WisBusiness: City commission plans on August decision for potential UW landmark

By Brian E. Clark

The Madison Landmarks Commission has put off making a decision about the historical significance of the 80-year-old Rennebohm Building until Aug. 8. UW-Madison officials say making the building a landmark would complicate plans for a high-tech research center. (See a previous WisBusiness story: Potential Landmark Could Complicate Plans for $375 Million Research Center)

The city panel met last week, but decided it needed to physically inspect the three-story structure before it could determine its importance to Madison, said Katherine Rankin, the planner who coordinates the commission.

The building is at the corner of University and Randall avenues, the western end of a two-block site where UW-Madison officials hope to build the $375 million Insitute for Discovery. The university contends the Rennebohm Building is not worth saving, and says saving it would be an impediment to research, reducing the first phase of building by as much as 10 percent. As an alternative, the university is considering putting a soda fountain in the institute and naming it after Oscar Rennebohm as a way to honor him.

UW officials hope to break ground on the first phase of the institute by 2007. It would total 750,000 square feet and be home to numerous multi-disciplinary labs.

The neo-classical/Mediterranean-style structure served as a drug store until 1980, the year it was sold to the Walgreens’ chain. The Rennebohm Building’s pharmacy had a 15-stool, marble soda fountain that was popular with students for decades.

Walgreens closed the drug store and the university purchased the building in 1981. It has been used for office space since then.

If the edifice were declared a landmark by the city, any redevelopment proposal would be considered by the Landmarks Commission, which could approve, delay or reject a proposal to demolish it or change the exterior. A commission decision could be overturned by a two-thirds majority of the City Council.

The building is named for Oscar Rennebohm, the late Madison drug store magnate who served as governor of the state for from 1947 to 1951. He also was a lieutenant governor and served on the UW Board of Regents for many years. The UW-Madison pharmacy school bears his family’s name and his foundation recent gave $15 million for the medical school’s $134 million Interdisciplinary Research Center.

The library at Edgewood College is named for him, as is a park on Madison’s west side.