Stony Island Arts Bank

The Stony Island Trust and Savings Bank building opened its doors in Chicago in 1923. Designed in the Classical Revival style, the bank was owned and frequented by members of the community, becoming a symbol of the area’s prosperity. That is, until the Great Depression struck. By 1931, the bank was forced to close, and the building fell into neglect.

In 2012, artist and developer Theaster Gates Jr. bought the building from the city for a dollar, with a plan to turn it into an arts center. The basement was waterlogged, there was a hole in the roof, plaster fell from the walls, and the windows shared a cracked spiderweb design. To finance a multimillion-dollar renovation, Gates came up with ingenious fundraising methods, such as carving salvaged marble into rectangular “bank bonds,” which he sold at Art Basel.

Since its restoration and reopening in 2015, the former bank has become home to collections of local relevance, including over 15,000 books belonging to John H. Johnson, Chicago publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines; 60,000 glass lantern slides depicting art and architectural history from the University of Chicago; and the vinyl record collection of “Godfather of House Music” Frankie Knuckles, who lived and DJ’ed in the city throughout the late 1970s.

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