[chapter 2][p. 33] [p. 34]
II. MADISON AS A CAPITAL CITY
Madison's main function, after all, is to serve as a State Capital. For that purpose it was selected, for that first settled, for that it should be planned and replanned, as new needs and changing conditions and rising standards require. This applies first of all to the State House itself, its setting and approaches; but it applies with equal force to those other features of the city plan that can only be appropriately developed through the power and co-operation of the State.
The Wisconsin is now erecting a new and fitting Capitol building which will cost six million dollars or more. Although it is many times the size of the first modest structure, the ground in which it is to be set is the same as that for the original Capitol. And outside of this one limited block of ground the State has taken no steps whatever to control or improve the surroundings to its great building or the approaches to it. This is not a wise and comprehensive way of making large public improvements. It gives the impression that while Wisconsin may build a dignified and appropriate Capitol, the State is too poor or too narrow in its views to surround the building properly and to treat the approaches to it so as to permit the great structure to be seen and appreciated at its true value.
The first need is to control the upbuilding around Capitol Square. At the present time, no special restrictions are placed upon this property and yet it is of the utmost importance that not only the height but the architectural character of all buildings around this square should be [p. 36] reasonably regulated; not to such an extent as to interfere with the effective use of the property by private owners, and yet so as to protect the large interests of the public in this locality. Action should be taken without delay
STATE CAPITOL, HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT.
The six blocks southeast of Capitol Square, between Main Street and Lake Monona, should be acquired by [p. 37] the State and added to its present property. Thus would be secured the additional land urgently needed as a setting for the Capitol, as sites for other public buildings which the increasing business of the State will soon require,
STATE CAPITOL, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND.
While six blocks would have to be cleared for the execution of such a plan, no important buildings would be destroyed and the ground so secured need not remain idle. These blocks would furnish perfect sites for at least six large public buildings. Just what these should be it is not necessary now to say. The two nearest the Capitol would undoubtedly be required at once by the State. The next two might be constructed with regard to the future needs of the State, but used in the meantime as private office buildings. The two building sites nearest Lake Monona might, perhaps, be most profitably used for semi-public purposes, - one a really fine theatre and opera house as a State educational feature, the other a much needed hotel with a character and situation that could scarcely be equalled elsewhere in Wisconsin and comparable
The improvement of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, offers valuable lessons to Madison. Within a decade Harrisburg has acquired and developed large parks, connecting them by parkways; secured for the public practically all the city's water front; opened and developed playgrounds; and carried out other large and lasting improvements. Although a large increase has been made in the city's indebtedness, the increase in taxation has been slight.
The group plan of public and semi-public buildings at Cleveland, Ohio, initiated and forwarded by the Chamber of Commerce. It involves the expenditure of more than thirteen million dollars. The city, the county, the nation, and the railroads are co-operating in the plan, the success of which is now assured.
The Monona Lake Front improvement might very readily, and at relatively low cost, too, be better than anything of the kind that has so far been done in this country; in fact, when we consider the situation and size of the Capitol, the character of the proposed group of buildings and the exquisite natural beauty of Lake Monona, it is not too much to say that this waterfront esplanade, a mile and a half in length, might equal any similar development anywhere [p. 44]
TWO ILLUSTRATIONS OF CAPITOL SQUARE, MADISON, AS IT IS TODAY.
"The first need is to control the up-building around Capitol Square. At the present time no restrictions are placed upon this property and yet it is of the utmost importance that not only the height but the architectural character of all buildings around this square should be reasonably regulated."
These changes would affect only the approach to the Capitol along what is now Monona Avenue. But all the other approaches are in some sense important, especially State Street; in fact, State Street, connecting diagonally as it does, the Capitol and University and the desirable [p. 46][p. 47] [p. 48] [p. 49] residence section beyond, is probably the most used mile of street in Madison, certainly it is the most important. Here is an example of the shortsightedness of the planners of Madison as compared with those of the Federal City, for while Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, a street of about equal length, connecting the Capitol and the White House, is 175 feet wide, State Street, Madison, is
DUFFERIN TERRACE, QUEBEC.
But there are still other features of the city plan of Madison that can only be appropriately developed by the [p. 53] power and co-operation of the State government, features, too, that affect vitally the serviceability of Madison as a Capital city. For example, the State should take whatever action is necessary (1) to establish all the main thoroughfares of Madison not only within the present city limits, which are narrow, but more especially in those
Faulty as the original plan of Madison may have been, it had at least the merit of marking out definitely the main thoroughfares and in some instances - Washington Avenue, for example - of giving them adequate width. But what of subsequent action? Since the days of 1836 [p. 54]
Sketch of proposed triangle on State Street, Madison, at the intersection with Broom and Gorham Streets. It would afford attractive and valuable sites for public and semi-public buildings fronting on an agreeable open space midway between the Capitol and the University.
