One of our favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, was never accused of being short on dreams and visions. From the smallest of homes to the largest of hotels and even entire cities, Wright was a master of design and was certainly far ahead of his time. One such design proposal was for a “dream civic center”. First envisioned in 1938 for Madison, Wisconsin, the civic center was to be a link between the shore of Lake Monona and the State Capitol; a gathering place that consisted of an auditorium, railroad depot, marina, courthouse and city hall.
A Dream Realized
The plan for the gracefully curving structure, submitted by Wright to the County Board, was defeated by one vote. Not easily overcome by adversity of any kind, Wright makes small changes to the plan. A bond referendum is eventually passed and finally in 1955, in what he said meant a great deal to him, Frank Lloyd Wright is approved by the people of Madison as the architect of the project. Monona Terrace would be built at its current site.
Another delay in 1957 once again halts progress until 1959. Of course, any follower and dedicated fan of Frank Lloyd Wright knows that Wright passed on in April of 1959, obviously unable to see the completion of his dream civic center. There were several more stumbling blocks along the way, and it wasn’t until 1994 that voters approved a project that would take Wright’s 1959 vision and create the modern facility that now caters to meetings & conventions, weddings and other special occasions, community programs and exhibitor services. Monona Terrace has redesigned interiors, modern technology and every imaginable amenity available at the exquisitely appointed and beautiful Monona Terrace. It is truly classic Frank Lloyd Wright at his best.
Upon first entering the parking lot, I noticed that the parking ramps were incredibly reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In fact, the Guggenheim was Wright’s last commission; it opened in October of 1959, not long after the original “final” approval of Wright’s plan for his dream civic center. Finally in July of 1997 – 59 long years after the original proposal – the Monona Terrace and Convention Center opened its doors. The $671 million cost of the project may seem excessive to some; certainly it would not have seemed so to Mr. Wright.
The scenic views from the rooftop garden (Level 6) are exceptional; enjoy a glass of wine and a sandwich at the Lake Vista Café. Take a tour. Visit the gift shop. Make certain to take time to view Pedro Guerrero's photos on the third floor of Wright and his work. Or just gaze out from the serenity of the Grand Ballroom. This venue belongs at the top of your list of things to see in Madison; it’s a stunning building and a fun time in a fun town.
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