Legal dispute keeps Chicago treasure off limits to art lovers

At issue is an Old Town condominium known as the Glasner Studio, once a party house for industrialist Rudolph Glasner. From 1928 to 1932, it was a colony where artists would stay in exchange for working to rehab the building.

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Zac Bleicher stands for a portrait in one of the many intricately designed rooms at a condo designed by famed artist/architect Edgar Miller , Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

Zac Bleicher in one of the many intricately designed rooms at a condo designed by famed artist/architect Edgar Miller.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago boasts some of the finest art and architecture in the world, resulting in throngs of tourists visiting historic homes and buildings every year.

But one gem has been off-limits to scholars, architecture enthusiasts and lovers of art for several years because of a legal dispute.

At issue is a condominium at 1734 N. Wells St., known as the Glasner Studio, that was a party house for wealthy Chicago industrialist Rudolph Glasner.

Between 1928 and 1932, the unit was converted by Chicago artist Edgar Miller and developer Sol Kogen into the Kogen-Miller Studios, a new colony where artists were allowed to stay in exchange for their work on rehabbing the building.

Kogen bought the building. Miller, a multi-talented artist who came to Chicago from his native Idaho to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, made it his crowning work in a career spanning genres, styles and mediums. Miller died in 1993 at age 93.

From 2016 to 2018, the unit was home to the Edgar Miller Legacy, a nonprofit that would host tours of the studio. Now, it is at the center of a legal dispute between the three condo owners in the building — Julie Bleicher, a co-owner of the Glasner Studio, and Glenn Aldinger and Ronald Cieslak, the two other owners of condos in the building.

Bleicher inherited her condo from her brother Mark Mamolen, who was a close friend of Miller. Mamolen bought the studio in 2000; he died in December 2013 and willed it to Bleicher and her two sons.

Julie’s son Zac Bleicher founded The Edgar Miller Legacy and lives in the unit. When the organization achieved nonprofit status in 2016, it listed the Wells Street address as its headquarters. That’s the same year it began to give tours to lovers of art, architecture and history.

An intricate wooden staircase leads the way to the second floor of the Glasner Studio.

An intricate wooden staircase leads the way to the second floor of the Glasner Studio.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Zac Bleicher said the Edgar Miller Legacy hosted tours for 10 to 30 people at a time — and that the two other owners in the condominium complex attended several Legacy meetings, get-togethers and tours before having a change of heart.

Aldinger and Cieslak contend frequent, large tours infringed on their lifestyle, and that Zac Bleicher took advantage of their willingness to overlook a condominium association rule against using a condo as a place of work.

Glenn Aldinger

Glenn Aldinger

Provided

“Once we were out in the courtyard having a barbecue and this parade of people started coming through, taking pictures of us,” Aldinger said. “It was very intrusive.”

Cieslak estimated there were up to three tours a week; Bleicher calls that an exaggeration.

Both Zac and Julie Bleicher contend Aldinger and Cieslak couldn’t have been bothered because they do not live in their condos full time. Zac Bleicher said tours were respectful and small, and that by 2018, the only person taking pictures was a tenant who rented a unit from Aldinger and would “spy on us through our window,” then report back to Aldinger and Cieslak.

He also contends Aldinger was initially on board, hoping the Legacy and its tours would boost property values. But, according to Zac Bleicher, Aldinger’s support waned after an appraisal came in lower than what he deemed adequate.

A table inside the Glasner Studio, 1734 N. Wells St.

A table inside the Glasner Studio, 1734 N. Wells St.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Aldinger said although he has a second home, he has lived in the building for 50 years. He also is interested in selling, he added, and the appraisal had nothing to do with his opposition to the tours.

“We were excited about anything that was going to promote Edgar Miller. We knew there was going to be an occasional tour, but there were some weeks when there were multiple tours a week,” Aldinger said. “The problem was the frequency and volume of people. I finally said no more. It was clearly against the State of Illinois condo rule — and we were going to ignore that if they were going to be rare and infrequent tours. But they took advantage of us.”

Because of the dispute, Bleicher said he moved the Legacy headquarters out of the Glasner Studio, where he still lives, and stopped doing tours in 2018. In 2020, Julie Bleicher sued the condo board, Cieslak and Aldinger.

Both defendants serve on the condo board, and Julie Bleicher’s lawsuit accuses them of dereliction of fiduciary duties and failing to maintain the condominium complex.

Aldinger and Cieslak contend the lawsuit is in retaliation for their objection to the tours. They countersued, alleging the Bleichers are unlawfully operating a business there.

A fireplace on the fourth floor at Glasner Studio, 1734 Wells St, a private apartment completed in 1932.

A fireplace on the fourth floor at Glasner Studio, 1734 Wells St, a private apartment completed in 1932 that’s considered architect Edgar Miller’s masterwork.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

With both claims pending in court, lovers of design, art and history remain unable to see the Glasner Studio.

“We get calls and emails to our office all the time asking about tours, but we have to continuously tell people that it’s not open — and if things change, we’ll let them know,” Zac Bleicher said.

Aldinger said he hopes things can be resolved out of court; he and Cieslak would likely be content with allowing one or two tours a year, he added.

That’s not good enough for Zac Bleicher.

“That’s not what we signed up for in 2015 and they know that. Are they going to refund people thousands of dollars that they’ve donated?” he said.

The next court date is scheduled for January, with a settlement seeming unlikely.

“The Glasner Studio is truly a Chicago treasure,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, a group that fights to save historic architecture. “It’s unfortunate that these legal conflicts are keeping people from visiting this remarkable house that is truly a work of art by a very well-known artist.”

Intricate wood carving.on the staircase at Glasner Studio, at 1734 Wells St,

Intricate wood carving.on the staircase at Glasner Studio, at 1734 Wells St,

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

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