Sunday, August 27, 2006

A new dormitory in the old Greenbush neighborhood -- and a meandering journey through some memories it sparked


Back in April, I walked up and down Regent Street and took photos of the few remaining houses in this part of the former Greenbush neighborhood, as well as some familiar old commerical buildings and some unfamiliar new ones. One of these days, I'll have the time to do a bit of research about what Central alumni lived in the extant houses and I'll post my results here. Really.

In the meantime, I recently discovered the function of the building with all the windows that appears on the left side of the photo at the top of this post: it's a UW dormitory.

I took the photo to show what the intersection of Regent Street and South Park Street (once known as "spaghetti corners") looked like these days. It was snapped just after I took the one on the left of Josie's Spaghetti House, the last of the Italian restaurants in the area. The building has been vacant since the summer of 2004, when it was damaged by fire. Josie's co-owners, Madison Central High School alumna Joanne Schuepbach Jensen (Class of 1956) and her brother, Frank Schuepbach decided not to reopen the restaurant. In late 2004, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that the owners had signed a tentative agreement to sell the property to a developer who planned to tear down the building and erect -- you guessed it! -- condominiums.

But I've wandered away from my original subject: UW dormitories.

Students will start moving into the new Newell J. Smith Hall on August 30th. The dormitory rooms have central air conditioning and walk-in closets. Students can control the temperatures in their rooms. There are kitchens on each floor. The rate for a double room in Smith Hall for the 2006-2007 academic year is $5,886 -- and that's without meals!

Smith Hall is the first new dormitory to be built on campus since 1965. That's when Ogg Hall was built. I spent my freshman year at the UW in Chadbourne Hall, a relatively new dormitory at the time. It was built in 1959 to replace the old Chadbourne Hall, that, until it was razed, was "the oldest women's dormatory [sic] at any educational school in the United States," according to the UW-Madison Division of Housing's "History of the University Residence Halls." Somewhere in my basement archives is a receipt for my stay in 730 Chadbourne Hall -- and I doubt that I paid more than several hundred dollars, including 20 meals a week (we had to fend for ourselves on Sunday night).

Of course my roommate and I didn't have a walk-in closet. There was no air conditioning. There were no individual thermostats. There were no kitchens -- in fact you weren't allowed to have most electrical appliances in your room: no televisions, no heating coils, no percolators.

What we did have was in loco parentis. Freshman girls who lived on campus had to live in a dormitory. All girls who lived in dormitories had to be in the dormitory by 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday nights and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays-- and there were bed checks to make certain you were obeying the rules. Boys, of course, had no curfews.

And yes, there were panty raids -- but woe unto any girl who was caught tossing her undies out the window to a mob of boys yelling, "Silk! Silk!" The dorm went into a lockdown mode during panty raids -- no one was let in or out until the crowd outside dispersed.

Of course even if we weren't in a lockdown mode, no boys could enter Chadbourne Hall above the ground floor. No men either, including your father. There was one "fathers' day" a year when your dad could visit your room -- and see how miserable you were and why you really needed to move into an apartment next year.

Interestingly, even though we couldn't be out late at night, we could drink beer. Back then, you could drink beer at 18 (but had to wait until you were 21 for the hard stuff). So you could go to the [old] Kollege Klub on State Street, The Pub (but only with a guy; unescorted women were not permitted), or buy a "near beer" in the Rathskellar. Or you could drink beer at a fraternity party. College girls tended not to hang out at Chesty's or Mr. Giblin's.

Things changed rapidly in the late 1960s. The voting age was lowered and the drinking age was raised. Madison Central High School was closed forever. More and more dormitories became co-ed. Panty raids became history. And so did the Greenbush. The Friends of the Historic Third Lake Ridge recently posted a link to download a copy of "Triangle Redevelopment and You." It's a huge 3MB PDF file, but if you're interested in the City of Madison's ill-conceived destruction of the Greenbush neighborhood, it's worth the download time to look at this condescending pamphlet sent to its residents

Update: 9/11/2006: The Third Lake Ridge web site seems to be unavailable, so the link to the PDF for the Triangle Redevelopment pamphlet isn't working. I'll try to find out if/when the site will again be live and/or find an alternate source for the pamphlet.

Update: 3/15/2007: The Third Lake Ridge web site is now up and running. Here's the link to the download.

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