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In Madison, the 1960s began in 1959. That spring, John Kennedy and Cassius Clay came to town, as did a friend of Fidel Castro's.
Their visits were part of a yearlong parade of personalities and issues that foreshadowed the decade to come.
Fifteen months before securing his party's nomination for president, Sen. Kennedy began his busy Saturday, April 11, with 300 Wisconsin Democrats at a $2-a-plate breakfast at the Loraine Hotel, where he and Mrs. Kennedy had stayed after flying in from Milwaukee the night before.
Madison Mayor Ivan Nestingen, fresh from being reelected without opposition to his third two-year term, chaired the event. Precisely two years later, President Kennedy would name Nestingen assistant secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
JFK spoke about extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage and increasing federal aid to education. He described the Eisenhower administration as being "frozen in the ice of its own indifference."
Jackie, wearing a navy suit edged in navy braid and accented in white, lunched with about 30 Democratic women at Simon House. The press noted that her mother was babysitting daughter Caroline, 1½.
A few days later, presaging the major role Cuba would play in the '60s, Fidel Castro confidant Capt. Enrique Allacon conducted a research visit to the American Breeders Service on behalf of the Cuban army's veterinary program. Like Kennedy, Allacon and two comrades stayed at the Loraine Hotel.
And, at the end of April, a skinny teenager from Kentucky electrified the city with his appearance at the boxing trials for the Pan-American Games. Cassius Clay, 17, the National Golden Gloves and American Athletic Union champ, showed flashes of brilliance and blinding speed in advancing to the championship bout. But he suffered his first defeat in 37 fights before a Field House crowd of more than 5,000. Clay would return to the Field House in 1968 as Muhammad Ali, to give a fiery and controversial talk urging black separatism.
It wasn't just the historic figures who made 1959 the starting point for the 1960s; there were historic forces as well.
There were beatniks on State Street, and soldiers were dying in Vietnam. The elements for future turmoil were falling into place.
In 1959, Madison was undergoing a period of rapid growth. Annexations to the east, west and south expanded the Madison landmass from 30 square miles to 42.
There were musical chairs on the Capitol Square as suburban shopping malls multiplied. Downtown retailers said they weren't worried, but what began in 1959 would eventually undercut the Square and State Street.
A million-dollar J.C. Penney store at 1 E. Main St. opened on Feb. 19, doubling its old West Main store and boasting the first elevator on the Square. On the same day, newspaper ads touted Madison's first shopping mall, on land barely within the city limits at East Washington Avenue and East Johnson Street.
The ads said: "Shop at Madison East, with acres of free parking."
The new Penney's only lasted until 1985. Two years later, Urban Land Interests reduced the building to its concrete shell and constructed the current One East Main block.
Three addresses highlight how Madison changed over the last half-century - and how it hasn't.
In 1959, 30 N. Carroll St. was home to the city's biggest hardware store, Wolff, Kubly & Hirsig. Its replacement by the tourism-oriented State Historical Museum symbolizes much of downtown economic development since.
Fifty years ago, 4016 E. Washington Ave. housed the Burke Town Hall. Today, it's the site of an Office Depot.
Then as now, 2059 Atwood Ave. was home to the city's most important welfare and relief organizations. Back then it was the United Community Chest, Community Welfare Council, Dane County Child Guidance Center, Madison Legal Aid Society and other groups. Now it's the United Way of Dane County.
In 1959 Madison was even whiter than today, with blacks composing less than 1% of the population (about 175 households). Eight of the 21 aldermanic wards had no black residents at all, and only one city block - the 800 block of Mound Street - was more than half black. More than three-fourths of black households lived in just two south-side wards, the Ninth and 14th.
Today, the city is about 6% black, with about the same share of Asian residents.
In 1959, Madison had 66 churches. The first two blocks of Wisconsin Avenue were a "Holy Row," home to four of them - Christ Presbyterian, Evangelical United Brethren, First Church of Christ Scientist and First Methodist - plus the Masonic Temple. And that was after the downtown First Unitarian Meeting House, which the teenage Frank Lloyd Wright attended, was razed to put up a parking lot for Manchester's. Today, there are more than 300 houses of worship.
