Madison, July 1961
On the 14th, city planners report that State Street suffers from traffic congestion, inadequate parking, and bad design and they recommend a coordinated, three-phase improvement plan.[i] They’re especially concerned about the first two blocks, which tax records and assessments reveal as the most valuable for shopping. The problems aren’t new; the report notes that in 1911, John Nolen noted the haphazard development in his seminal work “Madison: A Model City.” A half-century later, city staff say there’s no time to waste in fixing the city’s most important street; if an interest isn’t taken now, they warn, State Street will start to decline.
And there’s a physical manifestation of one of the problems the downtown economy is facing, as site preparation begins on the new Hill Farms State Office Building. The nine-story $12.7 million project, located just west of the burgeoning Hill Farms neighborhood and the proposed Hilldale Shopping Center on University Avenue, will house the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies. The Hilldale construction bids are set to be opened in about a month.
July 18—Harvard professor Henry A. Kissinger, the brilliant young special consultant to President Kennedy, comes to the UW campus to discusses the difficulty in negotiating with Communists in a Great Hall talk on “American Policy and Disarmament.”[ii]
July 21—Four Freedom Riders from the UW Student Council for Civil Rights are arrested trying to integrate the lunch counter at the Greyhound terminal in Jackson, Mississippi. Imprisoned at the notorious Parchman Farm, the four are separated from the other prisoners and denied mattresses and toilet paper; they spend their time singing freedom songs and playing chess with sets made out of bread. Several other current and former Wisconsin students are also arrested and imprisoned over the summer. Upon their release and return to Madison, they spread the word at various public forums; among their number is Paul Breines, about to start a two-year term as president of the Socialist Club, who serves three weeks of a four-month sentence, later recounting his experience to a packed Tripp Commons.[iii]
It’s a big month for the city’s urban renewal program. On the 26th, the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights creates a special subcommittee to help relocate minorities forced to move due to the Brittingham and Triangle projects downtown. Commission member John McGrath says finding housing for minorities is “becoming a problem so large” that the commission, a powerless group which was formed as a consolation prize for activists after an attempt to pass a fair housing code was defeated in 1952, can’t handle it anymore; he wants the Commission to ask the council to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing.
The next night, the city council overwhelmingly adopts Mayor Henry Reynolds’ plan to build 160 units of low-rent public housing, including 60 units for low-income elderly who are losing their homes in the triangle area bounded by West Washington Avenue and Park and Regent Streets. The 17-2 vote also authorizes the Madison Housing Authority to apply for federal funds for these units and a hundred other apartments in South Madison and the north side. These will be the first units of public housing in the city since the Madison Housing Authority built 150 units at Truax Field for veterans after World War 2.
But NAACP chair Odell Taliaferro still doesn’t trust the city’s intent or execution. He denounces the Triangle project as a “subterfuge” to move low-income residents out of a “choice geographical location.” “This we believe to be morally wrong,” he writes Mayor Reynolds and the council, “since no housing shortage exists for the affluent class and many of the [present residents] have pioneered the settlement of this area, have wrestled it from Monona Bay.”
The NAACP does have one thing to celebrate – Zachary Trotter, proprietor of Madison’s only Black-owned bar, finally wins Council approval to relocate his Tuxedo Café, which is going to be torn down for the Brittingham Urban Renewal project on West Washington Avenue.
The council had twice rejected Trotter’s earlier bids to move his bar, but the third time is the charm. Despite opposition from more than 150 property owners and residents in the area, the council, meeting as the Committee of the Whole, recommends letting Trotter transfer his liquor license to 1616 Beld Street. Southside Ald. Harold “Babe” Rohr, under fire from the NAACP and the Unitarians for blocking Trotter’s first two attempts, is absent, but still makes his feelings known. He issues a statement slamming Trotter for insisting on “implausible sites” and expresses dismay that Trotter “insists on relocating in our wards.
But the fireworks aren’t over. Two nights later, with Rohr again absent, the council formally adopts the Committee’s report without debate or separation of the Trotter matter; when neighbors who had come to protest the transfer realize this, they break out in angry shouts and curses, accusing the council of collusion and corruption. Reynolds tries in vain to gavel the chamber to order as more than a dozen men and women disrupt the proceedings for more than five minutes.
The next day, Reynolds tours the neighborhood, and comes to the conclusion that opposition was primarily because it was a tavern, and not due to Trotter’s race or that of his customers. A few days later, he quietly signs the transfer.
And one of the city’s strangest crime sprees comes to a close as a cab driver nabs the “Little Red Riding Hood” bandit. Petite 18-year-old Sandra Sue Wick and her 17-year-old boyfriend first stole two .22 caliber revolvers and a camera from the Montgomery Ward store on State Street. The next night the 120-pound, five-foot two teen turned a red felt skirt into a hood covering her face and hair, cut two eye-slits, and called for a Checker Cab to pick her up at the corner of Butler and Mifflin streets, where she stole $12 from Rudy Kviz at gunpoint. But when she put the loaded pistol against the head of the City Cab company’s Ray Jacobs the next night at the Regina House dormitory on the Edgewood campus, the burly driver quickly snatched the gun away, overpowered the girl, and held her for police. The boy, on parole from the State School for Boys at Waukesha for a series of burglaries in 1959, is sent to the Green Bay State Reformatory until he is 21; Wick is sentenced to two years at the Wisconsin Home for Women in Taycheda.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.