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A Face to a Name: the Fullerton Hall story

A Face to a Name: Charles W. Fullerton and Alexander N. Fullerton and Fullerton Hall

Carrie McGath

Fullerton Hall in Art Institute of Chicago floorplan

Alexander N. Fullerton was the father of Charles W. Fullerton, both pioneering Capitalists in a young and fast-growing Chicago. The elder Fullerton (Alexander), who died in September of 1880, left his son, Charles, a vast amount of real estate around the city, as well as investments from his Michigan lumbering enterprises.

The personal life of the young Charles tends to imply that he never had a wife or planned to have one. Charles’ mother died when he was a small child and his father remarried. Charles would live with his father and stepmother, Jane E. Hill, throughout most of his life, eventually living with his step-sister, Martha Hill after the death of his stepmother three years after his father’s death.

Charles attended the Union College of Law as well as the Norwich Military Academy. After the completion of his studies, he returned to Chicago where he would spend the rest of his life. Always an intellectual man, Charles was someone who was constantly reading and learning, a consuming passion that made it impossible for him to practice law. He was a lifetime member of the Art Institute as well as a variety of other social clubs around the city including the Chicago Club, the University Club, and the Chicago Athletic Association. In addition to his cerebral passions, he also enjoyed spending time outdoors, particularly golf. He was the President of the Exmoor Golf Club of Highland Park up until his death. He died in December of 1900 of apoplexy, a type of hemorrhage or stroke.

Fullerton Hall was given to the Art Institute by Charles as a memorial to his father, Alexander Fullerton. The dedication of the Hall was in November of 1898 and was designed after a university amphitheater, seating five-hundred. In the Chicago Daily Tribune article, Charles’ eloquent speech was quoted and is telling of his passion for the arts as well as the love for his father. “Some of us believe there is also a power in the universe that makes for beauty, and it is this power that leads men to erect for the worship of the beautiful temples such as the Art Institute.” He continues, “This lecture hall was built as a memorial to my father, Alexander N. Fullerton, one of the early settlers of Chicago … That this building may prove a lasting and useful memorial is my earnest hope.”

It seems Charles’ hopes for the hall and the Art Institute have remained intact. Fullerton Hall in the Art Institute still holds a variety of lectures and programs that continue, in one way or another, this discussion of the beautiful, of art and ideas. When one sits in a room like Fullerton Hall, it is almost impossible not to look up, down, and all around, pondering the many exchanges of ideas that have perpetuated since that winter day in 1898 when Fullerton Hall was dedicated. The Art Institute and Fullerton Hall along with it, has remained and will remain a significant institution within Chicago, as well as one that is perched upon the international world of art and ideas.

Hall image courtesy of: http://hinduism.about.com/b/2009/09/10/swami-vivekanadas-911-prophecy.htm