The city enjoyed excellent interstate transit. There were six bus lines, four served by the impressively modern Union Bus Terminal at 122 W. Washington Ave. Railroads west (the Milwaukee Road and Illinois Central) and east (Chicago & North Western) brought nine rail lines through town. And after Ozark Air joined Northwest Orient and North Central with its twice-daily Milwaukee-Madison-Dubuque-Cedar Rapids-Des Moines flight, Madison had three airlines and 64 flights a day.
Now the closest passenger train station is in Columbus, and there's talk about tearing down the Badger Bus depot.
There were lots of jobs, and even concern in some quarters that there were not enough workers to fill them. Madison workers belonged to 46 labor unions, led by the Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butchers Workmen of North America, Local No. 538 (AFL-CIO), the Madison Building and Construction Trades Council and the Carpenters & Joiners Local Union No. 314.
Madison, then as now, had lots of bars, including many still serving today. Among the 119 taverns listed in the 1959 city directory were such current favorites as the Avenue Bar, the Cardinal Tap Room, Crystal Corner Bar, the Echo Tavern, Tony Frank's, Kollege Klub, Laurel Tavern, Mickey's Tavern, the Office, Ohio Tavern, Paradise Lounge, Plaza Tavern, the Pub, Shamrock Bar, Silver Dollar, Smoky's Club and the Stadium Bar.
One clear difference between 1959 and the 1960s: This was the last year of white license plates with green letters. In 1960, Wisconsin's plates became black digits on a yellow field.
Youths run wild in the streets
With almost no serious violent crime in 1959 (no murders, only one manslaughter), Madison's major public safety issue involved gangs of young toughs in nylon jackets on State Street.
"It is probable that the average Madison citizen thinks of State Street as the focal point for Madison's teenage delinquent youth," a Youth Commission report stated. "State Street has long been the object for official concern by at least several of Madison's agencies."
The Commission sponsored the Madison Delinquent Prevention Study, and sent former grad student Bernard Stombras to spend six months hanging around the gangs - distinct groups with their own insignia and rules. On May 23, 1959, he delivered his confidential report, marked "Not For Release - For Committee Use Only."
Stombras, identified only as "the detached worker," pegged most gang members as having an emotional maturity level of about 13 years old, with a penchant for threatening violence. Sex, he said, was "certainly not an all-pervading subject to this group," coming in third behind underage drinking and fighting.
"But when sex is discussed it is frequently in homosexual terms and about various homosexual propositions," Stombras continued. "This is always done in an insulting or kidding fashion with some free-floating anxiety evidenced when it is discussed."
The report said these youths "do not have high regard for the virtue of virginity, and feel that if you are going to play around with sex it is rather silly to pet and go part of the way when it's much less frustrating to go all the way. Their sex education is miserable, and many examples could be given substantiating this."
Stombras named the Uptowners as the city's leading gang. He reported that "petty thievery is seemingly condoned, but it doesn't appear that the group itself was formed to plan any aggressive acts in the community."
Sabotaging Monona Terrace
In 1959, the city got closer to building Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace than ever before. And then it all fell apart.
Early in the year, newly elected Gov. Gaylord Nelson moved to repeal a 1957 law setting lakeside height limits that effectively prevented construction of Wright's grand design for his hometown.
Joseph W. Jackson, the great economic development activist and former medical clinic administrator who worshiped John Nolen and loathed Frank Lloyd Wright, testified against the measure at a public hearing. A cavalry hero in World War I and intelligence officer in Germany after World War II, Jackson produced an intelligence dossier on Wright that he said proved the architect was either "a communist or communist fellow traveler."
But although Jackson was apparently in close touch with the FBI and American Legion, he was out of touch with Wisconsin government, and Gov. Nelson signed the repeal of the so-called Metzner Law on March 20, 1959.
Thus, nearly five years after Madison voters had approved the project, Monona Terrace was good to go. In anticipation, Wright had prepared a new iteration and submitted a bill of $122,500 for services to date.
Three weeks later, on April 9, Wright died, two months shy of his 92nd birthday. He was borne by a horse-drawn carriage and buried three days later in a private ceremony in Spring Green. Madison Mayor Ivan Nestingen said Monona Terrace could still be built, and in late May the Council approved the project's preliminary plans.
But the city hadn't counted on the continued opposition from Jackson, who immediately filed a taxpayer's lawsuit charging the city with a "gross abuse of discretion" in proceeding with a project he called dangerous and illegal.
The lawsuit was still pending at decade's end. Madison's window of opportunity to build Monona Terrace was closing, not to reopen for another 30 years.
