Historic board needs to grow some humility

The Madison Historic District Board of Review did it again Monday night.

“Listen to us, ignorant local yokel: You knew you should have sought our sanctified approval before you took those historic wooden windows out of your house and replaced them with (Yuk!) VINYL ONES! You violated one of the Ten Commandments of historic preservation: Thou shalt not hold in disrespect those appointed by the lord mayor to tell you what you may or may not do with your own property. We therefore turn thumbs down on your insolent attempt to present us with a fait accompli. You shall retrieve those honored ancient window frames — don’t tell us you don’t know where they are, because we know (but we’re not going to tell you — find it out for yourself, peasant), remove those putrid vinyl frames and put the wooden ones back where they belong, or you will be subject to legal action and a fine of up to $10,000!

“And don’t forget to bow deeply before leaving our august presence.”

OK, I’m exaggerating — a little. But it’s not for nothing that most Madisonians have referred to it as “the hysterical board” on at least one occasion. I’m not picking on any individual members, past or present. But the attitude of the board, collectively, toward the people of downtown Madison over the years of its existence has been, often, breathtakingly arrogant, condescending, and elitist. THEY are the ones who know what’s best for our old buildings; we hayseeds if left to our own devices would have Madison looking like downtown Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, in less time than it takes to say “historic district destroyed.”

Yeah, sure, Mr. and Ms. board member who moved here three years ago because you thought Madison was so beautiful and scenic — if you can only save it from we dolts who have always lived here. Naturally, without the presence of the hysterical board we would tear down every old building in the downtown and replace them with quonset huts.

Gosh! Wonder what kept these old buildings from being torn down by us ignorant Midwesterners for the first 170 years of the city’s history? Do you suppose there was actually a historic board in the 19th Century that we haven’t been told about? Must have been them that restrained our ancestors’ predilection for wholesale destruction of their own property.

The old-time Madisonian members of the board always have acted as the sensible, restraining influence on the out-of-towners who wanted to put us all into a straitjacket. Unfortunately, they’ve seldom been in a majority on the board.

At this time of history, with government in heavy disfavor with so many Americans (tea party in Madison, anyone?), the historic board needs to learn some humility. It was established by action of the city council. If it gets too far out of line, it could be dis-established the same way.


15 comments for “Historic board needs to grow some humility

  1. Alida Antonia Cornelius
    November 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I can’t believe someone who has lived in Madison all their lives didn’t know about the “window rules”.

    Yet, aren’t their people who ask for approval to install vinyl windows?
    Do they get approval?

    I do think that when realtors sell property in the historic Madison zone, they are legally obligated to tell the owners of the property that they have to abide by the rules. I have talked to a person who thinks buying an old house would be a good investment, but I tell them, you have to remodel accordingly.

    I do wonder if this person just thought they would do what they wanted to because they saw other people having vinyl installed.

    Do you know if people get permission to install vinyl, Wayne?

    • November 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

      Yes, Alida, people are supposed to file an application with the board for a certificate of appropriateness, and appear before the board to present their request and answer questions, before they undertake external changes to their property in the downtown. Some do it “after the fact,” as this woman apparently did. Some don’t even bother. Of course, an ordinance is an ordinance. But you must understand the level of active dislike against the board and the ordinance among many downtown residents. It’s not the ordinance itself or the board’s powers under it I was questioning; I was trying to point out to the board that often they appear overbearing and patronizing to the applicants and the general public.
      And by the way, I really do appreciate your posting on my website, even though we seem to disagree on most things. I wish more people would post comments; at least it shows they’re reading my stuff!

      • Alida Antonia Cornelius
        November 29, 2009 at 12:49 pm

        Hi..the reason I was asking if many people get approval for vinyl windows is that a contractor told me that “it’s who you know” for those people who get approval to install them.
        But, that is just a rumour.
        I was wondering if you had heard the same thing.

        Yes, we don’t agree on everything, but I like your blog.
        I love the layout.

        Have a nice day.

