The Quisling Towers apartments on Mansion Hill in Madison, Wisconsin

The Quisling Towers apartments on Mansion Hill in Madison, Wisconsin

Some of the best, most insightful walking tours of Madison’s historic neighborhoods are the subject of a series of free, self-guided tours published from 1986-2002 by the Madison Landmarks Commission and other local organizations interested in historic preservation. Originally published as small paperback brochures, a limited number were available free at Madison’s public libraries – and they were snapped up quickly. They are now out of print. Happily, however, they are available free from the City of Madison Planning Division as downloadable PDFs.

Even though some of these guides are almost 30 years old, most of the information they provide is still accurate – although you will discover that some buildings have vanished in the intervening years.

A list of the available brochures (with a link to the downloadable version) is available on a separate page at Quintessential Madison.

Lake Forest drawing from historian David Mollenhoff's "Madison: A History of the Formative years"

Lake Forest drawing from David Mollenhoff’s “Madison: A History of the Formative Years”

Take a fascinating peek into Madison’s past and explore the haunting story of Lake Forest — Madison’s “Lost City” — when you participate in the most unusual walk in the UW-Madison Arboretum repertoire.

The free “Tour of the Lost City” is only offered once a year, usually around Halloween. Join this year’s “Lost City” tour from 1 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 29, 2017 and learn about what Madison historian David Mollenhoff calls “One of the most extraordinary land developments ever launched in Madison.”

Lost CityLake Forest is a failed 1920s residential area in the midst of the Gardner Marsh section of the Arboretum. If you have some older Madisonians in your tour group, you may hear tales about how this was once a popular parking spot for high school students. Now, however, nature has reclaimed the land and not many traces of the development remain.
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A slightly different version of this post was originally published on the Madison Central High School History blog on January 1, 2008. It is a slightly longer version of a page-one feature story I wrote for The Wisconsin State Journal that was published on October 31, 2007 (with different photos). Despite the upbeat tone of the story, six years later more than a few people remain concerned about the future of the arch and MATC’s commitment to preserving it.- NG

Stonemason and sculptor Jacob Arndt working on the restoration of the Central High School arch in October 2007

Stonemason and sculptor Jacob Arndt working on the restoration of the Central High School arch in October 2007

A lone worker stood atop yellow scaffolding and began repairing the Central High arch on Wisconsin Avenue earlier this month. The sight brought sighs of relief from admirers of the arch, who noticed what seemed to be visible signs of structural disintegration this summer.

The arch is all that remains of the Cass Gilbert-designed Madison Central High School building torn down in 1986 to make room for a MATC parking lot. At that time, the arch was allowed to stand as a means of mollifying local preservationists, Central alumni, and the occasional fan of Gilbert, an architect whose works also include the Woolworth Building in New York City and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

In 2002, a proposed development plan involving the Madison Children’s Museum threatened the arch. It survived because the Museum found another home.

However, many Central alumni and preservationists worried the arch’s increasingly fragile condition continued to pose a threat to its existence. Some, including Central alumnus Mark Pankow, tried unsuccessfully to organize a project committee to raise funds to pay for restoration of the arch or to move it to another location. Others feared that MATC, which owns the arch and the property on which it stands, was deliberately allowing the arch to disintegrate so it would eventually become unsafe and have to be torn down.

Now the worrying can cease and the conspiracy theories can be abandoned.

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RADS coverThe truth is simply this: I have no memories of the Sterling Hall bombing. I’d worked until late that night and I slept soundly. Although I lived only a few blocks away, the sound of the explosion did not awaken me, nor did the subsequent wail of police and emergency vehicle sirens. My most vivid memories of the Sterling Hall bombing were created more than two decades later.

August 24th, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. One man, researcher Robert Fassnacht, was killed in the blast. Four men were accused of carrying out the bombing. Three were tried and found guilty. One has never been apprehended.

But this event affected countless lives in a myriad ways. For some, the aftermath brought swift changes. For others, the consequences were more incremental, more subtle: ripples from a pebble tossed in a stream, “butterfly effects.”

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So last night the Madison City Council voted 15-4 to make the Pink Plastic Flamingo the city’s official bird – and of course now you want to buy not one, but two. That’s right two; the original “official” pink flamingos, designed by Don Featherstone for Union Products, were always sold in pairs: one upright, the other with its head toward the ground.

Photograph of pink plastic flamingos on Bascom Hill in 1979. This photograph of pink flamingos on Bascom Hill is ©Michael Kienitz. It is used here with his permission.

Photograph of pink plastic flamingos on Bascom Hill in 1979 This photograph of pink flamingos on Bascom Hill is ©Michael Kienitz. It is used here with his permission.

But perhaps you only need to buy one. If you look closely at the iconic Michael Kientiz photograph of the September 4, 1979 assemblage of pink flamingos on Bascom Hill – the memorable event that led to the City Council’s historic vote nearly three decades late, they all appear to have their heads toward the ground. Then if you compare a close-up photograph of one of the original 1,008 Bascom Hill flamingos now in the possession of the Wisconsin State Historical Society with the Wikipedia photos of what are allegedly the “original” Don Featherstone designs, you’ll also note definite differences in the shape of the bird.

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Cropped Joel Memorial June 28, 2005Joel Gersmann hated blogs: He thought they were filled with scurrilous gossip and the inane, meandering thoughts of people who, if they really wanted to write, should be writing serious stuff…like plays, and novels — or at least articles about his beloved Broom Street Theater.

Joel died four years ago today. Were he still alive, I think he would have changed his mind about blogs — and he probably would have a Facebook page for the theater if not himself. Once he began to see how useful and effective the Internet could be for disseminating news about Broom Street Theater, as well as locating obscure, out-of-print books and CDs, he would have twisted arms and convinced people to blog on his behalf while he used his mighty intellect to create new plays and finish translating Homer.

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A lunchtime adventure during which I do not engage in networking with Brazen Careerist author Penelope Trunk

April 1, 2009

It’s raining at a medium windshield wiper pace and I’m running late for lunch with Penelope Trunk. I was going to park in a ramp, but I spot an open space on West Washington Avenue only a block away from my destination; so I take it even though I only have 85 cents in change […]

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I’m Singing the Blues, Brother: I went to Woodman’s West tonight, but failed to get Dan Ackroyd’s autograph on a Crystal Head vodka bottle

March 26, 2009

There are many things I’ll do for Himself, but buying a bottle of vodka in a crystal bottle shaped like a human skull is not one of them. Firstly, he doesn’t drink; so he’d probably keep the silly thing in his cabinet of curiosities, hoping its value would one day outpace inflation. Secondly, if he […]

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A post for Paul Soglin about the day Bob Dylan didn’t arrive at the Mifflin Street Co-op (July 4, 1969)

Thumbnail image for A post for Paul Soglin about the day Bob Dylan didn’t arrive at the Mifflin Street Co-op (July 4, 1969) March 3, 2009

There are lots of names listed in my 1969 engagement calendar, but Bob Dylan isn’t one of them. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t hanging around the Mifflin Street Coop on the 4th of July, but I can’t tell you where I was that day — and I won’t tell you who I was with, either. […]

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Armistice Day — and a play that recognizes two Wisconsin soldiers killed during combat operations in Iraq

November 11, 2008

Today is Armistice Day. In this country we call it Veterans Day. In the British Commonwealth it’s called Remembrance Day. But whatever it may be called today, this holiday has its roots in Armistice Day, a commemoration of the symbolic end of World War I – the war that dramatically changed the face of Europe; […]

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