The following is an excerpt from the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form
The University Hill Farms Historic District is a complete, highly intact planned community located on the near west side of the city of Madison. It occupies most of a 620-acre parcel that belonged to the University of Wisconsin since the 1890s and which had been used as an experimental farm by the University’s College of Agriculture. By 1953, this farm was being surrounded by the fast-growing city and was blocking the city’s westward expansion. In addition, the increasingly urban setting of the farm meant that it was becoming both less viable as an experimental farm and more valuable as developable land. As a result, the University decided to develop the farm as a self-contained planned community. The proceeds from the sale of the lots in this newly formed subdivision would then be used to purchase and equip a new and much larger experimental farm that would be located far enough from the city to be useful to the University for many decades to come. To this end, the University hired the Chicago-based city planning consulting firm of Carl L. Gardner & Assoc. in 1955 to create a master plan for the new subdivision, which resulted in a topographically sensitive curvilinear street plan that had within it reserved spaces for churches, a school, a park, private office buildings, state office buildings, high rise apartment buildings, garden apartment buildings, and a regional shopping center. Development of the new subdivision began in early 1956 and by 1964, 87% of the district’s buildings had been built, with the vast majority of them being examples of Modern Movement style designs. The resulting planned community was a complete success from both a financial and a civic point of view and it was, and continues to be, especially popular as a home for Madison’s professional and middle-class families.
The University’s Hill Farms property is bounded on the north by the east-west-running Sheboygan Avenue and on the south by the east-west-running Mineral Point Road, these being the two major east-west routes that served the west side of the city both before and after World War II. The east side of the Hill Farms property is bounded by the north-south-running Midvale Boulevard. This four-lane street was being constructed by the City in the early 1950s with the ultimate goal of creating a north-south thoroughfare whose north end would intersect with University Avenue and whose south end would intersect with the new beltline highway being developed at this time around the south side of the city. The west side of the Hill Farms property is now mostly bounded by what was originally called Gilbert Road but which is now called N. and S. Whitney Way. This curving street intersects with University Avenue at its north end and Mineral Point Road at its south end and was just beginning to be laid out when the Hill Farms development began.2 As a result, the University’s Hill Farms was effectively surrounded by what were to become four of the most heavily trafficked streets on the west side of Madison, a situation that was inherently favorable for the University’s proposed development plans.
The timing of the University’s decision was excellent because in the early 1950s Madison was the fastest growing city in Wisconsin and the need for more housing was acute. For instance, between 1940 and 1950 the population of Madison had grown by 42% from 67,447 to 96,056.3 In response to the demand this population growth created, new privately sponsored suburbs were being developed that effectively surrounded the Hill Farms on all sides. Located to the east of the Hill Farms were the pre-World War II suburbs of Westmorland and Sunset Village, to the north was the village of Shorewood Hills, to the west, the pre-war suburb of Crestwood and the post-war suburbs of Blackhawk Park and Merrill Heights, and to the south, the newly developed suburbs of Midvale Heights, Oak Park Heights (1950), and Kenmore. Located even closer were the fully occupied Robin Park and Eighth Addition to Sunset Village subdivisions that occupied property adjacent to the Hill Farms that was not owned by the University, these subdivisions being located in the southeast corner formed by the intersection of S. Midvale Boulevard and Mineral Point Road.4 It is worth noting, however, that none of these new suburbs contained any commercial or retail properties with the single exception of Shorewood Hills, which had a commercial strip along University Avenue east of the Hill Farms that included the small, local, seven-store Shorewood Shopping Center, constructed in 1951 as one of the first shopping centers of any size in the city.
Once the University decided to develop its Hill Farms property in 1953, it entered into a close relationship with the City of Madison and its planning department in order to make a smooth transition. This was aided by the fact that even as early as 1949, the north half of the Hill Farms property had been annexed to the City of Madison and now, in 1953, the remainder was annexed as well, which meant among other things that property owners in the proposed new subdivision would have ready access to city sewer, water, and gas lines. This annexation was followed by the creation of a preliminary plan for the new Hill Farms subdivision in 1954, prepared at the request of the University’s Board of Regents by the City Plan Commission. This plan was drawn by the City of Madison’s planning engineer, Walter K. Johnson, and contained a number of features that were later incorporated into the final plan produced by Carl L. Gardner & Assoc.
Both planners were aided by the fact that in 1953 the only existing buildings in the Hill Farms consisted of four groups of farm buildings, some of which had been acquired by the University with the land and some of which the University had built. The planners were also aided by the fact that the land itself was uncomplicated from a development point of view. The topography of the Hill Farms is gently rolling and it rises gradually to the south and to the west from its lowest point, which is located at the intersection of University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard in the northwest corner of the property. Since most of this land had been farmed since the 1850s, and since it was still being farmed by the University in 1953, it was all open farmland except for a wooded area located at a high spot on the property approximately where Lafayette Drive and Bayfield Terrace are today, and a low spot along Waukesha Street. As a result, the designers of the Hill Farms subdivision had a clean slate to work with before development began. Walter Johnson’s master plan for Hill Farms relied heavily on planning precedents that had been established before World War II in such places as Radburn, New Jersey. His plan included curvilinear (although not necessarily topographically sensitive) streets, an extensive use of cul-de-sacs, lots laid out in super blocks, a gradation of street sizes whose design and location were based on whether the street would carry local or regional traffic, and specific areas designated as park lands, school sites, church sites, or retail areas, all of which were features found in Radburn and other planned pre-war communities. Many aspects of this plan would subsequently be incorporated into Gardner’s accepted 1955 master plan, but the overall appearance of Gardner’s plan was very different. Gardner’s master plan maintained aspects of the city’s plan. Parcels were set aside for churches, parks, and a school. Other large sections were dedicated to a shopping center, offices, and state office buildings. A park and garden apartments formed a transition between the single-family residential portions and the more highly developed shopping and office building areas. The Gardner plan largely abandoned the cul-de-sac and, instead, used long blocks and curvilinear streets to respond to the rolling topography of the site. Mid-block cutthroughs near the school and park provided shorter routes for school children and pedestrians.7 In addition to these alterations, Gardner’s master plan had the advantage of including more building lots than the city’s plan, and addressed new elements that had been added to the subdivision in the interim. Because this project was state-owned and needed approval by the State Building Commission to proceed, and because the University was committed to creating a real community that would be an asset to the city as a whole, state and city input into the plan resulted in an agreement with the University whereby the state would acquire a 30-acre parcel in the north part of the subdivision as the proposed site of multiple, large new state office buildings. In addition, the city of Madison was allocated a 23-acre site in the middle of the subdivision for a school and 60-acres for two parks, all of which were sold to the city at reduced prices before the first plat of the subdivision was put on the market.
One of the most important features of the University’s development plan for the new subdivision was its decision to sell the lots in stages, rather than all at once. This meant that the construction of the necessary infrastructure consisting of roads, sidewalks, and sewer, water, and gas lines, could be implemented gradually and could be paid for in stages. It also meant that instead of flooding the local market for houses, the University could manage the demand for its lots in such a way as to reap the maximum benefit from their sales. In addition, the University also sought to retain control over what was built in the new subdivision by attaching restrictive covenants to the deeds of the lots it sold. To enforce these covenants it set up an Architectural Control Committee that was charged with the responsibility of approving all building plans within the subdivision. These covenants stated that home sites were restricted to single family occupancy, houses could be no more than two-stories in height, they had to have a minimum square footage, and they also had to have attached garages. The covenants further specified that no outbuildings of any kind were permitted on subdivision lots.
Vehicular traffic within the subdivision makes its way to the major thoroughfares surrounding it by traversing several main internal roads. Regent Street runs east-west through the district from Midvale Boulevard to Whitney Way. Hill Farm’s other main internal roads were all developed as part of the subdivision: Segoe Road runs south through Hill Farms from University Avenue to Mineral Point Road and beyond; Eau Claire Avenue runs south into Hill Farms from Old Middleton Road; South Hill Drive runs west from Segoe Road to Whitney Way and beyond; and Racine Road/Pepin Place runs north from Mineral Point Road into Hill Farms. The streets within the Hill Farms subdivision itself were named after various Wisconsin counties, this being a nod to the University’s state-wide mission, the exceptions being Segoe Road, which was named after Ladislas Segoe, a prominent Cincinnati, Ohio urban planner who had developed a comprehensive plan for the City of Madison in 1939, and Cheyenne Trail and Cheyenne Circle, private land that was brought into the development.
Once the new master plan was approved, the development process began. The University hired the Madison-based engineering firm of Mead & Hunt to design the subdivision’s infrastructure and supervise its construction. Next, the University borrowed funds from the State Building Commission to finance the construction of these same roads and utilities with the understanding that these funds would be paid back from the proceeds from the sales of the lots.8 The first portion of Hill Farms was platted in October of 1955 and it set the pattern for all the eleven plats that would follow. This original plat partially encircled the land on Waukesha Street that the city had purchased as a school site and it featured curvilinear streets, concrete curb and gutter, broad terraces, and concrete sidewalks, underneath all of which were the necessary storm sewers and water and gas lines.9 In addition, paved concrete walkways or cut-throughs that cut across the elongated blocks that characterize the subdivision were also built to facilitate the movement of pedestrians and school children through the district. These pathways are still very much in use today.10 All of this was implemented by the University, with the City being in charge of putting in street trees on the terraces and street lighting. The landscaping of the individual lots was left to the homeowners themselves. Early photos show that most of these yards consisted at first of mown lawn with newly planted shade and ornamental trees and shrubs. The same photos also show that in the early years most of the rear yards in the subdivision were unfenced.
