While helping clear out a basement last year in a neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side, I stumbled on all that remained of a 1920s-era Chicago architecture firm.
Initially known as Graven & Mayger (Anker S. Graven & Arthur G. Mayger), the two named partners left the famed firm of Rapp & Rapp in 1926 to strike out on their own and landed their first large commission in competition: the Fisher Theatre, which was expected to be the jewel of Detroit’s Fisher Building.
Graven & Mayger’s design, which drew on the Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, filled the Fisher’s requirement that the finished design be entirely different from any other theater built in the country.
“With the huge assortment of Roman, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Persian, Egyptian and other standard styles already in use, the Chicagoans had something of a problem to find a novelty," the Chicago Tribune reported when Graven & Mayger secured the commission in Sept. of 1927. “…the Maya Indians of the Yucatan peninsula generously provided the inspiration and the new showhouse will have for its motif the bizarre adornments of that ancient race.”
When it opened, the theater not only featured their elaborate Mayan design and ornamentation, but also tropical plants which were exposed for an hour each day to ultra-violet light, a centerpiece fountain, and six Macau parrots which were chained to perches in the lobby.
The firm later split and ultimately closed due to the untimely death of the principal, A.S. Graven in a boating accident in 1932. The firm’s papers ended up in the hands of their chief draftsman, one Edward Rupinski, who passed away in 1961. On his daughter’s death, the archive was still in the family’s building and contained plans, renderings, books, and hundreds of vintage photographs of the firm’s work including these 32 of the Fisher Theatre.
Ultimately, the Fisher Building’s theater was remodeled in the 1960s, ironically by Rapp & Rapp.