Sunday, May 21, 2006

This is what was left after they tore down most of the block to build the condo magnet

This is what the wreckers left five years ago. For some reason, I've always thought the green structure came from the roof of Yost's department store, but I can't identify it in any old pictures of the 1923 Madison landmark, so maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Anyone know what it is, where it's from, or where it went?

You’ll recall Yost's was totally gutted, leaving only its facade, which became the main entrance to the condo magnet known as the Overture Center. To the boosters, architect Cesar Pelli’s appropriation of Madison history as architectural stage set seemed ingenious, eclectic and postmodern. To more skeptical observers, it seemed both patronizing and political, a sop to mollify those who wanted to preserve the Yost’s building. And what about the awkward glass dome plopped down on what remained of the former department store’s mansard roof? Yes, you could say it alludes to the nearby Capitol dome and reflects its form, but what would that really say? Does a paraphrase in prose reflect a poem?

Did it have to be this way? Local blogger Tom Bozzo stepped back from the hype and expressed some well-linked misgivings in Marginal Utility last fall.
Quite simply, if I were the Archduke of Madison, the concert hall would have been located elsewhere — probably in the 300 block of East Washington Avenue, where a surface parking lot presently anchors the southwest end of the East Wash corridor's post-industrial blight. This crackpot view was reinforced by taking in fire truck parade from a vantage point across State from the old Capitol Theater/Civic Center entrance. From the historic Capitol facade to the glassed-in wedge "icon" where the Radical Rye used to be (the Radical Rye of Light?), Cesar Pelli has given us a rather sterile and over-tall stretch of wall for the not overly broad State St (visible behind the Fitchburg ladder truck here; compare the rosy-looking drawing on this Overture Foundation page). Plus, in my fantasy world, Dotty's, the Radical Rye, and whatever was in the old Deb and Lola's (sniff) space would never have been displaced.

What of the broader development issues? I had been somewhat boggled back in the death throes of the Fairchild St. Dotty's that, having been graced with a State Street that could survive the best efforts of the urban pedestrian mall fad to kill it, the city would knock down perfectly good businesses in the name of the arts — or at least the somewhat misguided notion that what the street really needed was more Symphony patrons.
Some of us are still boggled. Some of us still think of white whales when we pass by on the way to the Farmers’ Market (Pelli’s huge, not entirely beloved Pacific Design Center in LA is called the “blue whale” by locals). We promise our loved ones we’ll stop ranting, but we keep breaking our promise.

UPDATE: Thanks to Nadine for pointing me to the Angus McVicar photo of "the green whatsit," right on top of the original Yost's building. I knew I had seen it before. I can see why they had to take it down. It just didn't fit in with the sterile postmodern artiness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm really not sure what that says about a city like Madison that a dirtball like Karl Anderson ran a popular deli for years, with a cutsey name that almost makes him and his violent era sound quaint. I think its a credit to Madison that they "displaced" him and his shop, although I guess he still peddles fruit juice on the campus.

I speak by the way as someone born in the late 60's who has no use for the war stories. Screw the baby boomers, and I don't really feel like paying their social security, either.