The city of Madison is giving the honorary name 'Homer V. Simpson Way' to Lake Point Drive.
Homer Simpson made his mark in Madison long before a character of the same name became a cultural icon on the small screen.
Legend has it that Homer V. Simpson, a prolific gambler, won half of Antler's Tavern in a poker game and bought the owner out of the second half in 1943. He also bought land around the West Broadway bar, eventually donating some to the city. Simpson Street -- which runs parallel to Broadway -- was named in his honor.
Simpson died in 1965 at age 63; his youngest son, Homer Simpson II, was just 10. Homer II and his mother then moved into the bar, remodeling the back of the tavern.
Homer Simpson II has been in charge of Antler's Tavern now for about 40 years. A small, cozy bar takes up most of one room, and a couple of pool tables dominate another. Simpson points to the back of the tavern, where an elk head is mounted on the wall next to a large stone fireplace.
"That was my bedroom," says Simpson, who lived there until he was 18.
Simpson says his name has provided much conversation fodder over the years. He was teased as a kid because of it, but that was before Matt Groening's The Simpsons burst on the scene in 1989. Since then, he says, "80% of it has been fun."
The neighborhood around Antler's Tavern, what used to be called Broadway-Simpson, fell on hard times by the early 1990s, with escalating crime and drug activity. The city of Madison launched revitalization efforts that included changing the name of Simpson Street to Lake Point Drive.
Simpson didn't protest the conversion, but didn't endorse it either. "It's fine if they want to change it," he said in an article at the time. "But it's kind of ridiculous. If they call it Smith Street, as soon as something happens, then Smith Street will have the bad reputation. It's better to build the neighborhood back up."
He feels the same today. Yet he is pleased the city is installing an honorary street sign at the corner of Hoboken Road and Lake Point Drive in recognition of his father. He joined Mayor Paul Soglin, Ald. John Strasser and others Tuesday at the official dedication of "Homer V. Simpson Way."
"I do feel it honors my father," says Simpson. "He worked hard in the business and he was nice enough to donate the land, so he should have something down there for him."
Simpson, however, was not behind the effort to install the sign honoring his dad. That was largely driven by one woman: Diane Small, a longtime resident of the neighborhood.
The area felt like a refuge to Small when she moved from Chicago in 1988 with three kids in tow. "When I landed here it was really nice," she told Isthmus a couple of years ago.
Small has been on something of a crusade in recent years to recover the community that was lost due to the influx of drugs and crime and subsequent revitalization efforts. She says people supported each other despite the troubles and many people who moved or were displaced maintain their ties to the neighborhood.
In 2010 Small organized the first Simpson Street reunion to give people a chance to reconnect with each other. Since then people have come from around the country for the annual summer gathering. Tuesday night the Common Council honored the organizers of the reunion with a resolution noting the event celebrates the "bonds forged in the once troubled neighborhood."
This year Small circulated a petition at the reunion asking the city to reinstate the name Simpson Street and drop Lake Point Drive. She says she was caught by surprise when the city changed the name in the late 1990s, and has never really stopped calling it Simpson Street. Remnants of the old name live on in other ways: the Simpson Street Free Press, an award-winning teen newspaper, took its name from the street when it was founded in 1992.
Ald. Strasser, who represents the area, says there are practical obstacles to changing street names, from outdated GPS information to the need for residents to change all correspondence and official documents. "It's not a small task to change a street name," he says.
Strasser says the people behind the petition are content with the honorary sign. Small, though, sees it as a first step. "I really want the street name changed back." But, she adds, "I know that will take time."