The Block 100 Foundation, sponsored by Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland’s Overture Foundation, have moved a little in the right direction on their proposal for the 100 block of State Street. Instead of full-on demolition of six historic buildings on the block, the foundation’s project team is now talking about proposing full-on demolition of 3 buildings, partial demolition of 2 buildings, and one facadectomy.
Under the plan, the Landmark Andrew Schubert building at 122 W. Mifflin St., and the Stark Realty Co. building, the very handsome and sturdy building at the corner of Mifflin and Fairchild would be completely demolished. The small flatiron building at the lower end of the block, known as the Francis Vallander building, would be demolished and reconstructed using all new materials. [see our State Street page for photos]
Two buildings facing State Street: the Landmark Castle & Doyle building (with the rare and intact green and white terra cotta facade), and the adjacent C.E. Buell building would be partially demolished (facades and about 29 feet of the buildings would be salvaged). This treatment is somewhere between a true facadectomy (where only the skin of the building is salvaged) and a rehabilitation of the whole building, but closer to facadectomy.
The overall approach to the block, however, has not changed. The proposal would still entail scooping out the back side of the block and replacing it with sleek contemporary architecture like that of the Overture Center.
This is a heavy-handed approach to one of the most historically significant blocks in the city. It would significantly erode State Street’s vintage authenticity, and create a Janus-faced block of historic facades on one side and contemporary glass-and-stone on the other.
What State Street IS
State Street is our premier historic downtown commercial district. Most American cities have these, and many use them to their great advantage. The historic main streets in most towns developed between 1850 and 1940. They had their glory days during that sweet spot between the end of World War II and the mid-1950s when the nationwide trend of suburbanization was in full-swing. The great flight to the suburbs and the widespread adoption of the suburban shopping mall deflated many downtowns in the 60s and 70s. State Street survived due in large part to its conversion to a pedestrian-oriented mall in the 1970s that catered to a growing UW student body on one end and the city and state government employment centers on the other. In the 1990s and early 2000s downtowns got cool again as people bought vintage downtown buildings to convert them to hip urban residential and commercial spaces.
Vibrant and successful downtowns across the country rely in large part on vintage commercial districts like State Street.
People are attracted to these places in ways they’re not attracted to suburban malls, office parks, and highway commercial strips. Most Americans love the idea of the early 20th-century main street, which is why Walt Disney Co. created a fake one at DisneyWorld. The authentic ones are places where people want to be, to hang out, and to get out of their cars and explore on foot. The streetscape itself is the attraction. Their charm comes in large part from the nature of their vintage architecture. It enriches the public space. It was designed to be beautiful to attract customers, and to convey the good taste of the owner. Now, it is architecture from another time. It could not be built the same way today because it would be cost-prohibitive. It was built in a compact pattern intended to be walkable because there were no cars. And it’s still very effective.
State Street, particularly the 100 block are the essence of Madison for many people who visit our city. Most visitors make their way eventually to the Capitol Square and then down State Street for coffee, lunch, shopping or to find the UW campus. The whole street has a fairly cohesive character of small-scale vintage commercial buildings The 100 block sets the tone as they make the transition from the Square to the commercial corridor.
A Better Approach
The budget cited for this proposal is $10 million. If that money were invested in the existing historic buildings, the Foundation could redesign the rear sides of the State Street buildings, and rehabilitate the two buildings on Mifflin Street. Interior commercial spaces could be combined, and reconfigured if necessary, to improve access to and egress from commercial spaces. The existing buildings could be converted to great spaces for local restaurants and shops.
This approach could create an attractive urban streetscape along Fairchild St. across from the Overture Center. It would link the historic character of the State Street district better with the intersection of Fairchild and Mifflin, and a revitalized Stark Co. building would be a great complement to the new Central Library, Overture Center, and the eventual new Historical Society Museum.
This approach would create as many or more jobs as the proposed demolition and construction – rehab projects are more labor-intensive than material-intensive and create more jobs per million dollars of investment than new construction.
This approach would also be much “greener” than the proposed project. The energy expended to demolish the existing buildings, haul the debris to the landfill, extract the resources for new building materials, fabricate the new building materials, transport the new materials to the building site, and construct the new building would negate any benefit from installing a green roof and geo-thermal heating in new construction. LEED certification requirements can be, and often are, applied to historic buildings. In fact, there is a LEED rating system for existing building.
The caring and imaginative vision for this block could revitalize it in a way that complements the State Street district, creates restoration jobs, works sustainably with existing buildings, and revitalizes historic buildings. The treatment proposed by the Block 100 Foundation would do exactly the opposite.
Category: Executive Director's Blog
About the Author (Author Profile)Jason Tish has been the Executive Director of MTHP since 2009.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Pleasant’s Wrecking Ball « urbanthoreau.com | January 12, 2012
- Downtown Plan: Pave the Lakes! Drive a Stake through Miffland! « urbanthoreau.com | December 21, 2011