Ask Abe: Alumni Park Space

Anida H. ’09

What is the history of the space where Alumni Park now stands?

Abe

Alumni Park, which sits between Langdon Street and Lake Mendota, and between Memorial Union and the Red Gym, is on one of the more popular patches of UW–Madison’s campus — and it’s long been a popular place for people to hang out. The first important UW-related structure on the site was the YMCA building, which went up between 1904 and 1906. For its first 20 years, it functioned as the de facto student union. The Y occupied that spot until 1953, when it moved to a new home on Brooks and Johnson Streets. The UW Foundation then bought the site on Langdon and gave it to the university with one condition: nothing should ever obstruct the view of Lake Mendota. The Y’s building stayed up until 1956, when it was demolished to make room for a parking lot, which indeed did not obstruct (or add to) the view. For 60 years, Lot 1 provided a few parking spaces and access to a loading dock, until the idea for Alumni Park came along. As for One Alumni Place, it stands on the space that had been, from 1893 to 1963, the University Boathouse on the west end of the lot and the Sigma Chi fraternity on the Lake Street side. The Boathouse came down in the mid 1960s, and Alumni House was built in 1967, expanded and remodeled in 1994, and then remodeled again (with the addition of One Alumni Place) in 2017.