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 Jump to: Mansion Hill Historic District || Third Lake Ridge Historic District || University Heights Historic District || Marquette Bungalows Historic District || First Settlement Historic District

History of the Landmarks Commission

In 1969 a venerable sandstone farmhouse on the near west side was put up for sale. A large corporation made an offer on the property, contingent on the demolition of the house. When a small group of citizens expressed concern for the fate of the house, the realtor offered to sell the house to them if they could meet the corporate buyer's price of about $100,000. Despite a valiant effort, the group raised only a fraction of the purchase price and on a cold Saturday morning in 1970 the house was torn down. A few months later, it was replaced by a Burger King.

It was the loss of this beautiful and historic building that prompted the establishment of the Madison Landmarks Commission. The Landmarks Commission ordinance, spearheaded by Mayor William Dyke and passed in 1971, set out the policies and procedures to designated historic buildings as landmarks.  The Landmarks Commission was charged with approving exterior alterations of landmarks and was given the authority to delay demolition of an historic building for up to one year. The ordinance also gave the Common Council the authority to designate significant areas as historic districts, which would then be subject to the same reviews as landmarks. Since then, the ordinance has been refined from time to time. One of the most significant changes occurred in 1980 when the Common Council gave the Landmarks Commission the power to deny demolitions.  In 1997 the Common Council decided that it would be the body to designate landmarks.

As of  early 2004, the Landmarks Commission and the Common Council have designated over 160 buildings and sites as Madison Landmarks. Five areas have been designated as historic districts: Mansion Hill, Third Lake Ridge, University Heights, Marquette Bungalows and First Settlement.      

Please note that there are two types of historic districts in Madison -- the local districts discussed here and the National Register districts discussed elsewhere on this site.  Although some local districts are also listed in the National Register, the eligibility requirements of the two programs are not the same and there are some differences in boundaries.

Mansion Hill Historic District (For a map, click the name)

Mansion Hill is the residential neighborhood north of the Square in downtown Madison. Its heart is the corner of Gilman and Pinckney Streets, where four Victorian mansions evoke an aura of yesteryear. In the 19th century, Mansion Hill was one of Madison's two most prestigious neighborhoods (the other, along East and West Wilson Street, has been mostly obliterated by time). Mansion Hill contains the greatest concentration of intact Victorian houses remaining in Madison, many of which were the homes of Madison's pioneer movers-and-shakers.

In the 1950s, '60s and '70s several of the finest old houses in Mansion Hill were demolished to make way for anonymous apartment buildings and two large insurance companies. Fearful of further erosion of the residential character of this historic neighborhood, residents petitioned the City to designate Mansion Hill as an historic district. The Common Council complied and Mansion Hill became Madison's first historic district in 1976.


Third Lake Ridge Historic District (For a map, click the name)

The Third Lake Ridge historic district encompasses the oldest sections of the Marquette neighborhood. It extends roughly from Blair Street to the Yahara River and from Williamson Street to Lake Monona. It is an area noted for its variety of building types, including churches, a tobacco warehouse, corner groceries, tiny cottages, imposing mansions and a railroad depot. It was a place where a diversity of people - Germans, Norwegians, and Yankees - lived, worked and shopped. The historic district designation came about as part of a multi-faceted revitalization campaign undertaken by the Marquette Neighborhood Association, which included such things as beautification, economic development, zoning studies and traffic redirection. The Third Lake Ridge was designated Madison's second historic district in 1979.


University Heights Historic District (For a map, click the name)

One of Madison's first suburbs, University Heights was platted in 1893. Located close to the University, its curvilinear streets and beautiful vistas attracted families of university professors and other business people. Some of Madison's most architecturally significant Queen Anne, prairie style and period revival houses were built here. Madison's finest architects, as well as nationally-known architects Keck and Keck, George W. Maher, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, designed residences in the Heights.

The Common Council designated University Heights as Madison's third historic district in 1985 at the request of neighborhood residents.


Marquette Bungalows Historic District (For a map, click the name)

The Marquette Bungalows is a cohesive grouping of bungalow houses on two blocks just south of the O'Keefe/Marquette School complex.  The boundaries are Spaight Street on the north and Rutledge Street on the south,  S. Dickinson Street on the west and S. Thornton Avenue on the east.  In 1924 the Karrels Realty and Building Development Company platted the blocks as the Soelch's Subdivision.  In that year, they built five homes on the lots and continued to build several houses each year until 1930, when the last of the 47 houses was completed.  The bungalows share similar sizes and shapes, with a myriad of different details to distinguish each house.  Although the houses were not large, the quality of construction and detailing were high; many of the houses had wood floors, fine woodwork, built-in cabinetry and leaded glass windows.  At the request of neighborhood residents, the Marquette Bungalows were designated as an historic district in 1993.


First Settlement Historic District (For a map, click the name)

The First Settlement neighborhood just southeast of the square was the home of Madison's first residential settlement.  In 1837 Eben and Rosalie Peck built a boarding house on South Butler Street to house workers who would build the first state capitol here.  Their log cabin was the first occupied residence in Madison.  As the nineteenth century progressed, more modest frame houses were built in the area, with finer brick residences sprinkled throughout.  The neighborhood remained fairly stable  until after World War II when development of the downtown began to encroach on the area.  The construction of the GEF buildings for state government severely impinged on the desirability of the area, which was marked in city plans of the 1960s and 1970s for complete redevelopment.  In the late 1970s, though, pioneer downtowners began to move back to the area and restore the simple houses of a bygone era.  In 2002 residents succeeded in having the Common Council designate the area as Madison's fifth historic district.

City of Madison
Department of Planning & Community & Economic Development
  • Madison Landmarks Commission
    Department of Planning & Development
    215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
    P.O. Box 2985
    Madison, WI 53701-2985
  • Landmarks Commission
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