The "Lost Madison" exhibit consisted of 30 photographs of Madison buildings which for one reason or another were demolished. Additional Madison photographs can be searched for on the Wisconsin Historical Society web site.
The urban landscape of Madison looks vastly different today from the way it did when these exhibit photographs were taken. One by one, the buildings succumbed to what succeeding generations defined as "progress." In looking at what we have lost, one inevitably asks "Why?" Many demolitions were the result of deliberate public policies. While slum clearance and redevelopment programs seemed enlightened at the time, they took a heavy toll in diversity and neighborhood cohesion. The impetus for demolition was varied. Often it was the neglect or the continued nonmaintenance of older structures. In other cases, buildings were thought to have outlived their usefulness and were replaced with more modern facilities. The seas of asphalt that cover many of these sites today are perhaps our bleakest indicators of changing values and public priorities.
If we had it to do all over again, would we have been so eager to send in the bulldozers today? In some cases, perhaps yes. More likely, we would be looking at imaginative ways to recycle many of these old buildings for new uses such as offices, condominiums, stores or restaurants. In recent years, old buildings in Madison and cities around the country have undergone such transformations as the result of powerful incentives.
One of those incentives is simple economics. In many cases, it is substantially cheaper to rehabilitate an older building than to demolish it and build anew. Federal tax policies, which formerly encouraged demolition, now reward the renovation and reuse of designated historic structures. Another incentive is shrinking availability and skyrocketing cost of energy.
There are other, less tangible reasons for hanging on to reminders of our past. Our older buildings are psychologically important reference points in a changing urban environment. These diverse remnants tell us where we came from as a city and as people. They help give Madison its sense of place and identity. And once they are gone, they are gone forever.
"You can't stop progress," we are told, but we can redefine what "progress" is. It need not mean plundering our past for things bigger and better. As we approach the 21st century, we must make room for the preservation of human values which includes a more intelligent stewardship of the history that is written in the building blocks of our cities.
Lake Mendota at N. Carroll Street
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 34327)
This twin-towered municipal boathouse at the foot of North Carroll Street on Lake Mendota was designed and built in 1893 by a young, unknown, Chicago-based architect named Frank Lloyd Wright, who had won a public competition for the project. The first Wright building to be erected in Madison, the boathouse was built for $4,000 raised by the Madison Improvement Association, one of the several turn-of-the-century groups involved in civic beautification. Upkeep on the boathouse was neglected after the Madison Improvement Association ceased to exist in 1907 and its neighbors, Mrs. Frank G. Brown and Chandler Chapman, asked permission from the city to tear it down in 1926.
30 S. Carroll Street
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 8715)
With its mansard roof, elegant detail and prime Capitol Square location, the French Second Empire-style Park Hotel was hailed as "one of the handsomest of its kind in Wisconsin" when it opened in 1871 at the corner of South Carroll and West Main Streets. Built of Milwaukee cream-colored brick and Madison sandstone, the four-story hotel had 118 sleeping rooms with marble fireplaces, "ladies' and gentlemen's balconies," and a special suite reserved for the governor. The building, seen in this mid-1870's photo, saw the addition of a neo-classical facade in 1911 and then the building was demolished in 1961 to make way for the Park Motor Inn, "Madison's newest motor hotel," now called the Inn on the Park.
Abel Dunning Residence--Mapleside
3335 University Avenue
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 27104)
Built in 1853 of buff sandstone from a nearby quarry, this historic Greek Revival farmhouse at 3335 University Avenue was originally the home of Able Dunning and his wife, the first white settlers to plant crops in Dane County. Over the years it became a tourist lodge, a tea room, and a private home. In 1970, after an unsuccessful campaign to save it, the house fell to the wrecking crews to make way for a Burger King restaurant. It is now the site of a gas station. Anger over the demolition fueled the effort that led to the creation of Madison's historic preservation ordinance and Landmarks Commission.
21 S. Butler Street
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 51803)
The Madison Turnverein, a group of German immigrants who promoted programs in gymnastics, physical fitness, and cultural development, built their first Turner Hall at 21 South Butler Street in 1858. Destroyed by fire, the building was replaced by this handsome structure in 1863. It was designed by the German-born architect August Kutzbock in the "round-arch" style he also used in the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, now located in James Madison Park. This building was badly damaged by a fire in 1940 and another Turner Hall was built on the site in 1941. In 1991 the State bought the building and, after the Turners built a new building on South Stoughton Road, it was torn down for an expanded parking lot.
210-214 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 1828)
One step ahead of the bulldozers, a Madisonian photographed the bracketed cornice of this handsome house at 210-214 Martin Luther King Boulevard just before its demolition in 1950. Built in 1851 by Wisconsin State Journal newspaper founder David Atwood and his partner, Royal Buck, the house was located on Madison's other "Mansion Hill." David Atwood also served as mayor of Madison, state assemblyman, Congressional representative and president of the Madison Gas Light and Coke Co. (now MG&E). A parking lot took the place of the house before the City-County Building was erected on the site.
1-29 South Pinckney Street, Circa 1881
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society (Image ID 45199)
Dirt streets, horse-drawn carriages, and long rows of arched windows characterized South Pinkney Street between East Washington Avenue and East Main Street in the 1880's. Among the numerous businesses along this prosperous commercial strip were a bank, saloon, hardware store, shoe store, book store, and jewelry store. Today, the glass-enclosed US Bank occupies the northern part of the block. The southern portion, built by the Tenney family in 1875, was razed in 1928 to make way for the present Tenney Building.
About the Collection
The Lost Madison exhibit was created in 1980 and sponsored by the Madison Landmarks Commission, the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, Historic Madison, Inc., the Isthmus Housing Preservation Group, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, the Bassett Neighborhood Association, the Fourth District Neighborhood Association and the Wisconsin Humanities Committee, with partial funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Contributors: Joanne Brown, Lynne Eich, Jan Marshall Fox, Whitney Gould, Timothy Heggland, Katherine Rankin, Gary Tipler, Richard Wagner and Rebecca Young.
Exhibit photographs: Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison Department of Planning and Development and The Capital Times.
A special thanks to Katherine Rankin of Madison's Planning and Development Department for the photos used in this web site.