At the same time that Hill Farm’s first plat was being developed, its lots sold and houses built, the first open space in the subdivision was also being created, this being the 23-acre grounds of the new and still highly intact Charles R. Van Hise Elementary and Middle School. These grounds were essentially given over to mown lawn on which playing fields for various sports have been developed, but there are also several concrete parking lots located near the school as well. In 1960, neighborhood pressure and activism resulted in several lots located across N. Eau Claire Avenue from the future Rennebohm Park being given to the Hill Farms Swim Club. The construction of the pool and the bathhouse of this club was financed by the club members themselves and this semi-private recreational resource is still very much in operation today. In 1961, more open space was developed in the district between Regent Street and Sheboygan Avenue when construction of the 20-acre Oscar Rennebohm Park began. This land had been purchased by the City in 1955; its grounds stretch all the way from N. Segoe Road to N. Eau Claire Avenue, and like the school grounds, this park is a large green space with mown grass. Tennis courts were built afterwards in the northwest corner of the park as was a large, twelve-sided Contemporary style shelter house replete with restrooms. A recently completed paved path runs from N. Segoe Road westward through the park and around the shelter house before exiting onto both N. Eau Claire Avenue and Regent Street.
The restrictive covenants attached to the deeds of the lots sold for single family residential properties in the district specified, among other things, that a one or one-and-one-half story house located on a lot that was less than 80-feet-wide must have a minimum square footage of 1040 square feet and one on a lot wider than 80-feet, 1176 square feet, while a two-story house had a minimum of 780 square feet and 882-square feet, respectively. As a result, houses in the subdivision tended to be of moderate size and the average cost was from $25,000 to $35,000, including both the cost of the lot and the house itself, from 1956 to 1962, although some cost a good deal more. The designs of these houses followed the trends of the day and the vast majority of the 650 houses that were built in Hill Farms up until 1962 were in the Ranch style. Included among their numbers are such subtypes as the Split-Level and Bi-Level styles.11 There are 613 Ranch Style houses of all types in the district, which number includes 116 examples of the Split-Level subtype and 76 examples of the Bi-Level subtype. Consequently, almost every variant of the Ranch Style house that was built in Madison during this period can be found in the district including some that are much larger and more elaborate than the norm, and a few that are architect designed. The most commonly encountered house built in the district during this period, however, is a one-story Ranch style house having a more or less rectangular plan, either a gable or a hip roof, a garage at one end, and a more or less centered main entrance that is flanked on one side by a living room window and on the other side by bedroom windows. These houses were mostly sided in wood clapboards, although steel or aluminum examples are also encountered, and their front-facing façade is usually at least partially sided in either brick or stone. The district contains 89 Contemporary and Wrightian style houses; a number of which were architect-designed, including one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright himself. These styles, and the houses in the district that are associated with them, are discussed in more detail after the building inventory that follows, while the architects and builders and their works are discussed in the Significance Section of this nomination.
In addition to the single-family residences in Hill Farms, there are also 37 one and two-story duplex apartment buildings, almost all of which were built along Manitowoc Parkway between 1959-64, and 1976-77. These are of the Ranch, Contemporary, and Colonial Revival styles of architecture. 12 Larger scale apartment buildings are also in the district in locations in the northern part of Hill Farms that were specifically set aside for them in the Gardner master plan. The earliest of these was a complex of eleven, two-story-tall, sixteen-unit, two- and three-bedroom garden apartment buildings located on a large parcel at the corner of Regent Street and N. Segoe Road. These Contemporary style buildings were built between 1959 and 1964 and face onto large areas of mown lawn dotted with mature shade trees, with some of the units facing onto the adjacent Rennebohm Park. There are two high rise Contemporary style apartment blocks located on Sheboygan Avenue that were built between 1962 and 1965 in an area that was originally intended to house six of these blocks, all identical in design. Instead, two high rise and six low rise buildings were constructed. The first high rise, the 140- unit Park Tower Apartments, was designed by John J. Flad & Assoc., while the second high rise, the Hilldale Towers Apartments, was designed by another firm and built next door a few years later. The rest of the land located on the south side of Sheboygan Avenue that had originally been allocated for more high rise apartment buildings was subsequently rezoned to allow for the construction of large three-story-tall Colonial Revival and Georgian Revival style apartment block complexes (the three-building Normandy Apartments and the three-building Carolina Apartments), which were built in 1969-70. These later apartment blocks have always been heavily rented by retired couples and the elderly, for whom a low rise building with underground parking and a location near to shopping is preferred. These buildings look out over Rennebohm Park to the south and/or into very large well landscaped inner courts replete with swimming pools. The quick success of these earlier apartment complexes also meant that when the former University of Wisconsin’s Seed Farm portion of the larger Hill Farms became available for development in the late 1980s, another five-building Georgian Revival style complex (the Monticello Apartments) was built on this land, located on Sheboygan Avenue in the next block to the west of the first two. All of these apartment complexes are well landscaped and exceptionally well maintained and feature mown lawns, large deciduous shade trees, ornamental shrubs and trees, and flower beds.
Also included on the Gardner master plan is a 64-acre parcel of land devoted to a 34-acre regional shopping center and to a 30-acre area devoted to private office buildings. This area comprises the northeast corner of Hill Farms and it is bounded by Regent Street to the south, N. Segoe Road to the west, University Avenue to the north, and N. Midvale Boulevard to the east. The designs of all but two of the buildings that were subsequently built in this area are various examples of the Contemporary style and almost all of them were architect-designed. This area was planned so that small and medium size private office buildings could be located between the north side of Regent Street and Heather Crest located at the south end of Hilldale Shopping Center, and also along the east side of N. Segoe Road from Regent Street north to University Avenue. Each of these buildings is freestanding, not more than three-stories-tall, and each is surrounded by some mown lawn and ornamental plantings as well as hard-surfaced parking lots. Eventually there were at least twenty-three privately constructed commercial buildings and a post office building (extant but altered) located within this area along with the original 250,000 square foot Hilldale Shopping Center, which was completed in 1962. The portion of this area that is located south of Heather Crest Drive is still largely intact today; it contains several buildings of architectural significance, and has been included within the boundaries of the University Hill Farms Historic District as a result. The area to the north of it, however, has now been greatly altered and no longer retains integrity. Hilldale Shopping Center is still the retail heart of this area but it has since been enlarged and remodeled and no longer retains its historic appearance. In addition, most of the original commercial buildings that were located north of Kelab Drive/Heather Crest in this area have now been demolished and recently replaced either with new, larger commercial buildings or with new, larger apartment buildings and condominium towers.
In addition to the Hill Farms area’s privately owned office buildings, the Gardner master plan also included a 30-acre parcel bounded by University Avenue to the north, N. Segoe Road to the east, Sheboygan Avenue to the south, and N. Eau Claire Avenue to the west that was set aside as the location for what were originally intended to be two large high-rise state office buildings. The first of these nine-story-tall Contemporary style buildings was completed in 1963. However, subsequent changes in state policy meant that only one of the proposed high rise towers was built; the surplus land was eventually sold by the state and a private office building constructed. Because of the deviation from the original master plan for this area, this entire parcel is not considered to contribute to understanding of the plan and is drawn out of the boundary.
The Gardner master plan also provided separate parcels for four churches in Hill Farms. These parcels were distributed around the periphery of the subdivision and while three churches were ultimately built, one has since been demolished. Of the two that remain, both are examples of the Contemporary style. The Covenant Presbyterian Church in particular, which occupies a corner location at the S. Segoe Road entrance to the district, is an excellent example of the locally significant religious architecture produced by William V. Kaeser, who was one of Madison’s finest mid-twentieth century architects.
Over time, the street trees planted by the city and the trees planted by the residents themselves have increased substantially in size and the landscaping around individual houses has matured. No large scale landscaping projects designed by landscape architects have yet been identified in the district, although individual yards and properties that have been designed by them are known to exist. As in most neighborhoods, most of the landscaping that has occurred has been at the initiative of the property owners themselves and reflects the taste of these individuals. Mown lawns in front and rear yards are ubiquitous and because restrictions embodied in the deed covenants of the properties dictate how close a house can be located to the front street line or to side lot lines, uniform setbacks create a consistent appearance throughout the district.
By 1964, 87% of all the buildings within the district had been completed. Today the district retains the appearance it had in 1964 to a remarkable degree. As was intended, most of the land in the district is given over to single family residences. The houses have continued to attract owners who appreciate the convenience and modernity that they provide. These owners have, by and large, respected the original appearance of the houses. In addition, very few of the district’s original houses have been replaced by new ones. The neighborhood’s Architecture Control Committee still reviews all requests for additions to existing houses and typically declines any request for subdivisions of existing properties. The most common major changes that have occurred to houses in the district have been either the addition of an enclosed or screened porch to the rear of a house, or else an expansion from a one-car to a two-car garage when sufficient lot width was available. Otherwise, the biggest threats to the integrity of the neighborhood’s single-family housing stock has been window alterations and residing with vinyl, the latter trend being especially unfortunate since many of the district’s houses were originally sided in what was once affordable, very long-lasting redwood. Indeed, the stability that the district enjoys can be seen by the fact that only 13 of the district’s buildings have been classified as non-contributing, and only 8 of these have been so classified because of the alterations they have undergone (the other 5 are of too recent a date to fall within the period of significance). With the added benefits that accrue from National Register listing, there is every reason to hope that the University Hill Farms Historic District will continue to retain its historic appearance for many years to come.
