Developing Schenk-Atwood

Starting Madison's boom in commercial development
Developing Schenk-Atwood
Photo by Flickr user Emily Mills

It was in 1892 that Frederick and Wilhelmine Schenk opened their general store at the juncture of two historic Native American trails now known as Atwood Avenue and Winnebago Street. Five decades later, the Schenk’s Corners neighborhood had become Madison’s first major commercial node east of Capitol Square; at its apogee in the postwar years, it had all the trapping of a small downtown–library, movie theater, fire station, restaurants, drug store, 2 banks, funeral parlor, flower shop, post office, radio station. There was even a weekly newspaper, the East Side News, published for many years by anti-Monona Terrace activist Marshall Browne. But then shopping centers with plenty of parking opened on East Washington Avenue (1953), Cottage Grove Road (1962), and First Street (1963); neighborhood retail died, starting a vicious circle of disinvestment, decline and decay.

A 1967 planning department report painted a bleak picture, describing the Atwood Avenue business district as having “a depressing, unexciting appearance … that is unplanned, inconvenient, unattractive … a commercial district of old, deteriorating structures” and skyrocketing vacancies. According to city consultants Midwest Planning and Research, Inc., a majority of buildings were in poor or fair condition, which helped lead to “a declining community spirit, especially among the young people living and working in the area, evidenced by a lack of local focus” on neighborhood problems.

In April, the consultants proposed their 72-page solution–a private urban renewal plan, starting with a 40,000-square foot shopping center featuring a full-service supermarket and chain drugstore on the lakeside corner of Atwood Ave. and Winnebago St. In order to provide a more pedestrian-friendly environment by diverting cars from Schenk’s Corners, they also proposed a new road aligned with the railroad tracks, from First St. to Division St. The report also says the venerable East Side Businessmen’s Association had become “too diffused to be effective” in promoting the area’s revitalization, and recommends a new non-profit corporation be created to acquire and redevelop properties. The shopping center was never built, but the by-pass became Eastwood Drive in November, 1974. And thanks to such new non-profits as Common Wealth Development Corporation (1979) and the Schenk-Atwood Revitalization Association (1980), and others, the business and social sectors of the district now thrive.

Despite concerns over small commercial nodes like the Atwood business district, Madison moved in 1967 to create the next generation of mass retail, through the annexations, zoning and roadways necessary for the J.C. Penney Co. to build the $10 million regional shopping malls East Towne and West Towne. Pleased with the city’s $850,000 improvements to East Washington Avenue, the company kicks in a quarter million, for land acquisition and road alignment.

The city plan department tried to get downtown on the shopping mall bandwagon, proposing the two blocks of Mifflin Street on Capitol Square be converted to a covered mail. The concept of an air-conditioned arcade with attached parking ramp and a skywalk or underpass to cross Wisconsin Ave was not well received.

Nor was developer Floyd Voight’s plan for the empty lot on the north side of 400 block of State Street, vacant since Victor music store burned down in December 1961–a 14-story hotel, with movie theater and parking for 100 cars.

Development Dates

March 26, 1967: Opening and Dedication of Dane County Memorial Coliseum
On a rainy Easter afternoon, barely four and a half years after Dane County decided to build a sports and entertainment arena, 4000 attend the dedication of the Dane County Memorial Coliseum. Three hundred twelve feet around, ninety-eight feet high at its center, with 7,670 permanent seats and up to 3,330 temporary ones, it was designed by Law, Law Potter and Nystrom and built by Anthony Grignano Co of Madison. Some finishing touches remain, but Coliseum manager Roy Gumtow vows everything would be ready for the inaugural event the next weekend– the Zor Shrine Circus. On April 12, the first music act–Paul Revere & the Raiders.

July 16, 1967: Mayor Otto Festge saws the traditional board to open the 17th annual Parade of Homes in the Far West neighborhood of Parkwood Hills.

July 27, 1967: Council approves preliminary plans for $1 million expansion of the Edgewater hotel, featuring lakefront rooms, underground parking and a dining room in place of the current S-shaped driveway. Future plans also call for a further expansion on the east side of Wisconsin Ave.

Sept. 13, 1967: Dedication of Reindahl (Amund) Park, 1818 Portage Rd., honoring the two-term register of deeds and one-arm bachelor farmer who at his death in 1946 bequeathed 100 acres of the family land for a park and school.

Return to 15 we extras about the summer of 1967 here.