Quisling—a prominent medical family in Madison for much of the 20th century whose name can be seen on the family’s former clinic at 2 W. Gorham Street in Madison. Today the building is Quisling Terrace, a 60-unit apartment building developed, restored, and managed by Gorman & Company, which opened in 2000. It features a mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom units, and residents have access to a resident lounge, fitness center, and rooftop terrace with grills. Many units are designated as affordable housing.
Quisling Clinic was founded in 1933 by four brothers: Abraham, Sverre, Rolf, and Gunnar—all doctors who followed in their father’s footsteps. Dr. Andreas Quisling, a native of Norway, came to Madison from Iowa in 1900 and began a medical practice out of his home. According to Dagny Quisling Myrah, Abraham’s daughter, someone had told Andreas that Dane County looked like Norway, so he made the move east with his young family.
The original site of the Quisling Clinic was on King Street. In the 1940s, the brothers moved the clinic to the Gorham Street location where a yellow clapboard Victorian house, built in 1885 and remodeled in 1935, stood. In 1946, the building was once again remodeled. Kenosha-based architect Lawrence Monberg, a friend of the Quisling family, was commissioned to design the building. His art moderne structure, which still stands today, was built around the existing frame house. J. H. Findorff & Son was the contractor. Dagny remembers an intact back stairway from the house that remained in the clinic. To expand the clinic in 1968, a two-story addition was built connecting to the neighboring Hart house, a historic residence dating to 1896.
The clinic building featured straw-colored buff brick, nautical-looking porthole windows, and curved corners—all distinctive art moderne elements. This style, a cousin to art deco, emphasizes the future rather than the past and strives for a modern expression to complement the machine age. Art moderne was common for commercial buildings. The style was popular in large metropolitan areas during the 1930s and ‘40s, but spread widely throughout the country into smaller cities, like Madison.
Monberg designed two other art moderne buildings for the Quisling family: The Edgewater Hotel in 1948 and Quisling Towers apartment building in 1937. These three buildings along Wisconsin Avenue are located in the Mansion Hill Historic District, which became Madison’s first historic district in 1976.
“My father, who received his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was a good diagnostician,” says Dagny. “In those days, his patients included the whole family. He made house calls, so he was familiar with patients’ living situations and what might be causing illness because of what was happening at home. Many Norwegians were patients of my father and my uncles, and my grandfather before them. In the early days, they spoke Norwegian in their practice.” Quisling Clinic was one of the four original clinics to form Physicians Plus Medical Group in 1986 and operated until 1998.
Dagny remembers that Abraham enjoyed the architectural aspect of buildings—the blueprints and actual construction. She recalls that her family’s dining room table was frequently covered with plans. “He also enjoyed the business part of the clinic.” Not only was Abraham president of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, he was active in many medical associations and local organizations. He was on the YMCA board and served as president of the Maple Bluff Country Club.
Gunnar, who served in Europe during World War II, was awarded a Legion of Merit citation by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was honored for his work in developing a device used to locate pieces of shrapnel in wounded servicemen during the war. The citation was presented in Madison. Dagny recollects the bandstand that was set up on Wisconsin Avenue for the ceremony.
An eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist, Gunnar also perfected the basic design for gas masks used by soldiers who were required to wear glasses. He did specialized work on poisonous gases at Camp Stewart, Georgia. “Gunnar died when he was only 41 from lung cancer he probably contracted from experimenting on himself,” Dagny says. The doctor belonged to numerous service organizations, veterans’ groups, and the Sons of Norway.
Rolf, Gunnar’s twin, was a plastic surgeon earning his medical degree at the age of 21 from UW–Madison. He moved his practice to Mifflin Street in 1974 and practiced for another 25 years, retiring shortly before his 90th birthday. Like his twin, Rolf served in the military from 1943 to 1946. A lifelong researcher, he earned post-graduate specialty degrees at the University of Berlin and the University of Vienna.
Sverre, who lived to be 102, had 52 patents to his name, including the first depilatory, to remove unwanted hair. “He enjoyed creating, designing things. Even though some of his patents were sold, his interest was more in inventing than marketing,” says Dagny. “Once he even persuaded my father that he had invented an antigravity machine. He also converted his automobile into an amphibious car that could run on land as well as on the water.”
In August 2017, Wisconsin was ranked number one in healthcare quality in the country by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. No doubt a high bar was being set nearly a century ago in Madison by the Doctors Quisling, four brothers who were Renaissance men of their time, and whose clinic was an important fixture on the medical landscape.
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.