As the name implies, Wrightian style buildings are ones whose designs, if not actually by Frank Lloyd Wright himself, are close in spirit and in appearance to those designed by him. The term "Wrightian" is relatively new and does not yet enjoy universal scholarly currency, partly because Wright himself was so protean and varied a designer that it is hard to place limits on what to include or leave out. Suffice it to say that at this point in time, a "Wrightian" building is one having a close physical resemblance to existing Wright-designed buildings of whatever period but especially those built after 1930.
The finest example of the style in the University Hill Farms Historic District was actually designed by Wright himself. This is the Rudin House, which is one of only two built examples of pre-fabricated single-family residence designs that Wright produced for Marshal Erdman and Associates of Madison. The Rudin house was fabricated at the Erdman factory in Madison (non-extant) and it was built by Erdman for inclusion in the 1959 Madison Parade of Homes, held in University Hill Farms that year.
Prof. Walter & Ellen Rudin House 110 Marinette Trail 1959
There are other fine examples of the style in the district designed by others; these are listed below.
Richard & Barbara Woroch House 4809 Fond du Lac Trail 1961
Prof. Edward J. & Eleanor Blakely House 4746 Lafayette Drive 1958
Robert N. & Lois Dick House 106 Richland Lane 1957
As the name implies, the inspiration for the Ranch style was derived from the vernacular houses that could once be found on historic ranches located in the nation’s southwestern states and especially in California. In the 1930s, California architects such as William Wurster and Cliff May transformed these vernacular designs into a modern idiom that became known as the Western Ranch House; an idiom whose growing popularity owed much to the publishing activities of Sunset Magazine. In addition, the Prairie School Style houses of Frank Lloyd Wright, with their low, ground-hugging appearance, hipped roofs, and wide, overhanging eaves, were another important source of inspiration. By the beginning of World War II, house catalogs featuring Ranch style designs had begun to appear, and after the war ended, the Ranch style was quickly embraced by builders all over the country. The style soon evolved into the ubiquitous single-family residential form that can now be found in most of the nation’s mid-20th century suburbs.
Ranch style houses are one-story-tall, typically have either rectangular, L-shaped, or U-shaped plans, and most examples have attached garages or a carport facing the street. In addition, examples of this style also share a number of other common characteristics. “Asymmetrical one-story shapes with low pitched roof predominate. Three common roof forms are used: the hipped version is probably the most common, followed by the cross-gabled, and finally, side-gabled examples. There is usually a moderate or wide eave overhang. This may be either boxed or open, with the rafters exposed as in Craftsman houses. Both wooden or brick wall cladding are used, sometimes in combination. Builders frequently add modest bits of traditional detailing, usually loosely based on Spanish or English Colonial precedents. Decorative iron or wooden porch supports and decorative shutters are the most common. Ribbon windows are frequent as are large picture windows in living areas.”
Ranch style houses come in a variety of sizes and they also utilize a variety of cladding materials, including either wood, steel, or aluminum clapboards, and brick or stone, and many examples combine two or even three of these materials. There are 613 Ranch style houses in the district, of which 116 are examples of the Split-Level subtype and 76 are examples of the Raised Ranch or Bi-Level subtype, both of which are discussed later. Of the district’s 421 remaining Ranch style houses, the best and most intact representative examples are listed below.
Raised Ranch or Bi-Level Style
A recognized subtype of the Ranch style exists whose designs are characterized by their adaptation to hilly sites. These examples, sometimes called either “Raised Ranches” or “Bi-Level” designs, maintain the same one-story-tall profile of the previous examples but their automobile garage(s) are located in either a partially or fully exposed portion of their basement story. These garage openings are typically located on the main façade and face the street, although they sometimes face to the side as well, depending on the site. Note, however, that these houses should not be confused with the SplitLevel examples that will be discussed next. Typically, the Raised Ranch subtype still has all of its principal living spaces located on just one floor; only the garage, utility rooms, and perhaps a recreation room, are located in the basement story.
Of the district’s 613 Ranch style examples, 76 of them are examples of the Raised Ranch or Bi-Level subtype. The vast majority of these houses have a gable-roofed main block and a masonry-clad basement story.
One of the district’s most distinctive examples of this subtype was built by Byrant W. Fisher, who was a partner in the contracting firm of Fisher & Fischer, as his own house. Another especially impressive example was built at 101 Marinette Trail by builder Donald Sampson.
In addition, there is also a subset of the Raised Ranch style in the district that is characterized by a hip-roofed main block that has a partially exposed masonry-clad basement story and a fully exposed first story, to one side of which is attached a one-story hip-roofed garage ell. All five of these houses were built between 1964 and 1966. Two were built by the contracting firm of Fisher & Fischer and the other three may have been built by them as well.
Split-Level style houses are another subtype of the Ranch style that “retained the horizontal lines, low-pitched roof, and overhanging eaves of the Ranch house, but added a two-story unit intercepted at mid-height by a one-story wing to make three floor levels of interior space. … Families were felt to need three types of interior spaces: quiet living areas, noisy living and service areas, and sleeping areas. The Split-level form made it possible to locate these on separate levels. The lower level usually housed the garage and commonly, the “noisy” family room with its television, which was becoming a universal possession. The mid-level wing contained the “quiet” living areas and the upper level, the bedrooms.”
Of the district’s 613 Ranch style examples, 116 of them are examples of the Split-Level style subtype. The vast majority of these houses have a front-facing gable-roofed block to which is attached a side gabled ell. The resulting combination is in some ways a modern version of the nineteenth century Gable Ell vernacular form, but hip-roofed and even flat roofed examples can also be found within the district as well.
Another distinctive district group of Split-Level designs consists of four houses that were all built by Clifford P. Kolberg in 1962-63. These small houses are unusual in that while most Split-Level designs have two distinct roofs that are placed at different heights, these Kolberg-built houses all have a single gable roof with two slopes of unequal length that gives these houses an almost saltbox-like profile when viewed from the front.
The Contemporary style is a provisional term that is applied to buildings that typically were built after World War II and that are truly modern in inspiration and owe nothing to past designs or historic examples. Unfortunately, because the scholarly effort that will eventually categorize these buildings into separate styles is still in its infancy, it is easier to identify Contemporary style buildings of architectural merit than it is to categorize them.
The district contains many fine Contemporary style houses and the best of these are listed below in two separate groups.
The first group comprises a subset of the Contemporary style for which a provisional definition has already been proposed. These are flat-roofed one-story houses, a subtype that “is a derivation of the earlier International style and houses of this subtype are sometimes referred to as American International. They resemble the International style in having flat roofs and no decorative detailing, but lack the stark white stucco wall surfaces, which are usually replaced by various combinations of wood, brick, or stone.”
Several of the examples of this group in the district appear to owe a debt to the wood-clad International style designs of the Madison architectural firm of Beatty & Strang and also to the Usonian designs of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The second group consists of the other Contemporary style single-family residences and other building types that are as of yet unclassified in terms of architectural subtypes. Several of the best of these houses are the known work of prominent Madison architects, but for now, the works of these individual architects is best studied within the context of these architects’ personal development. For instance, the early works of William V. Kaeser and Herb Fritz, Jr. both reflect the influence of the flatroof subtype described above, but their later work is more individualistic and reflects the separate paths that these two fine architects chose to follow. The majority of the district’s Contemporary style houses, however, are the work of still unidentified architects and designers. These buildings represent many different design strategies, but all of them meet the same criteria that the buildings discussed previously in other stylistic categories had to meet; they have architectural significance and they have integrity.
Some of the finest and most distinctive examples of the district’s Contemporary style residences are ones that several architects designed for themselves and their families.
Of the several Contemporary style high rise apartment blocks in the district, the first and the last are the finest. The earliest one is the Park Towers Apartments, which was designed by John J. Flad & Assoc., while the last one was the Attic Angels Nursing Home Tower, also by Flad.
There is also a notable Contemporary style garden apartment complex located in the district. This is the Karen Arms Garden Apartments, an 11-building complex designed by the Madison firm of Weiler & Strang. This complex is located on the corner of Regent Street and N. Segoe Road and some of its buildings also face onto Rennebohm Park.
In addition to the single-family residences and multiple dwelling buildings listed above, the district also includes an excellent Contemporary style school that was designed by Weiler & Strang of Madison and an equally fine Contemporary style church that was designed by Madison architect William V. Kaeser.
Colonial Revival Style
Modern Movement style designs predominate throughout the University Hill Farms Historic District, there being 705 buildings in the district that fall within these styles. Nevertheless, 114 buildings in the district were designed in the Colonial Revival style and constitute its second largest stylistic category. Why this should be so is a matter of speculation. For some owners it is likely that this style’s cultural association with the concept of “home” was a deciding factor. For others, having a second story and the extra space it provided may have also been a deciding factor, especially when lot size was an issue. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the Colonial Revival style never fell entirely out of favor with new home owners during this period, and there is some indication that it actually increased in popularity over time.
