History | Friends of Nolen Waterfront
Frank Lloyd Wright Lake Monona Boathouse
John Olin, Madison's great park visionary and the father of our park system, solicited pledges from Madison business leaders to build a large public boathouse for Lake Monona. Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the boathouse in 1893.
“Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace — The Enduring Power of a Civic Vision” by David Mollenhoff and Mary Jane Hamilton describes Wright's design for the Lake Monona boathouse. “This was Wright's first circular building. The central element, a cylinder sixty feet in diameter, incorporated an ingenious truss system in its conical roof. The trusses carry the weight of the roof down through the exterior walls and achieve column-free space on the first and second levels. Boat owners could row into the center of the building and pull their boats out of the water onto a ramped floor. With the help of an interior crane, the building could store fifty-six boats. To increase usable space on the first floor, Wright added four corner pavilions. Dramatizing its circularity is a 360-degree band of arched openings on the second level. Not until the 1930's did the circle become a dominant form for Wright. Ironically, one building from that decade was the first Monona Terrace, a semicircular structure planned for a site just one thousand feet from the boathouse on the same shoreline.
The Monona boathouse, designed to replace a row of ugly private boathouses, was never built because of unexpectedly high costs and a sharp recession that killed donations.
The site for the Monona boathouse was the end of King Street. The tip of the coneshaped roof rose seventy feet above the lake and the flagpole another twenty feet — the equivalent of a nine-story building, which suggests that Wright intended the building as a visual punctuation point for this radial street.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has developed mandatory guidelines that must be met for constructing any unbuilt works by Wright — Recommended Guidelines for Projects Involving Unbuilt or Reconstructed Works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Madison has an extraordinary and unique opportunity to have two FLW buildings on the same lakeshore within 900 feet of each other — and where Wright wanted them. Furthermore, they represent projects from his first and last years of practice, 1893 and 1959–66 years of an illustrious career.