Downtown: The Madison Story
Mighty Gifts - From civic life to academia to building our city, philanthropy is at the core of our city’s strength
When I came to UW–Madison for graduate work in the 1960s, my major professor was the historian Merle Curti. He had wide-ranging intellectual interests, and in 1965 co-wrote a book, Philanthropy in the Shaping of American Higher Education. Among its conclusions: “By definition philanthropy touches the lives of others and in this quasi-public aspect demands responsibility.”
One of Madison’s most responsible givers and someone who has boldly spoken of his family’s love affair with the city is Jerome Frautschi, with his gift of $205 million to build Overture Center for the Arts. His wife, Pleasant Rowland, followed by establishing the Great Performance Fund for Overture’s resident arts groups.
Brothers Irwin and Robert Goodman, who began their jewelers business in 1933, championed a variety of interests, with generous donations to everything from Madison’s first community swimming pool and the UW women’s softball stadium to the Goodman Community Center and the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus.
Another linked pair who have shaped Madison through philanthropy is William T. Evjue and his nephew Jack Lussier. The Evjue Foundation annually gives to a plethora of causes and nonprofits, as well as to UW–Madison. Lussier has helped the YMCAs of Madison, the stadium at LaFollette High School and Olbrich Botanical Gardens, to name just a few.
For many community builders, it’s natural to reinvest in the city that has allowed their business interests to grow and thrive. The granddaddy of this local talent is J. H. Findorff & Son, dating from 1890 when the young carpenter John Findorff started his company with a contract to install woodwork and cabinetry in the UW Armory or “Old Red Gym.” For more than a century Findorff has been located in the heart of the city on West Wilson Street, a former planing mill and lumberyard. Now one of the Midwest’s largest construction companies, they truly have been builders of Madison as the city has grown.
Building design has flourished here due in large part to the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. John J. Flad, who established Flad Architects in 1927, was a Wright apprentice, though it was the rival Potter Lawson firm, founded in 1913, that worked on Wright’s post-mortem project with the Taliesin Architects to build Monona Terrace. Among the downtown projects by Potter Lawson are the Gay Building (now Churchill Building), Madison’s classic Masonic Temple, and some fifteen sororities and fraternities along Langdon.
Other construction firms building the Downtown fabric include Stevens Construction, originally from Milwaukee, and Krupp General Contractors. Stevens’ projects include Hamilton Place and Butler Plaza; and Krupp built Tuscan Place and Maingate at Meriter Commons, now called Capitol Lakes.
In 1970 Don Hovde purchased the old Wisconsin Power and Light building and repurposed it to general offices, keeping a downtown building of good character alive. During the period when he served as Undersecretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1981 to 1983, he kept his Wisconsin real estate license and returned to develop projects like Richmond Hills.
Also in the 1970s, Thomas Neujahr and Bradley Binkowski of Urban Land Interests embarked on a string of projects at downtown locations, from adaptive reuse of the old sandstone bank building on the Square to rebuilding the new glass bank (also on the Square) to extend its functional life. The biggest project was the mutli-decade Block 89 effort, which used old structures and built new ones for a whole-block solution to development issues.
In the early 1980s, a new generation of developers emerged, honing their talents and ideas. Randy Alexander and Todd McGrath both became highly skilled at urban infill projects and served the community at large as members of the Madison Landmarks Commission. McGrath’s urban projects include Lake Park Apartments, Nolen Shore Condominiums and Capitol Point Condominiums, all of which show how new construction can work with nearby historic properties. Capitol West is one of the most recent Alexander Company projects that borrows old ideas—like skinny buildings and pedestrian mews for access to residences—and marries the concepts to contemporary design.
A new generation of homegrown talent includes Rich Arnesen of Stone House Development and Mike Matty of Renaissance Property Group. Stone House specializes in Section 42, affordable working-class housing. The Park Central project on Wilson Street was the first
certified, multi-family, green-built residence in Wisconsin. Matty won a 2006 Preservation Award for residential restoration and compatible new construction.
HIGH GRADES FOR GIVING
UW–Madison has done a superb job persuading alumni and other donors that giving is a great investment. With the state’s limited resources, the building program has needed and benefited from philanthropy on campus. One of the most memorable gifts was the substantial contribution to the Kohl Center thanks to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s sports-mindedness and generous nature.
Dean Mike Knetter wowed the philanthropy world when he sold non-naming rights, persuading thirteen donors to
contribute $85 million to keep the name of his institution the Wisconsin School of Business. Or consider the new, $43-million expansion of the School of Human Ecology, with some $30 million from donors. To achieve its lofty goal, Dean Robin Douthitt created a donors club challenge: 1,000 individuals donating $1,000.
Over the years UW alums Tashia and John Morgridge have electrified the university’s academic profile, including two endowed professorships on the couple’s 41st anniversary. Her gift to him was a chair in Computer Science; his gift to her a chair in reading in Education. A donation of $50 million for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery matched by $50 million from WARF and $50 million from the state will transform the university’s landscape inside and out.
So many have taken Madison to their hearts in efforts to give the best to the city and its civic life. Their talents and gifts have created this remarkable place, one that wins national rating after rating in so many categories. Their hopes for its future are bright.
Photos courtesy of The Alexander Company, Beth Skogen, Stone House Development & Hovde Properties
Dick Wagner, a former member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, currently serves on the Board of Directors for Downtown Madison, Inc.
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