There are two principal subtypes of the Colonial Revival style in the district. The first subtype consists of a type that is popularly known as a Cape Cod style house. This one-and-one-half-story tall side-gabled subtype is the most historically accurate of the two subtypes of this style that predominate in the district and its best, most intact examples are listed below.
The second and much more popular Colonial Revival style subtype consists of a two-story side-gabled main block, to one side of which is attached a one-story gable-roofed one or two-car garage that opens either to the front or to the side, depending upon the size of the lot. The vast majority of these houses have a main façade that faces the street. This face typically has a first story that is clad in masonry while the second story above, and the rest of the house, is clad in clapboard of either wood, steel, aluminum, or vinyl, depending on the age of the house.
The University Hill Farms Historic District is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under Criterion C, in the area of Architecture, at the local level of significance. It is an architecturally significant collection of single family and multi-family residences, churches, private office buildings, and a school, that together constitute a well-defined and visually distinct geographic and historic entity within the boundaries of the city of Madison.
The University Hill Farms Historic District is eligible for listing in the NRHP under Criterion A, in the area of Community Planning & Development at the local level of significance as a complete planned suburban community whose creation had a lasting effect on the city of Madison.
The University Hill Farms Historic District represents most of the University Hill Farms subdivision that was developed on the west side of the city of Madison beginning in 1953. The first 156-acre portion of the land that comprised this subdivision had been a farm that was purchased by the University of Wisconsin (UW) in 1897, and this farm had been steadily augmented in size over the years until, by 1953, it covered some 620-acres. It had been used continuously as an experimental farm by the UW’s College of Agriculture during this period. By 1953, however, the village of Shorewood Hills and the west side suburbs of the rapidly expanding city of Madison had effectively surrounded this farm. The farm was blocking the westward expansion of the city and it was also losing value as a place in which to conduct agricultural experiments, even as it gained value as raw real estate. Consequently, in 1953, the University requested authorization from the state legislature to sell the farm and use the proceeds to buy a new, much larger farm that would be located far enough away from Madison so that its value as a laboratory to the College of Agriculture would endure for many more decades thereafter. After permission from the legislature was granted, the University then set about determining the best way to develop the property, both from the stand point of maximizing the financial benefit its sale could provide, and also from the standpoint of what was best for the city of Madison as a whole. This resulted in the decision that the University would develop the land itself, and in the process, create what was essentially a self-contained community where its residents could live, work, go to school, shop, recreate, and worship. Working in conjunction with the City of Madison, a master plan was created for this development in 1955 that allocated specific areas within the subdivision for each of these activities. The core of the development was the almost 800 lots allocated to single family residences which, along with the apartment houses that were also part of the plan, were eventually expected to house as many as 7000 persons. The University also decided to market these lots in stages so as not to flood the local real estate market and to make the process of creating the necessary infrastructure more affordable for the University. The results were a complete success, both for the University and Madison. Lots in the first plat of the subdivision went on sale in early 1956 and sold out quickly, and the same was true of the lots in each of the successive plats. As a result, by 1964, some 650 houses had been built in the district along with 12 apartment houses, two churches, a school, several private office buildings, a swimming pool and bath house, a park, a nursing home, and a regional shopping center. Today, the residential and small office building portion of the district still looks very much the way it did in 1964, at which time it represented a virtual catalog of the architecture that was available in Madison during the years between 1956 and 1964.
The period of significance for this district spans the years from 1956 to 1989, these being the years during which all the district’s contributing buildings were constructed. The earliest of these buildings was built in 1956, while the last were built between 1985 and 1989 on land that was the last portion of the subdivision’s North Hill Plat to be opened for development. This last portion had been the College of Agriculture’s seed farm and it continued to be used for experimental purposes until 1985, long after the rest of the farm had been subdivided and sold. The five buildings in the apartment building complex that were built on this land after the farm closed in 1985 completed the subdivision’s original master plan.
Community Planning and Development
In 2002, the National Park Service published a National Register Bulletin entitled Historic Residential Suburbs: Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation For the National Register of Historic Places. This bulletin, which was developed in tandem with a national multiple property listing entitled “Historic Residential Suburbs in the United States, 1830-1960, MPS,” to develop a nationwide context within which to evaluate and nominate residential historic districts and other suburban resources to the National Register of Historic Places. The University Hill Farms Historic District NRHP nomination has utilized this context and the nomination itself has been prepared in accordance with the guidelines that are found in the Documentation and Registration section of this bulletin. The history of the near west side of the city of Madison, which includes all of the land located immediately to the east of the University Hill Farms, has also recently been documented from its beginnings in the 1850s up until 1972 in the City of Madison Near West Side Neighborhoods Intensive Survey Report, which was completed in 2013.33 This survey looked briefly at the physical growth of the survey area in the years prior to 1931 but it concentrated mostly on the years that followed up until 1972, this being the period during which the survey area attained its present appearance. Consequently, this information will not be repeated; instead, the history that follows will take a general look at the physical growth of the city as it pertains to the district as well as the history of the district itself.
The land that now comprises the district was originally a part of the Town of Madison, and the lands in the area surrounding it (and in the district itself) were given over almost entirely to agricultural pursuits until the second decade of the twentieth century and still later within the district itself. The earliest suburban development in this area occurred in the mid-1850s in a portion of the town where three stone quarries that supplied much of the Madison sandstone that was used to build the city’s finest early buildings were then located. This modest sized development was located along University Avenue, which runs from Madison’s downtown westward past the University of Wisconsin campus and parallel with the tracks of the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad, which were laid in 1854. This thoroughfare is still one of the most important thoroughfares on Madison’s west side. Two small plats were established in the quarry area in the 1850s, “Lakeland” in 1855, and “Quarrytown” in 1863. This development activity probably represented an attempt to capitalize on the hope that the industrial activity generated by the area’s stone quarries would be enhanced by the presence of the new railroad line and the new Sauk Road that ran just to the north of them. If so, this hope proved to be largely unfounded. These pioneer suburban plats remained essentially undeveloped until after the end of World War I. The 1890 Plat Book of Dane County, for instance, shows that even by that date there were only four buildings located in the Quarrytown Plat.34 Nevertheless, these early development efforts represented the first attempts to develop the lands lying west of the city and they were precursors of what was to come.
The growth of Madison's population during the 1890s resulted in the creation of the city's first suburbs, of which the near west side plats of Wingra Park (1889) and University Heights (1893) were the first to cater to the more affluent members of the community. These were streetcar suburbs, so-called because of their proximity to streetcar lines that enabled new suburban homeowners to commute to their places of business in the downtown section of the city and at the rapidly expanding University of Wisconsin campus. Such proximity was critical to the success of these plats because in the pre-automobile era even middle class families seldom had a horse and carriage of their own. Thus, families seeking to locate out in any of the new suburbs could usually do so only if the breadwinners of the family had some form of public transportation to take them to their places of work, nearly all of which were then still located downtown. Since streetcars were Madison's only form of public transportation, reasonable proximity to one of the city's streetcar lines was essential. Streetcars also brought the citizens of the city out to its two cemeteries as well, beginning in 1897, when the local electric streetcar company constructed a new line that ran westward along Regent Street to a terminus at the foot of today’s Speedway Road and the adjacent Forest Hill and Calvary cemeteries. The impact that this new line was to have on the future of what is now the near west side of the city can hardly be overestimate 1897 cemetery addition, a 1.5 mile extension terminating at Forest Hill Cemetery, suddenly opened up 722 additional acres of prime land for development. The new line was a boon for already platted suburbs of Wingra Park and University Heights and sparked the beginning of extensive construction in both places. The Madison Democrat estimated that the streetcar line immediately enhanced the value of nearby property by 10 to 45 percent.
These suburbs did not achieve real success until after 1903, however, when their annexation to the city finally supplied homeowners with such city services as sewers, water, gas, electricity, concrete streets and sidewalks, and a new school (Randall Elementary School). Once these services became available, suburban development on the west side of the city steadily increased.
Despite the gradual westward growth of the city, though, most of the land located around and including University Hill Farms was still rural at the turn of the century and was given over to agricultural pursuits. Persons living in this area were still only occasional visitors to the city itself. Access to this land was provided by the area’s two principal historic roads; the Sauk Road (University Avenue), and the Mineral Point Road (today’s Speedway Road and Mineral Point Road), both of which had been in existence since at least the 1850s.
The core of the property that would become the University Hill Farms was a 156-acre parcel that was roughly bounded by today’s University Avenue to the north, Midvale Boulevard to the east, Regent Street to the south, and N. Eau Claire Avenue to the west. This land was first purchased by Josiah A. Noonan (1813-1882), who had helped survey the original plat of Madison in 1836 and had purchased this farm land west of the future city at the same time, along with other lands in the area. Noonan subsequently became the publisher of the Wisconsin Enquirer newspaper, which was the first one in Madison, and he afterwards started newspapers in Milwaukee as well and became the first postmaster of that city.36 Noonan’s sister, Clarissa, married Harmon J. Hill, in 1845 and the new couple moved from New York state to Milwaukee, where Josiah Noonan gave Hill a job running the post office in downtown Milwaukee. Within months, however, Noonan apparently convinced Hill to move to Madison and take over the running of his farm property west of the city, which Harmon Hill subsequently purchased in 1849. Hill afterwards became the first county supervisor from the Town of Madison and he also served as the town treasurer for 13 years. The success of his farm enabled the Hills to build a very fine stone Italianate style Gabled Ell farmhouse on the farm in 1857. Hill continued to operate this farm until he retired in 1893, whereupon the Hills sold it to Benjamin F. Lewis and moved into Madison. In 1897, Lewis sold the farm to the University of Wisconsin and their purchase was afterwards known as the University’s Hill Farm.
