October 27, 2006

After the radio show...

I cross the pedestrian bridge over University Avenue...

University Avenue, fall morning

... and pass through the inhumane architecture of the Humanities Building...

The inhumane Humanities Building

... into the welcome space of Library Mall:

Early morning, campus


David said...

I didn't know the humanities could be so stark!

The pictures of Couric's colonoscopy had more style than that conglomeration.

Thank goodness for the library!

Maxine Weiss said...

University Avenue has a lot of cracks in the pavement, doesn't it?

Peace, Maxine

JohnF said...

That bare concrete look is an Official Architectural Style. Next you are going to tell us you don't like non-representational art! Get with the 20th Century, Ann.

Of course, the mere fact that it is ugly and depressing is of no consequence. If that had anything to do with art, the NEA would be out of business.

Gerry said...

Ann, did you download the new Firefox?

Anonymous said...

The humanities building looks like after you go through the door, there'd be a chute with rotating knives at the end of it.

Pretty much sums up Humanities instruction. An abattoir masquerading as progress.

Anonymous said...

I've always kind of liked the Humanities Building on the outside On the inside, it's oppressive. I've always thought that view down University Ave is one of the most unattractive views in Madison It's slated for major changes over the next few years, so maybe things will improve.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! Are all the rooms numbered 101?

chickelit said...

Does anyone know of a "then and now" photograph collection of Madison? The photographer works from a much older photograph and tries to capture the same space from the same angle and perspective. I have such a collection for Berlin. To me, the most facsinating aspect is the traces of the old still present in the new.
When I look at some of Ann's photos, I can see the images of long gone buildings.

MadisonMan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MadisonMan said...

The book on Madison is called Double Take

cboygan said...

Since you enjoy posting pictures, it might be interesting for your readers for you to show the architectural diversity in the 360 degrees around the library plaza fountain. I remember (clockwise) the classical historical society, the Italianate union, the castle-like red gym, the 50s institutional library, some English looking red brick building and then the crappy concrete humanities building were all viewable from the fountain. Probably not a bad recollection for 30 years ago.

Ann Althouse said...

Gerry: I just did! Great! I should do a post telling people to download it.

This particular oppressive building is slated for demolition! The era that produced crap like that is over, the buildings are now obsolete, and it is cheaper to destroy them and rebuild.

Mike: "I've always kind of liked the Humanities Building on the outside. On the inside, it's oppressive. I've always thought that view down University Ave is one of the most unattractive views in Madison It's slated for major changes over the next few years, so maybe things will improve."

That says a lot about how oppressive the inside is! I've always hated the outside of the building. I can see that the architect put a lot of work into creating complex spaces with interestingly framed views. That's part of what I hate about the building. You can see how deeply the people who made it believed in its goodness. The depth of error is really upsetting!

As for the view down University Avenue, you're right. There's a lot of new stuff going up and I love seeing a new urban density downtown. Note the big construction site on the right.

chickelit said...

Thanks madisonman...pricey, but probably worth it!

MadisonMan said...

The buildings are The State Historical Society, Memorial Union, Red Gym, Memorial Library, University Club

I won't post the Humanities Building shots, except to link to This shot, which looks vaguely familiar.

Anthony said...

Isn't the one right next to it coming down as well? Always hated both of them. I remember once walking around that stupid Humanities building like three times before I found an entrance.

I'm kind of sad to see Van Hise go though. It's got that bland 60s (I think) architecture, but I always thought it was nicely functional. Never liked Van Vleck though.

Anonymous said...

Ann: "As for the view down University Avenue, you're right. There's a lot of new stuff going up and I love seeing a new urban density downtown."

I could never quite put my finger on it until I read your comment, but that's the feeling I always got walking down those blocks on University Ave. It felt so empty. A great big, concrete emptyness.

Gerry said...

"I should do a post telling people to download it."

Yes, especially since the Firefox "Check for Updates" does not find it since it is not an update to Firefox 1.5, but rather an entirely new release (2.0).

From what I have seen, it does indeed fix your refresh problem. At least, I have not seen any funky "Expires" dates on the page info or the cache.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for urban emptiness, come to St. Louis. The city has 40% of the population it had in 1950. There are hugh swaths of unused land, solitary homes, boarded up factories, and urban decay.

There's some good renewal going on in places, but many areas feel like ghost towns.

Lars said...

My recollection is that Humanities Building was built in the late 60s or early 70s. At that time, the Math Research Building had just been bombed and war protestors would periodically rampage up State Street smashing windows. The architecture of new buildings in the area was necessarily influenced by issues of security.

Anonymous said...

