Madison, the first week of April, 1961.
As the municipal election of 1961 approached, no one expected Mayor Ivan Nestingen to be a candidate. The 39-year-old attorney and former state representative was certainly popular enough to coast to victory — first elected in a special election in 1956, elected to a full two-year term in 1957 by a 3–1 margin, he was reelected without opposition in 1959. And now he’s riding high as the champion of the Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace auditorium and convention center, which he’s pushed to the verge of construction.
But Nestingen had led the Kennedy for President Club during the successful Wisconsin primary campaign in 1960, and chaired the state delegation to the national convention, so everyone assumed he’d leave Madison for a job in the new administration.
Yet Inauguration Day approached without any word from the president-elect, so on January 13, Nestingen announced for reelection.[i] No one filed to challenge him.
Then, two weeks later, just six days before the filing deadline, an appointment as Kennedy’s Undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare comes, and Nestingen goes.[ii]
The council names retiring city attorney Harold Hanson as acting mayor, and the city settles in for a pitched battle between two highly qualified candidates with very different agendas. From the right, Henry E. Reynolds, fifty-five, former alder and council president, founding vice chair of the anti–Monona Terrace Citizens’ Realistic Auditorium Association and a director of Madison General Hospital and the Madison Bus Company. From the left, Robert “Bob” Nuckles, forty-three, Nestingen’s administrative assistant, also a former alder, and a strong supporter of Monona Terrace. Reynolds is president of his family’s trucking and storage company; before joining Nestingen, Nuckels was an engineer with Oscar Mayer & Co. and Ray-O-Vac.[iii]
Although Reynolds resigns from the anti-Monona Terrace group, the Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium is clearly the campaign’s dominant issue. But not the only one. Reynolds calls building a causeway across Monona Bay a high priority; Nuckles does not. Nuckles would continue the city’s expansive annexation policy; Reynolds would not. And Reynolds vows explicitly to curtail the considerable City Hall influence of the liberal Capital Times. They do agree on some things—both would build a new central library and an east side hospital.[iv]
In February, the Nuckles campaign suffers a devastating blow when construction bids for Monona Terrace come in millions of dollars over budget, putting the long-delayed project on another hold. Nuckles continues with his aggressive campaign, and hits Reynolds hard on the question of where the businessman lives – his declared residence at 616 E. Mifflin St., or his apparent primary residence on 200 acres on the north shore of Lake Mendota in the town of Westport – but he can’t overcome Reynolds’ broad and deep community ties and solid reputation.[v]
On election day, April 4, Nuckles carries the east side but Reynolds wins big on the high-turnout west side, and carries the south side thanks to area alder and labor leader Harold Babe Rohr, who supports Reynolds because they both oppose Monona Terrace. Reynolds wins by 7 percent, about twenty-five hundred votes.[vi]
The anti-Monona Terrace Wisconsin State Journal editorially exults, while its biggest booster, the Capital Times grieves.[vii]
Reynolds quickly validates their respective reactions. “I consider my election a rejection of the Terrace project,” Reynolds declares, and promptly turns that attitude into action. Taking office on April 18, he ousts the pro-project citizen members of the Auditorium Committee, and installs stalwart opponents, including the university’s retired director of physical plant planning, Albert Gallistel.
Reynolds lists eight “immediate goals” in his inaugural message, including an auditorium/civic center at an as-yet unspecified site, a new central library, advancing the Monona Causeway, improving streets and covering all open storm water ditches. Among the long-range issues: improving the municipal airport and providing low-income housing for residents displaced by urban renewal. And he resigns from the board of the private Madison Bus company, as he did when he served on the council.[viii]
In May, Nuckles returns to Oscar Mayer & Co. as a project engineer in the general machine development department.
If Nestingen had stayed, Madison would have had as its mayor a liberal ally of the president and Democratic governors Gaylord Nelson and John Reynolds; instead, we had a conservative opponent who served throughout the New Frontier and the first year of the Great Society.