The University’s purpose in buying this farm was to use it as the core of a new experimental farm that would be larger and better located than the University’s first such farm, a 196-acre parcel that was located immediately to the west of the University’s campus and which had been purchased for this use in 1866 as part of the founding of the University’s College of Agriculture. In the years that followed, the College’s original experimental farm proved to be of immense educational and scientific value to the University and the state but by 1897, the steady physical growth of the University was starting to make inroads on the farm’s land. The advent of mechanized agriculture and the rise of industrialized dairy farming were both trends that argued for a larger parcel of land located away from the city center but still within easy reach of the main campus. As a result, the University’s new Hill Farm purchase became the first of what would eventually be several University-owned experimental farms located on the near west side Madison. In the years that followed its initial purchase, the University made additional purchases of land that augmented the original acreage of the Hill Farm: the 58-acre E. C. Hammersley Farm in 1903; the 20-acre Vilberg farm in 1910; the 70-acre Koch Farm in 1914; the 40-acre C. P. Parsons property in 1941; the 40-acre E. Backus property in 1945; the 99-acre H. B. Gregg Farm in 1945, the 10-acre L. J. Oscar property in 1947; and the 120-acre William A. Gugel, Jr. Farm, also in 1947.
By the time the University’s Hill Farms reached its final 613-acre size in 1947, the rural environment that it had once been a part, changed profoundly. By the end of World War II, the Hill Farms was effectively surrounded by suburbs that had been growing steadily westward since the early years of the twentieth century. Located to the east of the Hill Farms were the pre-World War II suburbs of Westmorland and Sunset Village, to the north was the Village of Shorewood Hills, to the west, the pre-war suburb of Crestwood and the post-war suburbs of Blackhawk Park, and Merrill Heights, and to the south were the post-war suburbs of Midvale Heights, Oak Park Heights, and Kenmore. Located even closer were the fully occupied Robin Park and Eighth Addition to Sunset Village subdivisions that occupied property adjacent to the Hill Farms that was not owned by the University, these subdivisions being located in the southeast corner formed by the intersection of S. Midvale Boulevard and Mineral Point Road and extended down Midvale Boulevard to Segoe Road.
What made this suburban expansion possible was the growth of motorized buses in the city and to a much lesser degree, automobile ownership. The development of suburbs to the west demonstrated the efficacy of gasoline powered buses. As was noted earlier, the city’s streetcar lines had been extended as far west as Forest Hills Cemetery in 1897, but this was as far as they would ever go. The new suburbs that were developed afterwards lacked the necessary population density that could make new westward extensions of the lines of this privately owned transportation system profitable. By 1915, it was clear that the city’s rapidly growing numbers of gasoline-powered vehicles represented the future of transportation in the city and it was this new reality that would drive future suburban expansion, both in Madison and elsewhere. For instance, College Hills (the first portion of the village of Shorewood Hills) and Nakoma, another early upper-middle class west side suburb, were both designed from the start to be attractive to home owners that intended to commute to and from work in the downtown part of the city using gasoline powered buses or their own automobiles. It was not a coincidence that all the new suburbs that had been built to the west of University Heights and to the southwest of Wingra Park prior to 1915 were laid out adjacent to University Avenue, Regent Street, or Monroe Street. These, after all, were the three principal arterial streets that funneled both horse-drawn conveyances and the city’s ever increasing numbers of gasoline-powered buses, automobiles, and trucks from the downtown to the west side of the city and beyond at this time. Any developer who hoped to make his west side suburb a success had to be able to offer potential home builders ready access to these streets or comparable ones.
It was this proximity to an existing transportation route that also accounted for the creation of the first new subdivision located in the area between Nakoma and Shorewood Hills. This was the University Park Addition platted in June of 1916 by the Dane Co. and others, and which was bounded by University Ave. to the north, N. Blackhawk Ave. to the west, Stevens St. to the south, and the west edge of what is today’s Quarry Park to the east. Much more important to the future of this area was its second new subdivision, the West Wingra Addition, which was platted in December of 1916 by Otto E. Toepfer, Jr. This new subdivision was the first part of the future suburb of Westmorland to be platted and it represented Toepfer’s first subdivision of a 60-acre parcel of former farm land bordering on and located west of Mineral Point Road that he had purchased in 1899.
Very little additional platting activity would take place on the city’s west side until after World War I, and demand for new housing did not revive until 1925, when the small Findlay Park Addition was platted as a replat of portions of the 1850s era Quarrytown and Lakeland plats. Even so, the City of Madison was already planning for the future at this time. In that same year the City decided to purchase a hilltop parcel of land in 1925 that was located two blocks south of Regent Street between Glenway Street (then called Parker Drive) and Larkin Street as the site of a new high-service water reservoir. This 6,000,000 gallon concrete reservoir was designed to serve customers on the west side of the city. Constructed in 1926, it was covered by soil, graded and seeded and remains in operation today known as Reservoir Park.41 In March of that same year, Otto Toepfer Jr. platted a First Addition to his original West Wingra Addition, which consisted of a small 23-lot 6-acre expansion to the north of the original plat. Later in the same year, Toepfer sold much of the remaining unplatted acreage he owned to A. O. Paunack. Paunack, a Madison banker and land developer, had previously been a partner in the Highland Park Co., which had developed the Highland Park subdivision located just west of today’s West High School in 1906. Paunack then took the land he had acquired from Toepfer and platted it as the Westmorland Subdivision in November of 1926. Westmorland would ultimately become the first large scale new suburb to be built in the area and by 1928 its owners had platted two more additions to the original plat. All of this platting activity and ancillary development work took place during the heady days of the stock market boom of the late 1920s, but success in the real estate development business is as much a matter of timing as it is of location.
The pace of house building on the former farmland owned by Toepfer was slow. While newspaper ads placed in 1927 and 1928 attempted to attract more homebuilders to the area, the Stock Market Crash in October 1929, and the Depression that followed virtually stopped construction. By the end of 1929, fewer than 20 homes had been built on 276 lots that had been created.
Nevertheless, Westmorland was the first suburb to be developed in the area west of what were then the city of Madison’s western boundaries.
The Depression effectively put a stop to new platting activity on the west side of the city and only one small new plat was recorded between 1929 and 1938. Even so, other things were happening on the west side that would have an impact on the future of the area. These things included the considerable growth that the University of Wisconsin experienced during the 1930s and also the growth of various federal and state governmental agencies located in Madison during this period such as the new U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, which was built on the west edge of the UW campus in 1932. The housing needs of the staffs of these large institutions created a demand for housing on the west side of the city that filled all the available houses in the already platted portions of the near west side. This continuing demand could ultimately only be met by the creation of new residential plats that would come into being once the Depression ended.
Once the effects of the Depression started to recede, new platting activity on the west side blossomed. The first new plat was for the Sunset Village Addition, which was platted in May of 1938 by McKennas, Inc., this being John C. McKenna’s newest development company. Sunset Village was bounded by Westmorland Boulevard to the east, Hillcrest Drive to the north, S. Owen Drive to the west, and Mineral Point Road to the south. Its layout featured a central block with a park space in its center; this block was surrounded by a roadway and by an outer ring of lots. This new plat lay on the opposite side of Mineral Point Road from Westmorland, was heavily advertised and almost immediately successful. One year later, a newspaper ad for the plat had the following to say about the plat’s first year.
Sunset Village, Madison’s newest community, is one-year old. Thirty-five homes have been completed or are under construction, and forty to fifty more homes are being planned for building in the very near future on the one hundred and twenty-five lots that have been sold in Sunset Village by McKennas, Inc. … Water mains have been installed. Roads have been constructed. Gas mains are now in service. Spacious areas have been set aside for park purposes. Sunset Village is located on Madison’s west side at Sunset Point. It is located in the same high rolling area that has long been Madison’s favorite picnic spot. Of the many homes that have been built in Sunset Village, 90% of the mortgages are insured by the Federal Housing Administration. McKennas, Inc. have followed the suggestions that FHA has given in the planning and designing of the plat. Qualified engineers have been consulted to assure accuracy in surveying. A noteworthy feature of the development of Sunset Village is the park area. One and one third acres have been reserved for recreational purposes in the center of Sunset Village. The park affords playground space for children and adults as well. … Sunset Village is a fully restricted residential area. The plans of all homes are inspected and approved by a committee for the purpose of keeping construction on a high plane.
The presence of FHA guidelines and a self-regulating design committee are notable because almost all of the houses that were built in the original plat were examples of the Colonial Revival style, although there were also a few Tudor Revival style examples as well. That this is so reflects the inherent design conservatism of the FHA, which wanted to be sure that any new residential construction that was backed by the government would hold its value. It also reflects the willingness of developers like McKenna to follow these guidelines.
