Make Wright House Part of Museum Campus

The City of Madison is on the verge of doing something dumb with an historic Frank Lloyd Wright house in the middle of downtown. The building’s owner has a better idea. I’ve got still another thought.

In an excellent Sunday story, veteran Wisconsin State Journal city hall reporter Dean Mosiman laid out the dilemma. The historic Lamp House, designed by Wright and built in 1903, sits in the middle of a block, a stone’s throw from the Capitol. It was originally designed to take in views of Lakes Mendota and Monona and the Capitol, but over the years it has been surrounded by other houses, and more recently, by much larger apartment buildings and a hotel. Sunlight has been all but blocked from reaching the house. So, basically, the problem is the Lamp shade.

It turns out that there is a narrow slit of a view toward Lake Mendota that remains and it’s that sliver that the city wants to preserve with restrictions on any new building that might obliterate it. The city wants to preserve an historic shaft of daylight. There’s your dumb idea.

The owner of the building is Apex Properties, a company that owns and manages buildings. In this case, Apex rents out the Lamp House to students. You would figure that if Wright were alive today he’d be designing attractive plywood stands for beer kegs — painted in Cherokee red, of course.

Anyway, Apex’s president Bruce Bosben wants to move the house to a lot on East Mifflin Street owned by the company, where it could be restored and sold to a single family owner. The original site would then be opened up for a new Apex development that would add needed housing, be more in keeping with the kind of development that has evolved in that part of the city and, incidentally, make a bunch of money for Bosben and Apex. Sounds like a plan.

The Lamp House sits in the center of this block (it’s the building with the fire escape on the front). The Brayton Lot is the beige surface parking lot in the upper left. (State Journal photo.)

There’s no question that Bosben’s proposal makes a lot more sense than the city’s. But here’s a third idea. The State Historical Society could buy the Lamp House and move it a block south to the Brayton Lot, a city owned surface parking lot. The coolness of this idea is that the new SHS Museum is planned to be just across the street on the site of the bunker known as GEF 1.

So, you’d get a home designed by one of Wisconsin’s most famous sons essentially incorporated into the new museum campus. (The rest of the Brayton Lot should be developed into the city’s Public Market and the site chosen for that, on First Street, should remain what it is — a shelter for homeless men. I’ve written about that idea before. Nobody cares.)

Currently, the Lamp House is hidden and fast deteriorating. Bosben would save it and make it more visible, but as a private home the interior would still be off limits. The Brayton Lot proposal makes the whole thing accessible to the public.

This is such a swell idea that Bosben might even be induced to donate the building to the state, something he might readily do just to get the damn thing off the block so that he can develop it.

Brilliant? Especially for a Sunday morning? I know. There’s just no off-switch on the genius machine, folks.

Welcome to the 152nd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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