The State should likewise move promptly and energetically to acquire for public use the main water frontages of Lakes Mendota and Monona and to some extent Waubesa and Kegonsa, so as to form a veritable Four Lake District, connected throughout by convenient land and waterways and available for the general public. [2*] With the exception of street ends, two relatively short stretches of filled in marsh land secured through the energy of the Park and Pleasure Drive Association, and the grounds of the University, - the public are practically excluded from the use and enjoyment of the Madison lake shores. This is not right and never will be. A comparatively few individuals possess and now monopolize one of the great natural features of Madison which should belong[p. 58] to society and upon the free use of which the welfare of society ultimately depends. I do not advocate the acquisition by the State of all the lake margins of Madison. Unfortunately, it is now too late for that. But I do earnestly recommend that the commonwealth acquire whatever is necessary to form a complete system of drives
State action is also called for in connection with the marsh lands. There appears to be no hope that they will be reclaimed in the right way and at the right time unless [p. 59] the State moves in the matter. Private individuals or the city cannot unaided compass so large an object. The result is that marsh lands within a few hundred yards of the State Capitol remain today as they were when the Winnebagoes were seeking peltries in the Four Lake Region, except that now they have been rendered unsightly
A new street, 100 feet wide, in Rio de Janeiro, cut through a built-up section, its cost being entirely covered by the sale of the new frontages. University Avenue, Madison, from Gorham Street to West Washington Avenue and Henry Street could be handled in the same way.
Madison will remain a city of only ordinary public convenience and appearance until the State embraces its peculiar opportunity and assumes its legitimate responsibility. There is as much reason for a State like Wisconsin to endeavor to establish a model city as a model farm. No more possible is it for the little handful of people livingMadison now, or even the larger population likely to live there later, to make a worthy State Capital than it was for the people of Washington to advance that city to a respectable place among the nations of the world. The case of Washington is clear and convincing and there is a strong analogy between the relation of the nation to the improvement of Washington and that of the State to the improvement of Madison.
The present beautiful city of Washington is not an accident. It did not just happen. To begin with, there was a good plan - the plan of George Washington and Major L'Enfant. But a good plan was not enough, as the history [p. 62] of Washington illustrates. The city remained for three-quarters of a century backward and undeveloped and unlovely, literally a national disgrace, until 1871 when a territorial form of government was established in which the nation participated. In the short space of the following
HOTEL ON LAKE GENEVA, SWITZERLAND.
"Shepherd's ambition, his controlling, absorbing purpose, was to raise his native city from the dust and to place it in the position of honor to which as the National capital it was entitled. He burned with indignation at the sneers aimed by foreigners and other visitors at the despised capital at a time when, through the repudiation of national obligations and through the limitation of cramped local resources and ideas the city was a national reproach. He saw the scanty population of Washington's half dozen straggling, wrangling villages staggering unaided under the burden of capital-making, broken down in the effort, helpless, hopeless. He saw the nation, which had in the beginning undertaken this task and then abandoned it to the feeble local population, watching with indifference the latter's struggle, and paralyzing local development by holding constantly over the city's head the threat of capital removal. He recognized the only means of revolutionizing these conditions, and he had the courage and the will to adopt this means and to follow it unflinchingly [p. 64] to success. The city was hemmed in, its development was checked, access to its heritage of national affection and pride was denied by obstructing walls built high through local shortsightedness and congressional neglect. Shepherd became a mighty battering ram leveled at these obstructions. In the crash of the collision this engine was for a time overturned and broken, but its work was done. The obstructing walls went down forever. They can never rise again."
The permanent upbuilding of Washington along well-considered lines was not absolutely insured, however, until the present form of government by commission was established in 1878. Thus the Washington that we know is the direct result of the work of the last thirty years, the period during which the National government has frankly assumed its responsibility. Its control now rests in a municipal corporation administered by a board of three commissioners, two appointed from civil life by the President, and confirmed by the Senate, for a term of three years, and the other detailed by the President from the Engineer Corps of the army. Under this form of government, Congress appropriates fifty per cent of the expenses, and the remaining fifty per cent - amounting to about the usual tax in American cities - is assessed upon the taxable property and privileges of the District.
Whether the State of Wisconsin should assume some such special control over the city of Madison or whether its form of government should be changed at all, I am not qualified to say. But I am convinced from observation and study that a dignified and appropriate development of the city as a State Capital is impossible by a group of 25,000 people with very limited powers and an annual budget for all municipal purposes of less than a half million dollars. The larger financial resources, credit and authority of the State must somehow be secured.[p. 65]
[1*] Many examples could be given from abroad and a few from this country to prove the soundness of this recommendation. In many places new streets are being cut through solidly built-up sections and narrow streets widened without cost to the public.
[2*] The work of the Yahara River Improvement Association is directly in line with this proposal.
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