McKenna was quick to follow up on the success of his first plat by platting an addition to it in June of 1939. The smaller L-plan First Addition to Sunset Village, located just across Hillcrest Drive from the original plat, contained 39 lots, and was bounded on the west by S. Owen Drive and on the east and partly on the north by Hoyt Park. This was followed a few months later by the platting of the Pilgrim Village Addition. This new plat was located just to the east of Sunset Village and it was bounded on the west by Westmorland Boulevard, on the north by Hillcrest Drive, on the east by Larkin Street, and on the south by lots that fronted on Mineral Point Road but which were not part of this plat. Pilgrim Village was developed by W. E. Gifford, Jr., a Milwaukee developer and contractor who, like McKenna, would play a large part in the subsequent development of the area. This plat was also successful after Gifford resolved labor issues that had slowed construction. The following year, in April of 1940, McKenna platted his Second Addition to Sunset Village. This large addition was bounded by S. Owen Drive to the east, Regent Street to the north, S. Midvale Boulevard to the west, and its southern boundary was located a few lots south of Upland Drive.44 In December of the same year McKenna platted yet another addition to Sunset Village. This one, the Third Addition to Sunset Village, was located just to the south of the Second Addition and was bounded by Karen Court on the east, the Second Addition on the north, S. Midvale Boulevard on the west, and Mineral Point Road on the south.
These new suburbs were instantly successful and this success was also enjoyed by the older suburb of Westmorland, which experienced a building boom of its own during this period. One result of this success was that the new residents first requested and then demanded that the city’s bus lines be extended to serve them. This demand was resisted at first but after a petition to the State’s Public Service Commission was granted, the new extensions were in place by August of 1940. Further recognition of the growth that the west side was experiencing at this time was provided by the City’s decision to extend city water and sewer lines to Westmorland and to Sunset Village.
By the start of 1941, more than 160 new houses had been built in Sunset Village alone and another 27 were in the process of construction. Because the end of the Depression was also accompanied by the spread of war in Europe, the tempo of platting and building activity in the area continued unabated and was probably spurred on at least in part by concerns about the future availability of building materials. The first new plat recorded in 1941 was that of John C. McKenna, who platted his very large Fourth Addition to Sunset Village in April. This latest extension was bounded by N. Meadow Lane on the west, Regent Street on the south, North Blackhawk Avenue on the east, and University Avenue on the north, and it would subsequently be renamed Sunset Ridge.
World War II effectively ended platting and building in the city as a whole due to the restrictions that were placed on non-war-related building activity. Consequently, hardly any new buildings were built on the west side until the last year of the war. Once the war ended, the enormous pent- up post-war demand for housing would permanently transform what was a predominately rural area. It must be remembered that much of the near west side was still part of the Town of Madison in 1945, although there were many signs by this time that that was about to change. By 1942, the city of Madison had grown to the point where its western boundaries included North Franklin Avenue, Speedway Road, and that portion of Glenway Street adjacent to Glenway Golf Course. City water and sewer lines now reached deep into the west side as well, the utility lines of the Madison Gas & Electric Company supplied it with electricity, and children in the area attended city schools (Dudgeon Elementary, Randall Elementary, and West Senior High).
It is not surprising, therefore, that the end of the war unleashed a flurry of new platting activity to the west side. By the end of 1946, eight new plats had been established in this area in order to take advantage of the new house building boom that was just gathering steam in that year. These new plats brought the western edge of the city of Madison directly across Midvale Boulevard from the University’s Hill Farms. In addition, by this time the Village of Shorewood Hills already occupied all the land on the north side of University Avenue opposite Hill Farms and still more new plats had been developed on the south side of Mineral Point Road across from and to the west of Hill Farms. Consequently, by 1953, the open fields of the University’s 613-acre Hill Farms had become a barrier to the further development of the west side from the City’s point of view while the continued use of this land as an experimental farm was becoming increasingly problematic from the point of view of the University. As the authors of the standard history of the University of Wisconsin noted:
It had soon become apparent after the war that this large UW experimental farm complex, comprising more than 600 acres and some of it in use by the University since the late nineteenth century, was blocking the westward growth of the city, which was expanding westward on either side of the UW land.
After discussions about this problem with members of the University administration, the University’s Board of Regents finally decided in 1953 that the Hill Farms land should be sold for development and the proceeds from the sale should then be applied to the purchase of new experimental farm lands located farther away from the city. To expedite this sale the regents first applied to the state legislature for permission to sell the land and then appointed a Regents Special Committee on Agricultural Lands “to cooperate with University officials and officials of the City of Madison regarding plans for disposing of farm lands of the University.”48 The regents appointed to this committee were: Oscar Rennebohm, a former governor of the State of Wisconsin and the founder and owner of Rennebohn Drugstores, a large Madison drugstore chain; Wilbur Renk, owner of Renks Seeds in Sun Prairie; and John D. Jones, Jr. of Racine. After receiving legislative permission for the sale and for the reinvestment of the proceeds in a new research farm located elsewhere, the regents then requested that the City of Madison Planning Department prepare a preliminary general development plan for the project.
While preparation of the development plan was happening, the Regents Special Committee was also discussing how best to handle the sale of the land. The first step was to have an appraisal made of the value of the land to be sold, with the initial assumption being that the land would be sold as a single block to a developer or a consortium of developers. In addition, the regents appointed Professor Richard U. Ratcliff (1906-1980) to assist them and the University administration in the development and sale of Hill Farms. Professor Ratcliff was a land development expert in the University’s School of Commerce who had practical experience in real estate. He also served in several high positions in the federal government in the 1930s and during the war, before coming to the University in 1944 to start the School of Commerce’s bureau of business research and services. In addition, he had also served for several years on the Madison Plan Commission and was thus ideally suited to the job of managing the creation of the Hill Farms subdivision.49 At the same time, Regent Rennebohm, the chair of the committee, also requested that the Madison Board of Realtors advise them on how best to dispose of the land. The resulting advice from the Board of Realtors was that the University could expect to receive about $1000 per acre for the land if it was sold in a block as raw land and it would thus realize about $600,000.00. However, the Board also believed that if the University developed the land itself, it could raise much more than that, given the development potential of the land.
Soon thereafter, in January of 1954, the City of Madison sent the regents the general development plan that had been drafted by the City’s planning engineer, Walter K. Johnson. Johnson’s plan contained large areas that were allocated to a 40-acre regional park, an 80-acre neighborhood center, and a 53- acre shopping center that was located in the northeast corner of the property where University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard intersect. Large blocks of apartments were placed on both the south and west sides of the shopping center and these were intended to act as a buffer between the shopping center and the many hundreds of lots occupied by single-family residences that occupied most of the land in the development. Johnson’s plan also relied heavily on an internal traffic pattern that placed most of the development’s single-family houses on long, narrow cul-de-sacs, and his plan minimized through traffic in the development in order to create a safer environment for the development’s residents and their children.
The reaction of the Madison community, the State, and City to Johnson’s general development plan came soon thereafter and response was positive. Both the State and the City had their eyes on portions of the development, however. First, the State Building Commission told the University to set aside 30- acres located in the northern part of the development as the potential site of new state office buildings and associated employee parking. Next, the City of Madison agreed to purchase 85-acres of the development for school and park purposes and to pay a total of $206,250 for this land. The response of the University was also largely positive as well.
Professor Richard Ratcliff, who has done much of the university’s planning for the development and sale of the land, said the state tract “Can be worked in.” It probably will be near University Avenue beyond the shopping center. The plan, he said, is to lay out and sell 100 acres of residential lots as a starter. They will sell for $30 to $40 per front foot, depending upon location, and will run about three lots to the acre. Gravel streets will be laid out, and water and sewer mains and laterals put in. The [state building] commission, in effect, approved the entire 600-acre plan in broad outline and authorized the university to use money it will receive from the city for the school site to help pay other costs. Ratcliff said that it will cost $75,000 to develop the first 100 acres, including surveying, abstracting, and street grading. … The university will decide later whether to sell all the remaining land as lots to builders and individuals or to offer some as tract to developers, Ratcliff said.
This notwithstanding, the Regents Special Committee was still weighing the advice it had received from the Madison Board of Realty at this time and it was actively endeavoring to strike a balance between what was best for the University in terms of financial gain and what was best for the city as a whole. While the committee agreed with the general concepts of the Johnson plan, it had reservations about the amount of land given to the neighborhood center, to the number of single family lots that were included, and to the street plan.52 As a result, on March 2, 1955, the Board of Regents contracted with Carl L. Gardner & Assoc. of Chicago, planning consultants, to produce a master plan for the Hill Farms development. Carl L. Gardner was a graduate of Harvard University and by this time he was a nationally known land planner and had been the director of the Chicago Plan Commission for nine years, from 1945-53. In addition, Gardner had also been the chief land planning consultant for the Federal Housing Administration for five years and director of the FHA’s planning division for one year prior to this.53 Later in the same month, Professor Ratcliff also released the results of a survey conducted by Gordon Ross Stephens, a Ph.D. candidate in city planning at the University, the intent of which was to assess the economic potential of the proposed shopping center site shown in the Johnson plan.
The survey shows that 15,000 cars pass the intersection of Midvale Boulevard and University Avenue, site of the shopping center, each week day. And, with parking planned for 1,600 cars in the initial stages of the center, the site provides the most ample parking facilities on the west side of the city. The survey shows that the center is in the fastest growing side of the fastest growing city in the state and that incomes in this part of the city are above average for Madison. It predicts that within two years there will be 5,500 families living within a 5-minute drive of the center. Average income for each family will be $7,500 and the aggregate income will be $41,250,000. If the driving time is extended to 10 minutes, the survey indicates the number of families will grow to 14,000 and the aggregate income to $105,000,000 … “The tremendous trade potential of this site will make possible a regional, rather than a neighborhood type of shopping center,” Prof. Ratcliff said.