As the election marked the beginning of the end of Monona Terrace, it also marked the beginning of a new downtown main library, as the voters agree by two to one to issue $2.2 million in bonds for a new facility to replace the Carnegie Library which opened on Carroll Street in 1906. The city says it wants a site near the Capitol Square with plenty of public parking and enough pedestrian activity that women feel safe coming and going at night.
On campus this week, the Regents vote 5–2 to accept a $100,000 bequest from the late Ida B. Altemus of Stoughton to help “worthy and needy Gentile Protestant students” in their junior or senior year. Although consistent with the university’s current informal practice of accepting restrictive conditions that are stated in a positive rather than negative fashion, the regents’ action draws public criticism. Especially from the Capital Times, which editorializes that “The incident indicates again how the dollar consciousness at the University permeates virtually everything it does, making it a party to attitudes that weaken democracy.” And the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights says it is concerned about the “moral and legal issues this type of bequest raises,” and formally requests that the regents rescind their acceptance. The Regents say they’ll study the matter and report back.
And the Newspaper Guild of Madison names Mrs. Velma Hamilton, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Beloit College with a Master’s Degree from the UW, its Citizen of the Year. Hamilton, who in 1950 became the first African American teacher at Madison Vocational, Technical, and Adult Schools, has served six years on the Governor’s Commission on Human Rights and is currently in her second three- year term on the Wisconsin Committee for Children and Youth. She is the first Black woman to receive this honor.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing, hand-washing socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.
[i] “Mayor Still Has No Official Word on U.S. Position,” WSJ, January 13, 1961.
[ii] Stanley Williams, “Nestingen Named as Top Cabinet Aide,” WSJ, January 27, 1961.
[iii] “Know Your Madisonian—Robert Nuckles,” WSJ, November 27, 1960; “Federal Post to Nestingen,” CT, January 13, 1961; Williams, “Reynolds Makes Race for Mayor,” WSJ, January 28, 1961; Williams, “Hanson Elected Interim Mayor on Unanimous Vote of Council,” WSJ, February 4, 1961; “Bus Fare Boost Recalls Reynolds’ Role on Board,” CT, March 22, 1961; “Campaign for Mayor Sharpest in Long Time,” WSJ, April 2, 1961.
[iv] Mack Hoffman, “Reynolds Says He Won’t Campaign on Anti-Center Plank,” CT, January 28, 1961; “Reynolds Stresses Four Issues as He Announces His Platform,” WSJ, February 5, 1961; “Reynolds ‘Quits’ Foes of Terrace,” CT, February 8, 1961; “Reynolds Urges Fast Go-Ahead on Monona Bay Causeway Work,” WSJ, March 15, 1961; “Nuckles Charges Reynolds Is Playing Politics with Causeway,” CT, March 15, 1961; “Reynolds Hits Nuckles, Times, for Bypassing Mayor, Council,” WSJ, March 25, 1961; Gordon, “Annex Policy, Tavern Site Stir New Debate,” WSJ, March 28, 1961; “Nuckles and Reynolds Give Views on Campaign,” CT, April 1, 1961; “Mayor Candidates List Their Goals,” WSJ, April 2, 1961.
[v] “Does Reynolds Live in City? Westport ‘Cottage’ Is Cited,” CT, February 1, 1961; Young Adults for Reynolds Committee, WSJ, March 28, 1961; https://www.reynoldstransfer.com/; “Reynolds Costs Top Nuckles’ by $1,929,” WSJ, April 12, 1961.
[vi] David Gordon, “City Elects Reynolds by 2,600-Vote Edge,” WSJ, April 5, 1961; Herbert Marcus, “Stay-Homes Elect Reynolds,” CT, April 5, 1961; “Nuckles Takes Engineer Post with Oscar Mayer Co.,” CT, May 9, 1961.
[vii] Editorial, “Madison Picks Henry Reynolds,” WSJ, April 5, 1961; Editorial, “Madison Looks Backward—Backward to Cowbarn,” CT, April 5, 1961.
[viii] “Reynolds Sworn, Sets Eight Goals,” CT, April 18, 1961; “Reynolds Leaves Bus Firm Board,” CT, April 20, 1961.