    • foobar
      November 30, 2009 at 11:21 am

      I know vinyl windows do get installed. I installed them on my pre civil war home myself. Measured the rough opening, went to Lowe’s and special ordered 4 energy efficient, double hung, tilt out windows. When they came in I removed the originals (that were literally rotted beyond hope of repair) and installed the vinyl ones myself, including the wood framing to mount them on. Did get them to practically match the six pane style too. That was three years ago and they look and FUNCTION fantastic today. A huge upgrade in looks and they are ‘green’. I never asked anyone for permission and I did not bother with a permit, don’t know if one was needed or not anyway, but there was plenty of opportunity for the powers to be to stop me or educate me if they had wanted to. It’s a high traffic street and everyone knew what I was doing. Guess I’m a nobody; I kind of like that. For those of us that are working stiffs, we have to take care of home maintenance and upkeep as time and money allows. We don’t have time to take a day off work to attend some meeting or hearings for permission, if we have to, the upkeep and upgrades simply would not have been done at all. At least not by me.

  2. Wayne Engle
    November 29, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I have no idea, Alida, if it’s “who you know” that determines whether you’re able to install vinyl windows. That’s the kind of rumor that is always rife in small towns.
    Glad you like my blog; thanks for the kind words. And by the way, since there was no place I could find to leave a reply to your comment about the differences in IQ averages: No, it isn’t because some groups have “access to education” and some supposedly don’t. Differences in IQ levels that follow ethnic and racial lines have been traced, on average, in people tested in all economic levels. IQ measures what might be called “native intelligence,” not the access you’ve had to formal education.

  3. November 30, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Good for you, Foobar. Normally I wouldn’t congratulate somebody for breaking an ordinance, but I think this one has been carried far to extremes, and if this board really does have the power its members seem to think it does, maybe we need some test cases. You’ll recall that when Mr. Grubbs went ahead and did what he wanted to to his house on Walnut Street, the board weaseled out of doing anything about it. Glad you got your house repaired in a manner chosen by you, the owner, and not by the board.

  4. tami
    July 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I noticed the controversy of the signs at the Mexican grocery and restaurant and thought to myself they were not so bad. Then I saw the signs at the place called Shooters. Those are way out of line for a historic town and look cartoon-ish. Does the historic board also approve signs? If they do, they do a horrid job of it.
    Thank you,

    • Luis
      February 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      We unrdestand the presumption of innocence in America.That was not what I was upset about.It was NEVER the boards job to investigate this case.The Super had it right.The students charged with such a serious charge should be suspended from extra activities unless the matter is resolved.Case closed.That is exactly what you are doing now after the prosecutor set you straight.You should continue to investigate matters that happen on school grounds like the one you have now.The case on the friday after the board meeting.Investigate how a student sent a teacher to the hospital friday during school but played friday night.Get your teeth into that one Sir as that is in your jurisdiction.

  5. Greg McAtee
    April 24, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Build a disc golf course near Madison. It will bring people to town that wouldn’t come otherwise and will discover the historic downtown. Ball golf is dying. Madison is dying. You need fresh ideas to draw people who don’t normally visit historic districts. People who aren’t artsy fartsy, or antique seekers, but will stop and spend money once they see historic downtown Madison. Madison is beautiful. It just needs to be discovered by the younger generation.

    Don’t build a disc golf course like Scottsburg built, though! No one will come back to play it again.

  6. April 25, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    A good suggestion, Greg. Madison does, indeed, need more than historic buildings and a beautiful river view to bring the kind of tourists to town who actually will spend some money.

    • Greg McAtee
      April 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      I am curious if part of the Madison State Hospital grounds has been turned over to Madison for future park use? If so, this exact same thing recently happened in Evansville, IN and a disc golf course was built on part of it. They put in a sign in sheet at hole 1 to gauge it’s usage. The city has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people locally and out-of-towners (even out-of-staters) that play the course.

      The park also has a high usage by the local boy scout troop.

  7. April 30, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I have no knowledge of anything like that, Greg, but then there are many things I have no knowledge of. Anyone else on here who can answer Greg’s question?

  8. BerkohikClums
    November 24, 2020 at 1:51 am


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.