You can get a good picture of some of the challenges in St. Louis at this site.

chickelit said...

I lived in Cleveland for a brief time in 1983. The area they called "the Flats", the industrial heart snaked through by the infamous Cuyahoga, was incredibly ripe for photos: countless rusted drawbridges, some rusted shut upright, others frozen at different angles, rusted rails just ending without bumpers, cold unused chimneys.

Ann Althouse said...

Pastor Jeff: I was just in St. Louis. Why did that happen? Was it school desegregation and white flight?

Chickenlittle: Check out my Cleveland pictures.

B. P. Beckley said...


Re: "The Flats" in Cleveland

Most of the bridges are still there, of course. Railroad bridges can fool you, though, sometimes the rail traffic is existent but sparse.

It sounds like you might have been there before the Flats as the bar/nightclub zone really took off. That was the late 80s-early 90s. It's really a great location for that kind of thing -- no neighbors (or there weren't back then, anyway), the various bridges arching overhead, enormous lake boats coming through every once in a while (during the warm weather).

But the east bank is practically silent again now. A strange progression. The west bank is doing okay, and there are expensive condos already in and more on the way, but it never had the atmosphere of the east bank. I hope the east bank comes back.

The flats are (is?) still in use as an industrial area, but it tends more toward big piles of gravel than blast furnaces and oil refineries.

B. P. Beckley said...

Thanks for reposting those pictures, Ann. One of them (it came up first when I looked at the set) does in fact include a steel mill that's located in the Flats, although I just said that they're all gone. That's the exception -- the Mittal Steel plant. It's actually a couple of miles away from where you took that photo. It's in the Flats, technically, but that area isn't the first thing that would pop into the minds of most Clevelanders if you mentioned the Flats. The official "neighborhood" name is the Industrial Valley.

KCFleming said...

The building I used to work in was in the (I'm not making this up) Brutalist style. Let's just sya the style was perfect.

Characteristics include large expanses of poured concrete, dungeon-like interiors, a rough, blocky appearance, and bad finishes. Meant to convey a "strong, muscular character", their appearance evokes instead a single thought: Gulag. (image)

Examples include the Art and Architecture Building at Yale and Boston City Hall.

Anonymous said...


I've only been here 10 years, but I think those certainly factors played a part. In 1950 St. Louis was a dense urban community with lots of row houses. In the post-war housing boom, expansion naturally spread into the surrounding county which was still fairly rural.

But St. Louis also has some other unique dynamics.

The city isn't part of the county; it has its own, separate tax base. As businesses fled the city, they took their tax revenue with them.

The city has a ward system like Chicago (with half as many wards for 1/8 as many people) with entrenched political bosses resistant to change.

As whites and property taxes fled the city, the school system grew worse. It's been failing for years. Few people have their kids in city schools if they have a choice.

MadisonMan said...

pastor J: Your link to the St. Louis pictures is this blog. This very comment thread, in fact.

Joe Giles said...

Yeah, that 2nd photo should be titled "Welcome to Zagreb!"

LarryK said...


I'm a St. Louis native, not an expert on the city's demographic patterns, but can definitely say the source of the problem wasn't school desegration. The St. Louis area didn't implement any type of desegration plan until the late 70s/early 80s, by which time the depopulation patterns were well advanced. "White flight" prior to desegration may have played more of a role, but the situation is more complex than that. One factor is that the city of St. Louis's borders are fixed by law and can't be changed, and the city itself is very small by the standards of major metropolitan areas (about 60 sq miles, if memory serves). The city has therefore not been able to annex surrounding areas to grow, and much of the inner suburbs around St. Louis are in fact very urban and would be within the city limits of other cities. Also, five interstate highways cut through St Louis and spoke out in all major directions into the burbs - this makes commuting especially easy, by major metro standards, and has probably facilitated suburban sprawl. In addition, economic change is definitely a factor - St. Louis has been struggling with being an "inner port" city for over a century, having lost out to Chicago as the midwestern industrial/trading hub in the late 19th century. Much of the manufacturing base that kept the city alive (shoes, chemicals, car manufacturing - the second biggest US site after Detroit) is also gone, and the city has struggled to get new business in. Which leads to another factor, which is that city government is hopelessly inept and somewhat corrupt - although I've been away for a while so that may be changing.

So, that maybe more than you wanted to know, and I didn't want to steal Pastor Jeff's thunder, but it is sad, because it is still fundamentally a beautiful place with lots of unused potential.

Would be interested to hear more from Pastor Jeff on this... (and by the way, the link he posted didn't work)

Palladian said...

