Sunday, October 26, 2008

946 East Main: A tree now obscures a surviving fragment of a vanished past

946 East Main: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
There's nothing like a tree practically growing out of the front door of an old building to give it an air of abandonment. When I looked more closely at this old brick structure on Madison's East Side, it looked as if it had been built to last, probably early in the last century, and the detailing around the entrance suggested that it once housed a substantial enterprise. I peered through the windows and saw what seemed to be an empty warehouse space inside. I wondered about its history. The building looked abandoned, but it must have known better times. What sort of business used to call this home?

PhoneCo2-smThat's when I looked up through the trees at a different angle and saw the words Wisconsin Telephone Company, capped by a relief sculpture of a bell. As far back as I can remember, "the phone company" was always headquartered in one or another much larger building in downtown Madison, so this clearly dated to an earlier era. I felt a wave of nostalgia for the heyday of a great American institution, back when "Bell Telephone" still meant something; it had an aura of magic about it -- back before it gave way to changing times, antitrust law, technology and deregulation. The pieces of the old AT&T were broken up, recombined, and now our phone company is AT&T again. But there's no "Bell" in it anymore. And absolutely no magic at all.


George H. said...

Cool photo.
The building reminds me a little of the old University Garage original on University Avenue.

Dr Bud Diablo, Party Liner said...

Well. Apparently it's not only great minds that think alike. I do some cat rescue work in that neighborhood. I too was taken with the building and peeked through a window. I too discovered that it was the old phone company building.

I had fantasies of converting the building to a restaurant, a condo development, or just a personal space for me to write whilst pacing and smoking. However, the easy credit days are gone, so don't count on me to preserve the structure. Maybe it could be the Letter From Here Headquarters. Gwet an SBA loan?

I differ with you about Ma Bell, though. It had an aura of monopoly about it, not magic. When I was a kid, a long distance call was a special event. We'd all gather around the phone to await our 30 seconds apiece with Aunt Marilyn in South Dakota. The calls were as expensive as lack of competition could make them.

I wonder if the Wisconsin Telephone Co Building was once considered a sterile blight on the landscape, a monstrosity that displaced structures of historical significance.

Donna said...

I looked it up on Access Dane and it's owned by Archipelago Village and assessed at $613,200. Wonder what they're waiting for...