History of the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center


Hovering above Lake Monona | Photo by @sekretempire

Spanning 90 ft over the Lake Monona shoreline lives an architectural + technological masterpiece“a dream civic center” — with a history as rich and quirky as the city it resides in.

History: In 1909, local city planner John Nolen called for a set of government buildings to connect Wisconsin’s State Capitol with Lake Monona — the city’s first master plan. In the coming decades, WI native + architect Frank Lloyd Wright would propose and re-propose a series of plans — including an auditorium, rail depot, marina, courthouse, and city hall — to develop what we know as Monona Terrace.

Development: Following a post-war boom in the mid-1950s, the City of Madison + voters approved a $4 million bond referendum for an auditorium and civic center with Wright named the architect on the project. However, the passage of a bill limiting the height of a lakefront building on the site to 20 ft halts construction. It isn’t until two years later in 1959 that the law is repealed and Wright completes his last rendering, passing away later that year at age 91. Decades later in 1994, following multiple failed proposals + rounds of funding, the $67.1 million project broke ground.

Architecture: The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is an homage to the architect’s organic design style — integrating the city center with a 250,000 sqft, five-level facility perched above the waters of Lake Monona. The curvilinear design language Wright envisioned for the space helps meld the intersection of the grand open spaces inside the convention center with the expansive body of water.

Today: Madison has spent the past 25 years building a cultural, social + economic hub out of Monona Terrace. The community and convention center hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for an eclectic mix of programs and events. From rooftop concerts and yoga classes to wellness talks and architecture lecture series, the community staple offers something for everyone.

Next time you pass the masterpiece located at 1 John Nolen Dr., tip your hat to John Nolen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the countless individuals who helped create this city staple.

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