"Examples include the Art and Architecture Building at Yale"

I love the A&A building (although it's just "A" now, the School of Art moved down the street to larger (and worse, in different ways) quarters.

KCFleming said...

Not my style, I guess. Makes me think of dystopian science fiction, emptied factories, and comformity.

But what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the bad linkage. Here's the site I intended to point out earlier.

it is still fundamentally a beautiful place with lots of unused potential.

Yes, it is. Here's another good site featuring architecture and some neighborhoods of St. Louis.

Larry K. makes some good points. It wasn't so much desegregation but post-war prosperity combined with latent racial tensions that drew many whites out of the city. Fixed city boundaries meant all the expansion would happen in the county, drawing the tax base with it. I think that created a downward spiralling effect.

I've also heard that St. Louis is one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation. That's less true nowadays, but I think that had something to do with the growth of the suburbs.

In my area of the county, though, the growth is coming from young, upwardly-mobile black families moving out of the city for affordable housing and better schools.

KCFleming said...

From 1950 to 2000, St. Louis lost 59 percent of its population. Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, and Cleveland lost more than 45 percent each.
In the past 40 years, the population has shifted from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. In addition, the population shifted from large cities to suburbs.

But post-war urban planning played a considerable role in the decline of US cities.

In the 1950s and 1960s, cities bulldozed thousands of inner city neighborhoods for urban renewal and construction of freeways. The combined efforts of federal, state and local governments took homes away from millions of households, often low-income, and forced them into public housing. Costs and taxes skyrocketed, traditional neighborhoods were gone, and people moved away.

The unintended consequence of central planning to combat "blight" was to create blight.

Anonymous said...

From the second link, written by a former Wash U. architecture student, now living in Mialwaukee:

Books have been written about the reasons why this all happened, in St. Louis and in other cities across the nation. The list includes, but may not be limited to, cheap suburban land. Highway construction. Government loan policy. An influx of poor rural blacks seeking work, just as deindustrialization was reducing the employment base. Racism. Blacklisting by banks. Fear of crime. Blockbusting. Industry moving to the suburbs. Pollution. Decaying infrastructure. Declining public schools. The perception that, hey, everyone else is moving out too.

Compounding all this was a big mistake the city fathers made in the nineteenth century -- they froze the city's borders, allowing the city to politically separate itself from the county. St. Louis has not annexed any new land, development, or population since 1876. The results were catastrophic for the old city. When the inner neighborhoods emptied out, the city's population plummeted. Tax base dropped. The school system spiraled downward.

KCFleming said...

Thanks, Pastor Jeff!

There's usually a pretty good economic explanation for explaining The Way Things Are.

Or as Steven Hayward explains, "The overriding cause of the nation’s urban calamity is modern liberal social policy", a result of "the failure to nurture the sources of economic growth, the failure to understand urban neighborhoods, and the failure to appreciate the importance of a strong moral order."

LarryK said...

Thanks Jeff - I've seen those sites in the past but forgotten about them - now they're in my favorites (ironically, since they catalog a lot of senseless destruction). Whenever I go back home, though, I am heartened by the development along South Grand.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all for the encouraging comments.

Larry, I thought about South Grand earlier in the conversation. I hadn't been there in a few years, but just did a wedding at Tower Grove Park. I was very encouraged at the vibrancy and life in a recovering neighborhood.

B. P. Beckley said...

Pogo says:

Or as Steven Hayward explains, "The overriding cause of the nation’s urban calamity is modern liberal social policy", a result of "the failure to nurture the sources of economic growth, the failure to understand urban neighborhoods, and the failure to appreciate the importance of a strong moral order."

The overriding cause? I think not. The reason the Great Society focused so much on fixing the cities was that they were already visibly broken by the mid 60s. People and jobs started moving out of the city center, and then the conditions for the people that were left rapidly deteriorated, and it's quite possible that relaxation of societal standards and various well meaning government agencies helped the process along. But I think there would have been an economic crisis for the cities no matter what.

KCFleming said...

Urban Renewal in the United States first began in the late 1930s. But it was the Housing Act of 1949 that resulted in demolition of urban neighborhoods ('blight').

this sort of leftism pervaded federal and state programs from the time of FDR.

Anonymous said...

Corrupt city governments and high taxes conjoined to incompetent services killed American urbania.

In suburbia,people found the end-around - there were no palms to be greased, no crime, no no-show union jobs, no ironclad constituencies of municipal employees wielded in a sort of tammany hall fuedalism.

You could go out in the landscape, buy a plot of land, get a permit, there was the smallest and least intrusive sort of governmental interference in everything.

