Robert Lamp is dead. And, to make matters worse, he was rich and white. Unlucky for him, none of those things qualifies as a protected class in the City of Madison.
I agree with Madison Ald. Juliana Bennett on the substance of her vote, but I very much disagree with her reasoning. Last week she voted against an ordinance amendment that would have limited development on a downtown block to preserve the sliver of a view from a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Not the sliver of a view of the house, but just a peek from the house to Lake Mendota. Moreover, this view would be enjoyed only by the generations of UW marching band members who usually rent the place. They should be practicing “Varsity,” not enjoying lake views.
The building in question is located in the middle of a block on Webster Street. It was designed by Wright for his lifelong friend Robert Lamp and, when it was built in 1903, Wright located and designed it to take in views of Lakes Mendota and Monona and of the Capitol Building. But over the decades other houses and buildings were built along the streets of the block, marooning the Lamp House in the center of it, and cutting off views both of the house and from the house. A recent story in the Wisconsin State Journal laid out the situation well.
It seemed ridiculous to me to try to preserve that narrow view of the lake when the whole setting for the house has been entirely compromised. Better in my view to move the Lamp House to a location where it could be appreciated by the public, maybe even as part of the new State Historical Society Museum, only about a block away from the house’s current location.
The council ultimately agreed with both Ald. Bennett and me. (They agreed with Bennett because they knew her position; they agreed with me by accident.) The amendment was voted down by a wide margin.
That’s good. What’s not so good is Bennett’s reasoning. Here’s what she is quoted as saying:
“Preserving the view of a dead rich white man, so he could see his lake house two miles away that has since been demolished anyways is a top priority for us — not the current housing prices, lack of housing stock and housing affordability.”
I agree with the back half of that statement, but let’s look at the first clause.
Now, of course, you can’t preserve the view of a man who’s dead. But that aside, what does the original owner’s financial status, race or gender have to do with anything? If we were preserving the sliver of a view once enjoyed by a dead rich Black man, would that have been alright? What about the view of a dead rich white woman? Or what if the man in question was, in fact, dead and rich and white, but also gay? What then?
Of course, the building isn’t a subject of debate because of its first owner, but because of its architect. But that will get us nowhere with Ald. Bennett since Wright was male and white, more or less rich despite his profligate spending, and after a long life now very much dead.
Ald. Bennett’s argument is offensive on its face, but of course, in a city eager to take offense, nobody did. That’s because in the world of the hard-left we must be kind to all forms of life — except those that take the form of white males (even those who are neither dead nor rich).
Look, there are plenty of reasons to want to preserve the Lamp House and plenty of reasons for not trying to preserve the wisp of a once dramatic view from it. But none of those reasons has anything at all to do with the race, gender or wealth of anybody associated with it.
If you ever wonder why Democrats lose male voters, and white male voters especially, by a wide margin, well, just ask Ald. Bennett.
Welcome to the 162nd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!