Monona Terrace

David Mollenhoff, a Madison historian along with Mary Jane Hamilton, provided the definitive history of the Monona Terrace design, the tempestuous relationship of Wright to his hometown of Madison, and the support for and opposition to the project in the publication “Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace: The Enduring Power of a Civic Vision”.

“Why would an internationally famous architect work on a project for twenty-one years, prepare 8 versions of the design, wine and dine prospective supporters, publicly debate its merits, commit his staff to work tens of thousands of hours, write tracts extolling its virtues, create thousands of drawings, renderings, and specifications, and direct the construction of a huge extraordinarily detailed model — all in exchange for fees totaling $250? How could an architectural project generate five referenda, ten lawsuits, ten pieces of state legislation, and four thousand newspaper articles? How could an architect's civic vision lead to the formation of three very different coalitions of supporters and detractors in three decades? What would cause residents to elect an architect twice, once during his lifetime and once posthumously? Why would residents vote to build an architect's project thirty-three years after his death?”

Although faced with a long, low-odds lawsuit and the strong possibility that he would never get paid, Wright was remarkably philosophical. One Sunday in August 1958, when just about everybody thought Monona Terrace was dead, Wright was having a relaxed discussion with members of the Fellowship at Taliesin on a wide range of topics. An apprentice asked Wright if he would share his thoughts on the seemingly jinxed project.

Wright replied: “Well, it is not an altogether discouraging picture, because at least we have had the pleasure and what glory there is… in doing the project… Even if it is never built, I shall never regret having put myself into…the Terrace. And if they don't build it — well, let's see what will happen 10 years from now. It will come about someday.”

As Wright described the building, the Terrace was to be, “The long awaited wedding between the city and beautiful Lake Monona.” It is interesting that he chose the word wedding for the all-white design and layering effect of the modern building does evoke a wedding cake, although an extremely modern one.