FDR federalized the cash cow charity functions of the government, and it made it harder for local ward boss types to dole out money and favors in exchange for votes. That's why the cities really cratered from the end of the second world war 'til recently. Most are still disasters because every two bit ward heeler knows one thing: Renters outnumber property owners. You can crush property owners under your heel and there's nothing they can do except abandon their property. The renters and the municipal employees all say the same thing: whoopee! someone else pays.

You can't vote yourself rich. Doesn't stop anybody from trying, over and over, though.

chickelit said...

Thanks for the links to Cleveland photos. The area I recall exploring was not so close to the lake, maybe a mile or so inland on the east side. I lived in Cleveland Heights, and didn't have a car and biked everywhere. I recall going through through some pretty blighted neighborhoods- one house standing alone on a block sort of thing.

It was winter/early spring and gave my color photos sort of a black and white feel. I used to have some prints hanging around my desk in grad school because I thought they were "art". I believe I still have the negatives, but I'm not sure.

btw, what is the best way to convert negatives to jpegs- something I've actually never done or had done.

mtrobertsattorney said...

I'm glad to see the days are numbered for the humanities building. Now what can be done about the Law School? The last time I was there, I thought I was in an federal prison, circa 1950. The new addition has the feel and look of a cell block.

MadisonMan said...

chickenlittle, Double Take is an excellent book -- it's on my bookshelf. It consists of side-by-side pictures taken from 40 to 80 years apart. And the pages are big, so the pictures are big.

Gretchen said...

Joe Baby: Yeah, that 2nd photo should be titled "Welcome to Zagreb!"

Don't be dissing on Zagreb! I didn't see any building as grey and institutional as the Humanities building when I was there. It's a beautiful city with old buildings with red tiled roofs- just gorgeous and very European. I can't wait to go back.

tjl said...

"Corrupt city governments and high taxes conjoined to incompetent services killed American urbania."

Sippican, high taxes and corruption have always, always been a way of life in Boston, the city with which you're most familiar. But the results are the opposite of what your theory predicts. Boston is prosperous, gentrified, stunningly beatiful, and a paragon of historic preservation through creative reuse of old structures. How do you account for its success? The burden of high taxes, corrupt local government, and intrusive regulations should have produced an urban wasteland. Why didn't this happen?

Brendan said...

The words "Soviet" and "bleak" come readily to mind. My worst class in that building was Public Relations 101. Couldn't write a simple press release to save my life. Still can't.

Josef Novak said...

Though somewhat longer, it looks more than a bit like Main St. in Neenah.

Anonymous said...

The burden of high taxes, corrupt local government, and intrusive regulations should have produced an urban wasteland. Why didn't this happen?

I like Boston.

You obviously didn't live in Boston in 1975. Or 1965. I used to live in Kenmore Square. I had to walk over to the Prudential building every evening. The majority of the buildings I walked by were boarded up. I used to hear attack dogs let loose in the buildings throw themselves against the plywood when you walked by. People routinely ignored the traffic signals. My friends used to collect parking tickets as joke -no one paid them. A few years earlier, building owners were removing storeys from their buildings trying to get their tax assessments down. Boston just jacked up the rates. A decade or two earlier, many in my family lived in the West End which was razed for the ugliest building in America. The rest of them lived in all the "red-lined" districts of Boston, and lost everything and were forced to move. Boston collapsed, for all intents and purposes, and they were forced to loosen the chokehold.

The population of Boston, and Masachusetts, has been stagnant for 100 years. Boston has been on a 15 billion dollar welfare program for the last decade and a half. It's over now.

Boston is pretty nice as a city now despite the prodigious efforts of the municipal authorities to wreck it. They'll get around to it again. They talk nonsense 24/7.

I was standing in the smoking hole last time. I'll give it a pass next time.

tjl said...

"You obviously didn't live in Boston in 1975. Or 1965. I used to live in Kenmore Square..."

In 1978 I was a law student at BU and living in a tiny apartment in the Fenway. As you point out, the Kenmore Square area was no Eden back in the mid-20th century.

Take a look at it now, along with the Back Bay and South End. Well-appointed condo conversions, trendy restauraunts, a notable absence of plywood and attack dogs.

Somehow, despite the tax burden, the corrupt politicans, and the regulatory heavy hand, the city has blossomed. There must be some explanation out there.

KCFleming said...