In May of 1955, the master plan for Hill Farms created by Carl L. Gardner & Assoc. was unveiled and incorporated some substantial changes from the Johnson plan, as described in the Description Section of this nomination (Section 7, p. 3). After some give and take with the city, Gardner’s plan was finally adopted and became the basis for the development that was to follow.
Once approval of Gardner’s plan had been secured, the University took immediate steps to ready the first part of the development for platting and sale. By this time, the Regents had been convinced by Professor Ratcliff and the members of the Regents Special Committee that it was to the University’s advantage to develop Hill Farms itself, and that the land should be sold in an incremental fashion in order to avoid flooding the market (and thereby diluting the potential profits to be made) and to make it more practicable for the University to pay for the development of the subdivision’s infrastructure. To this end, the decision was made to begin the platting of the subdivision with an approximately 100-acre portion that was to be located in the southeast part of the overall subdivision that was known as theEast Hill portion of the whole plat. This 100-lot plat, known as the Original (East Hill) Plat of Hill Farms, also contained the proposed 22.11-acre school grounds that had already been purchased by the City. It was roughly bounded by S. Segoe Road on the east, Waukesha Street on the north, Mineral Point Road on the south, and by what would be the future east side of Cheyenne Trail on the west. The regents then entered into an agreement with the Madison real estate firm of John C. Haley & Sons to serve as the contract brokers for the sale of the individual lots in Hill Farms, this firm being the lowest bidder for the contract. This was followed in October of 1955 by the Regents’ entering into a contract with the Madison-based engineering firm of Mead & Hunt that covered the engineering and surveying services associated with the platting of the first plat of Hill Farms. Also in October, the Original Plat of Hill Farms was officially recorded on October 7, and the selling of the lots in the plats could therefore begin. On October 18, the Madison School Board also chose a Contemporary style design produced by the Madison architectural firm of Weiler & Strang for its new 18-room Hill Farms elementary school, with the expectation that the new school would open in the fall of 1957.
The new plat had much to offer the prospective homeowner. Up until this time, almost all the building activity that had occurred on the west side was suburban in nature and consisted of single-family dwellings. While a little unplanned commercial development had occurred around the Speedway Road/Glenway Street/Mineral Point Road intersection and also along University Avenue, such activity was small in scale and it was actually banned in restricted suburbs like Sunset Village and Pilgrim Village. As a result, there was a retail void that the proposed shopping center in Hill Farms was perfectly positioned to fill. In addition, the prospective East Hill Neighborhood had the University of Wisconsin as its developer and families could therefore anticipate with a high degree of certainty that the development would proceed as scheduled and to completion. New families buying into the plat also knew that a new elementary school and later, a junior high school would be built within the neighborhood by the start of the 1957 school year. And finally, there was the security that was provided by the restrictive covenants that went with every deed in the plat, these covenants being administered by a three-person Architectural Control Committee set up by the regents in November of 1955. A description of the most important of these covenants can be found in the Description Section of this nomination (Section 7, pp. 5-6), but their purpose was set down in a news release from the University.
The committee’s purposes, as set forth in the covenants under which the lots in the new housing development of Madison’s west side are being sold, are:
To assure the most appropriate development and improvement of University Hall Farms;
To protect the owner of a lot against improper uses by any other owner;
To preserve so far as practicable the initial beauty of the subdivision;
To guard against the erection of poorly designed or poorly proportioned structures, or structures built of improper or unsuitable material;
To encourage and secure the erection of attractive, adequate sized homes, which conform and harmonize in external design with other structures to be built in the subdivision, and which are properly located upon the lot in accordance with its topography and finished grade elevation;
To provide for high quality improvements which will protect the investments made by purchasers of the lots. No structure can be put on any land in University Hill Farms until the architecture control committee approves its exterior design, building materials, and its location on the lot.
The plat was therefore perfectly positioned to appeal to young middle class and professional families with children.
The first of the 124 lots in the East Hill Plat went on sale in November of 1955, and by December 3rd the first two building permits had been issued. Many of the lots in the first plat were sold to individual owners but the large majority were sold to builders, and builders who bought three or more lots received a discounted rate. This same pattern would be true of lot sales in subsequent plats. Although the source of some controversy for a while, ultimately at least 70% of all the lots in the district were first purchased by builders. These builders sometimes had specific clients in mind for their house but more often they built houses as speculative ventures, selling them soon after construction.
By July of 1956, street grading in the East Hill plat had begun, 63 of the 124 lots had been sold, and the first two houses in the district had been built at 23 Walworth Court and 5026 La Crosse Lane. At the same time, construction had commenced on the new Charles R. Van Hise Elementary School, with construction slated to be completed by the fall of 1957. By the end of 1956, most of the lots in the East Hill plat had been sold (they would all be sold by June of 1957) and on March 14, 1957, the University platted the First Addition to University Hill Farms. This new plat consisted of lots located around the intersection of Regent Street and S. Segoe Road and extended west down Waukesha Street. Less than a month later, on April 9, the University approved the platting of the Hilltop Addition to University Hill Farms, this being a heavily wooded, hilly part of the subdivision that includes parts of Bayfield Terrace and Lafayette Drive. A month after that, on May 17, the regents approved the platting of the West Hill Addition to University Hill Farms. This newest plat included 85 lots grouped around the west ends of Marathon Drive, Eau Claire Avenue, and Juneau Road; the price of its lots ranged from $2850 to $5300. Nor was this the last addition to be platted in that year. On July 19, the regents authorized the platting of the Regent Addition to University Hill Farms, which bordered Regent Street to the north and Bayfield Terrace to the south with the West Hill addition on the west and Lafayette Drive on the east.
The biggest news in Hill Farms in 1957 though, aside from the completion of Van Hise School and the construction of Covenant Presbyterian Church, was the fact that Hill Farms was chosen as the site of that year’s Parade of Homes, an annual city event that was essentially a builders’ showcase. This event took place on Richland Lane in the East Hill Plat and the blocks on both sides of this street actually had to be replatted in order to accommodate the larger lots needed for the parade houses. The Parade was held in May and June and turned out to be a huge success. More than 10,000 people came to see the 18 houses in the parade on the first day it opened and half of the houses were sold even before the Parade started. These houses were “mainly split-level and ranch style” with three bedrooms and more than one bathroom. Many of them also had two-car garages, and they were in the $22,000 to $27,000 price range, which put them in the upper range of the selling market. The other big news in 1957, as it turned out, was the formation of the Hill Farms Neighborhood Association, which is now one of Madison’s oldest and most active neighborhood associations and which is still going strong today.
The beginning of 1958 saw the platting of the South Hill Addition to University Hill Farms on January 9th. This large addition was bounded by Mineral Point Road on the south, the east half of Racine Road on the east, Pepin Place and Marinette Trail on the north and northwest, and the still unplatted Gugel Addition on the west. In the space of a year the enrollment at the newly opened Van Hise School had grown from 526 students initially to 650 and resulted in the first of four expansions that the school would undergo in its first four years of operation. Nineteen fifty eight was also the second year in a row that the annual Parade of Homes event was held in University Hill Farms, this time on a site that included 20 houses on Juneau Road and a single one around the corner on S. Eau Claire Avenue. These houses were larger than the previous year’s and included several whose design had “the practicality of the ranch house and the charm of the Colonial home.” In addition, this parade also had a single two-story-tall house as well, the first of its kind in University Hill Farms.
The Parkway Addition to University Hill Farms was platted by the regents on April 21, 1959, this being a large plat that was bordered by Regent Street to the north, the east side of South Rock Road to the west, South Hill Drive to the south, and the east side of South Whitney Way to the east. This was followed a few months later by the platting of the North Hill Addition to University Hill Farms on July 22, a two-part plat whose southern portion was bounded by Buffalo Trail to the north, the east side of North Whitney Way to the west, the south side of Door Drive to the south, and North Eau Claire Avenue to the east. Hill Farms was also once again chosen as the site of the Parade of Homes, which this year was held on Marinette Trail and Pepin Place. The star of the show was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed, pre-fabricated house for Madison builder Marshal Erdman. Some 5000 people came to the Parade the first day, most of them curious to see Wright’s house, which, at a cost of $30,000 (without the lot) was one of the most expensive in the show. The Parade was not the only important event that happened in Hill Farms in 1959, however. By this time the subdivision was beginning to lose its rough edges. Streets were being paved by the City, landscaping was starting to take hold, and the very fast growth that the subdivision had experienced was encouraging larger developers to build there. Up to now, all of the sales in Hill Farms had been for single-family houses, but by the end of 1959, the first of what would eventually be eleven 16-unit, two-story-tall buildings located on an 11- acre parcel bounded by Regent Street and N. Segoe Road that were called the Karen Arms Garden Apartments was in the process of construction. These two and three bedroom apartments were originally intended for families and this apartment complex was intended to be part of a buffer between the subdivision’s single-family houses and the proposed shopping center that was to be located in the northeast corner of the subdivision. In addition, the newly formed University Hill Farms Neighborhood Association was also beginning a push for a self-funded neighborhood swimming pool and bath house that would achieve success in the following year.
