TRACY’S DIANA COURT RESTAURANT, 1956.
Image courtesy of https://chuckmanchicagonostalgia.wordpress.com/about/
DIANA IN THE MIDWEST
Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, appeared in Chicagoan architecture long before the Michigan Square Building was constructed.
In 1893 she appeared atop the Agricultural Building at the World's Columbian Exposition as "Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt." This statue's third reincarnate, "The Spirit of Progress," was created in 1928 and was placed atop Montgomery Ward Administration Building on N. Michigan Avenue. She can still be seen atop this building today.
After the "The Spirit of Progress" was installed on the Montgomery Ward Administration Building, the sculpture became a corporate symbol to the company because she holds a caduceus, a symbol of commerce in the ancient world. Other Diana sculptures were commissioned for Montgomery Ward buildings across the country because of her symbolic presence.
But why Diana for the Michigan Square Building?
Perhaps it was because Holabird and Root’s trip to Stockholm, where they first encountered Carl Milles’ outstanding first Diana Fountain, erected outside the Matchstick Palace. Or maybe it was because Diana, as well as other Classical deities, were prominent influences in Beaux Arts architecture. Diana herself represented commerce in this architectural style and both Holabird and Root studied under Beaux Art instructors in Paris.
Considering that the Michigan Square Building was built to house the real estate firm McChesney, Rubens, and Wolbach, it makes sense that the firm would want financially succeed. A symbol of commerce would also symbolize the efforts of the ground level shops the building also housed.
Milles himself was often influenced by Classical and Norse mythology, as can be seen in many of his works. It is known that the Diana Court was named after the installation of the Diana Fountain. So perhaps it is because of Milles' interest in the classical world that lead to the beautiful example of classicism in the art deco Michigan Square Building.
Maybe it was because the image of the Roman goddess Diana was very much in sync with the Roaring Twenties. She presented a strong female figure in an age in where American woman were experiencing new freedoms and opportunities. They could vote, go to work like men did, dress in ways never before deemed appropriate, drink in speakeasies, and ultimately change how society thought about them.
An epic age of massive economic success and the birth of consumerism overwhelmed the United States, instigating mass consumption of commercial goods in the Roaring 20s, and this attitude carried into the Michigan Square Building.
The Diana Court specifically was reflective of this through her siren-nature that called passing Chicagoans into the Michigan Square Building, and therefore into the commercial world surrounding it. One scholar remarked that, "I used to step into [the Michigan Square Building] sometimes on my walk home from work for no other reason than because I thought it had a glamorous lightness of spirit. And so it did" (Martin, 454).