Re: "There must be some explanation out there."
Tough question. It's complicated!
According to Harvard Institute of Economic Research
"In the 1980-2000 period, Boston turned out to look more like San Jose than like Detroit.
The booming information economy relied on skilled workers and Boston’s long history
had left the city with a surfeit of universities. As a result, Boston was ideally poised to
take advantage of the rise in returns to skill that so marked the last quarter of the
twentieth century. Boston left manufacturing and specialized in high technology, finance
and education—industries that required skilled workers and that did extremely well overthe 1980-2000 period. Indeed, as long as the skills boom continues, it seems likely that Boston will continue to thrive."

And from Engines of Economic Growth
In 2001, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce published a report that identified five industry clusters as having
driven the region’s growth during the 1990’s:
• High technology, including computer hardware and software, telecommunications,
instruments, and biotechnology;
• Financial services, including banking, insurance, securities, investment management companies and venture capital firms;
• “Knowledge industries”, including higher education and consulting and research firms;
• Health care, including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, practitioners offices and home care; and
• Visitor industries, including hotels, restaurants, retailing, entertainment and the arts, and transportation and travel services.

The universities are, in effect, the intellectual infrastructure tha supports the continued growth of the other leading clusters. Collectively, the eight universities make up a “community of knowledge” that help make the Boston area a more attractive place for leading scholars and scientists to live and work than any individual institution could on its own.

And from Making Science Cities:
"Thus, academia is a source of firm-formation in addition to its traditional role as
a provider of trained persons and research. Government helps to support the new developments through changes in the regulatory environment, tax incentives and
provision of public venture capital (Eisinger, 1997)."

"Rather than rely on the patterns of the mid-twentieth century cities, today's urban economies must find their succor in the distinctive functions that cities played during the preindustrial era as centers of culture, artisanship, and commerce. This scenario is already being played out in part in small "boutique" cities, such as San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, and even San Jose, each of which increasingly prospers by providing entertainment, fashion products, and high-end business services to the thriving technology-related industries in their immediate hinterlands."

Shorter version: Luck.
Right place, right time (the very story of capitalism).
So don't screw it up. Taxes don't determine everything, but they change things at the margin. The temptation to siphon off dollars from the economic engine into the city's coffers is very, very tempting. Can Boston keep it up? It would mean political restraint in a city surrounded by increasing tax pressures.
We'll see.

Anonymous said...

tjl and I were neighbors in the Fenway in 1978. Heh.

The information/technical hub of Massachusetts is not Boston. First it sprung up outside the metro area on 128, and has moved to 495. Federal road, suburban setting.

Boston cratered. Since it was Beirut west, it has been the beneficiary of a certain amount of deregulation, mostly done by outside forces. Organized crime was broken up -mostly a federal enterprise. Rent control was abolished for the most part- on a statewide initiative, it never would have done it on its own. By standing still on taxation, (hello Republican governors!)"Taxachusetts" became middle of the pack statewise on taxes.

We're about to elect a governor with a rubber stamp legislature and platform that seems to consist of:
1.taxes are too low
2.we're too hard on criminals

Hello 1968

The police got a little serious starting around 1980. Bill Bratton got started in Boston, and of course we ran him out of town to save New York. The Denver Boot, both literally and figuratively, saved Boston.

And Boston itself has been on the federal teat big time. But when you decide to march in place for ten decades at a time, power shifts and you get to watch instead of act. If you had told the constituents of Carl Albert or Tip O'Neill that a Senator from Nevada would be the big dog in the Senate, they'd have burst out laughing. Even the democrat party decided that a primary in the northeast doesn't mean much any more. All it gets you is Senator Lurch for a candidate.

Boston is like Paris. It's lovely for a lot of reasons, but it doesn't care to be dynamic or important anymore. Paris is lovely--if you can't smell the burning cars.

tjl said...

"tjl and I were neighbors in the Fenway in 1978. Heh"

So you were the one who had all those wild late-night parties next door. Unmasked at last!

B. P. Beckley said...


Re: Cleveland 1983

I think a lot of the decrepit industrial infrastructure that you saw in 1983 has now been physically removed, although not replaced by much of anything. The East Side to a large degree is still as you saw it back then, except probably further along the path to nothingness. There are pockets of redevelopment in Cleveland (I live in one of them), and places like Cleveland Heights and Lakewood have been holding their own pretty much, but, on the East Side, especially, there's a lot of emptiness.

I was amused by your placement of your photos in the "late winter/early spring". That phase of the year goes on for like three months, or that's what it seems like, anyway.

If your photos are on 35mm film, you can probably get them digitally scanned onto a CD-ROM (or get the positives placed on the CD-ROM, anyway) at any place, like a drugstore, that can make prints from both 35mm film and files from digital cameras. If the negatives are larger format, I don't have the answer. It is possible to get a scanner for home that will scan negatives at sufficient resolution, and then convert them to positives using software.