Now & Then: The YWCA Building on State Street

In October the Wisconsin State Journal reported plans to build a $30 million boutique hotel on State Street that would require demolition of 122 State St., once home to the YWCA. The building was badly updated in the early 1970s with stucco and brick completely covering facades on State, Carroll and Dayton streets. Side walls visible from State Street offer the only direct evidence of its past: faded signs near the roofline for the YWCA cafeteria.

It was New Year’s Day on 1919 when the public was invited to an open house for the new YWCA. Entering through the inviting lobby guests could visit the cafeteria on the first floor; upper floors included a gymnasium, club rooms, parlors, bedrooms for residents, and a pipe organ in Esther Vilas Memorial Hall.

The Madison YWCA earned its charter from the national organization in 1908 and had its first home on Pinckney Street in the area now occupied by the Madison Children’s Museum. Over the next few years activities were divided among multiple buildings on the west end of the Square. By 1912 the YWCA had acquired space at 122 State Street for its office, but it was several years before they engaged Harry C. Alford to design a completely new building for the site.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1902, Alford worked as a draftsman and opened his own architectural office in 1915. For the YWCA Alford looked to classical architecture and developed a handsome design with large arched openings on all three facades, regularly spaced windows, false balconies, terra cotta trim and a projecting cornice. The principal materials were stone at the base and buff-colored brick above.

In a 1926 booklet for the Y noted that, “One of the chief functions of the Y.W.C.A. is to provide a safe home for girls away from home.” Permanent rooms could be had for $3.00 to $4.00 per week and transient rooms for $0.75 to $1.50 per day. Laundry privileges and free telephone service were included.

By 1918 Alford had left Madison. Fifty years later the YWCA left State Street and moved to the renovated Belmont Hotel on the Square and soon after that Alford’s design was lost to a “contemporary” update.

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