A bad year for the cops
At around 11 p.m. on Jan. 8, 1959, Madison Police Chief Bruce Weatherly rammed a tanker truck at the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Stoughton Road.
The chief, it so happened, was stinking drunk. He'd been drinking all day, pounding back old-fashioneds with his secretary at the Hoffman House. It was when he tried to drive her home that he had his life-altering accident, suffering multiple shoulder fractures and a concussion.
On Feb. 26, after a special aldermanic inquest, the Common Council voted 17-3 to charge the chief with five counts of misconduct, including drinking on duty and suppression of evidence.
Mayor Ivan Nestingen personally filed the formal complaint with the Police and Fire Commission, whose members included future federal judge James E. Doyle Sr. On April 13, after a one-week hearing, the PFC voted 4-1 to fire Weatherly, effective immediately. (He was later replaced by Madison native Wilbur Emery, 37, a former Marine who led the police force through the 1960s.)
On July 2, technicians confirmed longstanding rumors when they ripped out an extensive series of microphones and recording devices Weatherly had secretly installed throughout police headquarters. The former chief had bugged 17 rooms, including the conference room used by the PFC when it deliberated his ouster.
UW Regents endorse new athletic department policy of refusing to play teams or in locations that require racial segregation.
Green Bay Packers hire Vince Lombardi, 45, as coach and general manager.
State Building Commission releases $82,000 to buy 30 acres of University Hill Farms for a state office building.
Five AFSCME units consolidate as Madison Civil Service Employees Local No. 60.
UW boxer Charlie Mohr wins NCAA title, saying he'll skip Pan Am trials in Madison to concentrate on his studies and train for the Rome Olympics next summer. He later dies after a fight.
Thomas Brittingham Jr., president of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and seed mogul Wilbur Renk, president of the Board of Regents, dedicate the Army Mathematics Research Center, part of $1.2 million addition to Sterling Hall on the UW campus. The building would be bombed on Aug. 23, 1970, as an antiwar protest.
Construction starts on the city's largest shopping center, Westgate, with 175,000 square feet and parking for 1,100 cars. Its hub store, J.C. Penney, at 35,000 square feet, will be the city's largest one-floor store when it opens in early 1960. The 26-store mall, owned by MJV Co. of Cleveland, will also have a Piggly Wiggly.
Second-generation Madisonian Emil Frautschi, grandfather of Overture philanthropist Jerry, dies at 87. Frautschi, who took over the family funeral home and furniture store, helped found the Madison Chamber of Commerce and served more than 20 years on the technical college board. He left $15,000 of his $125,000 estate to charity.
The Madison Common Council bans alcohol in city parks after 10 pm.
The UW-Madison opens its ultra-modern 11-story women's dormitory, Chadbourne Hall, complete with built-in furniture and hideaway beds.
Capitol Square goes to six lanes after state gives in to the city's four-year effort to convert angled parking to parallel, speeding traffic through downtown.
The Strand, 16 E. Mifflin St., has a Halloween double-feature: Return of the Fly and The Alligator People. The Orpheum features Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk.
The Madison Redevelopment Authority files paperwork to initiate the process of demolishing the eastern Greenbush neighborhood. The authority will begin buying property in the summer of 1960, planning to complete purchases within three years.
Grading gets under way for the Hilldale Shopping Center, with construction set for spring 1960. Also, the UW Regents vote to tear down the historic Armory/Red Gym (thankfully never done) and put underground parking between the Wisconsin Center and Memorial Union (still a dream for some).
Badgers edge Minnesota 11-7 for Big Ten football title; happy celebration of 3,000 turns ugly after midnight as Langdon Street area is hit by fires and disorderly conduct.
Ground is broken for the new Sequoya branch of Madison Public Library at Midvale Shopping Center. When it opens in April 1960, it will hold 20,000 books, twice as many as the branch it replaces.
Controversial UW biochemist Karl Paul Link, previously censured by Regents, receives prestigious award for his work with Warfarin blood thinner.
Mayoral granddaughter and senatorial daughter Mary Esther Vilas Hanks, 86, dies, leaving an estate valued at $850,000, and making Sen. William F. Vilas' $30 million bequest to the university available, including scholarships for "worthy and qualified candidates of Negro blood."
Stu Levitan is a radio host, labor arbitrator and author of Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Vol. 1 (UW Press, 2006).