Madison’s downtown is located on an isthmus and, therefore, has a plethora of lakefront access and housing. The two lakes provide a venue for boaters, water-skiers, ice skaters, and fishermen, and they attract day-trippers from all over southern Wisconsin. Arguably, the most historic lakefront street is Langdon Street - only a few blocks from the state capitol building. Langdon wraps around a portion of Lake Mendota’s southern shore and was once home to Madison’s most prominent nineteenth century families.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw rise to a student housing boom on Langdon, primarily among sororities and fraternities. The large back lots of mansions were turned into small lots, and further construction increased the density of the area. The Greek community bought some of the older mansions on the street and either converted them for their housing purposes or demolished them in order to build elaborate chapter houses in colonial and Georgian revival, Mediterranean revival, and Tudor revival architecture. Between 1950 and 1980 a few apartment buildings were constructed along the street; however, today it is still most notably recognized as Madison’s “fraternity row.”
Today, Langdon Street is going through another period of redevelopment. The city of Madison believes Langdon is the perfect location for selective higher density redevelopment, including the removal and replacement of damaged, non-conforming buildings, and infill development on vacant lots and surface parking lots. The city also wants to enhance existing pedestrian walkways in the area in order to maintain the pedestrian-oriented, “European Village” character of the neighborhood.
There are various redevelopment projects taking place on Langdon Street today; however the most prominent project is the redevelopment of the renowned Edgewater Hotel, at the corner of Langdon Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The hotel attracted many celebrities in its sixty-six years of existence – including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Elton John; however, until recently it has been in need of dire repair.
After years of arguments between developers, preservationists, and community members, construction on the Edgewater Hotel began in November of 2012 and is slated to be completed in August of this year. The project will add a new nine-story tower, renovate the original hotel building and remove part of the 1970s addition. After construction, it will have 189 rooms, ten condos, meeting and retail space, and an ice skating rink. According to developers, the project is centered around a large, public plaza, which has been designed to increase public access to Lake Mendota. This will be a great change from the minimal public access previously provided.
A rendering of the future Edgewater Hotel redevelopment
Ultimately, Madison had to weigh the benefits of economic development with the reality that some of the historic nature of the neighborhood may be lost. However, the redevelopment of the Edgewater Hotel will enhance public access to the lake, which Madison hopes will provide an opportunity to bring the community together.
How does your city handle redevelopment in historic neighborhoods?
Credits: Images by Kaylie Duffy. Data linked to sources.