Miller and Glasner Studios! Image Credit: Change.org

“Edgar Miller’s Kogen-Miller Studios is one of Chicago’s most idiosyncratic and astonishing architectural sites. Lately, though, it has been ensnared in a disagreement that has shut down public access and programming, as one set of owners of the condo complex in the Near North Side Old Town neighborhood are pushing for landmarking as a way to protect its historic integrity. Founded in 2014, Edgar Miller Legacy (EML) for years hosted tours, residency programs for artists, and other public programming at the Kogen-Miller Studios, one of the best works of Chicago artist and architect Edgar Miller. Designed and built by a rotating cast of early-20th-century bohemian designers, artist, and craftspeople, the Kogen-Miller Studios showcase Miller’s virtuosity across nearly every design medium: stained glass, painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, and more. The mélange is indicative of a richly representational and often overlooked countercurrent to the dictates of the International Style that were seeping across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe in the 1920s and ’30s.

“The Kogen-Miller Studios feature nine units arranged around an internal courtyard. One, the Glasner Studio (restored in late-1920s period-appropriate detail and the main focus of EML’s past programming), is owned by Zac Bleicher, executive director of Edgar Miller Legacy, and his mother, Julie Bleicher. Julie inherited the unit from her brother, Mark Mamolen, who was a close friend of Edgar Miller. Two units are owned by Ronald Cieslak (who declined to comment for this story), and six units are owned by Glenn Aldinger.

“‘[Edgar Miller Legacy’s] goal was, first, to try to secure the building like my uncle had hoped from these other people and, if it were under one ownership, convert it to a cultural site, like a museum or artist residency,’ Zac Bleicher told AN. But much of this has been on hold since 2020, when Zac filed suit against Cieslak and Aldinger for ignoring maintenance needs at the condo complex. Cieslak and Aldinger made the counterclaim that Zac was illegally operating a business from his unit after having soured on the public access offered by EML.

“Zac initially felt that his co-owners were allies in EML’s mission. A letter of intent signed by Aldinger and Zac in late 2017 laid out a process and timetable for a sale of Aldinger’s units to EML. The years of tours and events EML hosted seemed to indicate that the complex’s other owners had waived the prohibition against running a business in the condo bylaws. At times, they seemed supportive and even enthusiastic about the public programming. In 2017, Aldinger arranged for the condo association to be added to EML’s insurance policy as an additionally insured party. Also in 2017, emails reviewed by AN show Aldinger telling Zac that he would be willing to forgo a rent hike for one tenant (who had concerns about tours and public programming) to keep that person onboard with public access.

“But over time, Aldinger said, he objected to the tours because of their ‘intrusion, frequency, [and] volume.’

Zac told AN that Aldinger’s support of EML diminished after a 2018 appraisal of the condos by Property Valuation Services. The estimate returned was $3.1 million, which Aldinger said was ‘so low it was laughable,’ and the appraisal couldn’t accurately judge the value of the complex because the appraiser never entered any of Aldinger’s units, since ‘I was never asked,’ said Aldinger. However, in emails from January 2018, a personal assistant to Aldinger told Zac and Aldinger that they could show Aldinger’s units to the appraiser, and Aldinger told Zac that he had informed tenants about the upcoming appraisal.

“A sale to EML never materialized. By July 2018, Zac said the organization had moved its offices out of the Glasner Studio (where he still lives), and the final tour of the Kogen-Miller Studios was in February 2020. Meanwhile, Zac grew concerned about the lack of maintenance at the complex.

“For Zac, an acceptable end to this legal drama would be for the Kogen-Miller Studios to ‘be preserved and shared with the public,’ he said. Aldinger has a different take: “The building’s lost its joy,’ he said. ‘I’m ready to sell now. I just want to make sure I sell at market rate.’

“But EML and Zac may be the only interested buyer until the dueling lawsuits are resolved. ‘The building has a ton of deferred maintenance, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more,’ Zac said. ‘It’s totally dysfunctional. I’m not sure who would want to buy into a condo association in the middle of litigation.’ (Mortice, The Architect’s Newspaper, 4/7/23)

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