Nineteen sixty saw the Hill Farms once again hosting the annual Parade of Homes, but this year the Parade was split between Hill Farms and the newly created Arbor Hills subdivision, located just south of the new South Beltline Highway recently constructed around the southern half of the city and also designed by Carl L. Gardner & Assoc. The Hill Farms portion of the parade was held on Door Drive, which was part of the North Hill Addition.74 By 1960, much of the single-family residential area of the University Hill Farms had been platted, all but 10 of these had been sold, and 510 houses had been constructed. This aspect of the development plan was therefore an unqualified success and appealed to the targeted population:
A general survey of the families living in the Hill Farms reveals that they are, for the most part, professional people—this list includes a large number of doctors, engineers, attorneys, University faculty members and employees, businessmen, state and city employees, and a few members of the armed forces. Most of these people are in the middle to above middle income groups.
The cost of the individual homes in the area run from average to fairly high—the minimum being slightly below $20,000 and the top somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000. But for the most part, the homes fall into the $25,000 to $30,000 range.
With most of the residential portion of the subdivision completed, attention now turned to other areas of the subdivision. In the summer of 1960, the swimming pool and bathhouse of the newly formed Hill Farm Swim Club were completed on the northwest corner of North Eau Claire Avenue and Regent Street, a location directly west of the park land the city bought in 1955. Also under construction was the first of what was projected to be six high-rise 140-unit apartment towers just to the north of the park. These buildings were to be built in the north part of the subdivision that had been allocated to more garden apartments in the Gardner master plan. But the plan to build a large state office complex directly across the street to the north suggested that many of the projected 5000 workers who would be employed there would rent apartments near their place of work; it was therefore decided that high-rise apartments would better suit their needs. Work continued on additional units of the Karen Arms Garden Apartments in this year and work also began in the fall on the Wisconsin Life Insurance Co. Building (non-extant), located on the northeast corner of North Segoe Road and University Avenue, this being the original site of Harmon Hill’s farmhouse and farm buildings. Other office buildings were about to be constructed at this time on the land in Hill Farms that surrounded the future shopping center site.
The following year saw the beginning of construction on two of the large components of the subdivision, both excluded from the nominated district. In 1961, work was started on the Hill Farms State Office Building Complex. The purpose of this proposed complex was to consolidate the various state agencies whose offices were currently scattered across the city. As noted above, the proposed plan was not realized. Work also started this year on the much delayed Hilldale Shopping Center, located on a 23-acre site that comprised the southwest corner formed by the intersection of University Avenue and N. Midvale Boulevard. The University’s involvement in this process reflected Regent Rennebohm’s belief that the University itself should develop the Hill Farms shopping center rather than an outside developer. This was a complex undertaking because the University itself could not legally operate a commercial business:
The inception of Hilldale can be attributed to the formation of Kelab, Inc., a non-profit organization whose sole function is to direct gifts and profits from its assets to the University of Wisconsin for scholarships, research, and education. … It was Kelab that purchased the original tract of 34 acres [from the University] and will lease that land to Hilldale, Inc., a shopping center development company.
A fully taxable corporation entitled Hilldale, Inc., whose directors are all friends of the University of Wisconsin, has been formed to develop the Hilldale Shopping Center. Hilldale, Inc. will rent the land from Kelab, Inc. and pay all the real estate taxes and special assessments on the land as well as make all improvements and generally develop a regional type of shopping center.
All the stock in Hilldale, Inc. is owned by the University of Wisconsin Foundation, the University’s fund-raising alumni arm. Consequently, in addition to the rent paid to Kelab which will go to the University, all profits earned will be paid in the form of dividends to the University of Wisconsin Foundation and will thus be made available for research, scholarships, and education.
This plan resulted in a suit being filed against the University that was ultimately decided in the University’s favor by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on December 2, 1960. Immediately thereafter, the development plans that had been made while this suit was being decided were put into action. The shopping center had already been designed by the Milwaukee architectural firm of Grassold-Johnson & Assoc., which had also designed the Mayfair and Southgate Shopping Centers in Milwaukee. Their plans called for a 250,000 square-foot building, expandable to 350,000 square feet, that would house 34 businesses and would have parking for 2100 cars. Construction on both of Grasshold-Johnson’s Hill Farms projects began in 1961 and the Hilldale Shopping Center was completed in 1962.77 Although not part of the University Hill Farms Historic District, the Hilldale Shopping Center continues to be a vital part of the retail life of the west side of Madison to this day.
On March 9, 1962, Regent Rennebohm made a report to the other regents on the Hill Farms project.
Chair Rennebohm reported on the project to the University of Wisconsin Regents in March 1962. He reiterated the two main objectives of the sale of the farm authorized in 1953. The first was to establish a new experiment station in Arlington with more modern buildings and land more suitable to the University’s research needs. The second objective was to develop “an attractive residential, retail business, and office community” on 600 acres.
Rennebohm felt that both these objectives had been accomplished. By 1962, twelve subdivisions in the University Hill Farms area had been approved and were expected to add $24,000,000 in assessed property values to the city of Madison. All but five of the 760 lots were sold with 650 homes built or under construction. The population of the neighborhood at the time of Rennebohm’s report was 3100 with an expected final population of 5500.
Rennebohm’s summation of the accomplishments of the Regents Special Committee of Agricultural Lands was an accurate one, but it did not tell the whole story. Several areas within the subdivision’s boundaries still remained unplatted and undeveloped at that date and changes that lay outside the regent’s power to control would make subsequent alterations to the Gardner master plan necessary. In the meantime, several large projects that were already underway in the district were completed. In 1964, the last units of the 11-building Karen Arms Garden Apartments Complex were completed. These buildings had been fully occupied as soon as they were completed and they had proved to be surprisingly popular not just with young families but also with the elderly. Some of Madison’s elderly population was also being housed in another building in the district that started a trend in Hill Farms that would begin to have a major effect on it by the end of the decade. This building was the Attic Angels Nursing Home, a venerable Madison institution that had moved from its old downtown building into a much larger new building located at 602 North Segoe Road, a half block south of Karen Arms, that was designed by John J. Flad & Assoc. and completed early in 1963.
Sometime after the first state office building was completed, the state legislature decided that future state offices would be concentrated in the downtown area near the capitol. As a result, the state subsequently sold the west half of its 30-acre property to the Red Cross, which developed its new state headquarters building on the site some years later. The state’s decision had a ripple effect on the plans to build five more high-rise apartment towers across the street from the proposed state complex. As a result, these plans were also shelved and although one more Sheboygan Avenue high-rise apartment, the Hilldale Towers Apartments was built in 1965, nothing more was done with the land on this side of Sheboygan Avenue until the end of the decade. In 1969, two Madison developers, Nathan Brand and Frederick E. Mohs, Jr., purchased land on the northeast corner of Sheboygan Avenue and N. Eau Claire Avenue that bordered the recently developed Oscar Rennebohm City Park to the south and petitioned the city for a rezoning that would permit the land that had been zoned for high-rise apartments to be used instead for garden apartment buildings.80 These men had realized that there was a growing market in Madison for well-designed and well-maintained low-rise apartments that could house the ever increasing numbers of elderly home owners in the city that wanted to downsize their living space but wanted to keep the important amenities they were accustomed to. The Hill Farms location, with its nearby shopping area and adjacent public park, was ideally suited to meet the requirements of these potential renters, and as a result, the developers built three large Colonial Revival Style apartment buildings on this property that surrounded a large swimming pool and that overlooked the park to the south. This complex was called The Carolina Apartments and its large one and two-bedroom apartments and underground, enclosed parking were an immediate success. As a result, the same developers constructed another three-building complex, the Normandy Apartments, at the other end of the same block on the corner of Sheboygan Avenue and N. Segoe Road and next door to the Attic Angels Nursing Home in 1970.
On January 6, 1975, the Regents authorized the platting of the former Gugel Farm portion of the Hill Farms, located in the southwest corner of the subdivision and bounded by S. Whitney Way to the west, South Hill Drive to the north, the already platted South Hill Addition to the east, and Mineral Point Road to the south. This led to a new flurry of home-building activity and like the South Hill addition before it, it differed from other plats in the subdivision in that the construction of two-family duplexes buildings was allowed on Manitowoc Parkway, which parallels the adjacent Mineral Point Road, these being the only duplex buildings in Hill Farms. Also, in 1976 the Attic Angels erected an apartment tower of their own that was attached to their already existing nursing home facility on North Segoe Road.
Finally, in 1983, the regents released the last portion of the subdivision for platting that was still in use by the University as an experimental farm. This was the Seed Farm Plat, bounded by Sheboygan Avenue to the north, North Whitney Way to the west, Buffalo Trail to the south, and North Eau Claire Avenue to the east. This land was purchased by Brand & Mohs in 1985, who then built on the success of their two earlier Hill Farms projects by constructing the five-building Georgian Revival style Monticello Apartments Complex on the site, completed in 1989.81 With this act, the Hill Farms subdivision was finally complete. With the exception of the commercial area around the Hilldale Shopping Center and the shopping center itself, both of which have since been greatly altered, the University Hill Farms subdivision (and the district) still looks almost exactly as it did when it was completed in 1989. By 1964, 87% of all the buildings in the district had been completed and it is the architecture of the late 1950s and early 1960s that gives the district its distinctive appearance.