Designated a Madison Landmark in 1980 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Jackman Building, at 111 S. Hamilton Street in Madison, is a bold, early 20th century commercial building. Designed by architects Louis Claude and Edward Starck and built by Findorff, the building housed the offices of the Richmond, Jackman, and Swanson law firm as well as rental spaces. The cream-brick building is basically a right triangle rounded at one point of its base on Carroll Street, pointing toward the Capitol and squared on the Hamilton Street side. The design stands out with a spatial effect conveyed by many large windows. At least one window is in every room, as well as in the stairwells and current owner Peter Wadsack’s small office, which looks out to the alley on the third side of the building.
Today, Canteen, a taqueria and tequila bar, is located on the first floor of the Jackman Building. The remaining three floors are occupied by businesses. Peter and his wife, Anne, have owned the building since 1976. They purchased it from Wilmarth Jackman (W. Jackman), son of Ralph Jackman, the longest occupant of the law firm.
Peter was looking for something on Madison’s Capitol Square. “When I walked into the building and saw the entrance, I thought ‘this is it!’” says Peter. “If the sun is shining through the windows, this atrium lobby, that rises 50 feet over all three floors, is such a beautiful space.
“The building is structurally much the same as when it was constructed more than 100 years ago,” says Peter. “All the original gum wood woodwork is there as well as the grey marble wainscoting on the first floor. The inlaid tile floors are still the same. The interior configuration has changed, of course, depending on the particular tenant.” The first offices of Anchor Savings and Loan Association were located on the ground floor. The vault became a walk-in cooler. A basement squash court and shower, with the building’s only hot water installed by Jackman’s firm, no longer exists. “Much has changed mechanically, but the basic feel of the building has not. We want to maintain the building’s aura, but also want to make it useful. Otherwise, it’s a museum.”
Claude and Starck were known primarily for their Prairie School designs and practiced together from 1896 to 1929. Claude was born in Devil’s Lake, Starck in Milwaukee, and both attended Madison public schools. Claude graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in civil engineering and was employed for a time alongside Frank Lloyd Wright at the Chicago firm of Louis Sullivan prior to the turn of the 20th century. Although Starck’s schooling beyond the secondary level is unknown, he presumably gained skills working at architectural firms in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Madison.
The Prairie School influence can be seen in the Jackman Building interior—wood alternates with painted plaster in the hallways, stairwells, and offices, suggesting horizontality and proportions. “The building reveals its special regional identity and kinship with other works by its architects,” according to the National Register nomination.
Ralph Jackman was born in Janesville in 1876. He received an undergraduate degree from UW–Madison and a law degree from Harvard. Jackman practiced in Madison for 35 years until his death in 1935, arguing both civil and criminal cases at every level of court: county circuit court, state Supreme Court, federal district court, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackman even once argued to get his one-dollar parking ticket overturned.
A much more important case regarded UW–Madison students’ right to vote. Jackman was opposed, and in 1916 argued that if a student was in Madison only to attend college, was not willing to make Madison his home, and was dependent on his parents for financial support, he shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Madison. The state Supreme Court agreed, and students were barred from voting unless they could prove they intended to stay in the community and were emancipated from their parents.
Today, students who are 18 years of age or older can vote either in their home state or in Wisconsin if properly registered and present the appropriate ID. Of course, they can only vote in one place or the other.
Jackman also represented the Wisconsin Brewers Association for many years. In the early days of Prohibition, he argued the constitutionality of the National Prohibition Act, which was enacted in 1919 to provide enforcement of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Over the years, there were various partners at the Jackman firm. Eventually, W. Jackson, a lawyer and subsequent Dane County Circuit Court judge from 1968 to 1974, was part of the firm. The firm, in various incarnations, occupied the second and most of the third floors of the Jackman Building from 1914 to 1978. Other tenants over the years have included accountants, unions, private detectives, service organizations, insurance agents, and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
The Jackman firm’s law library, the largest private law library in the state, was on the third floor, complete with a large reading room and gas fireplace. When W. Jackman sold the building to Peter, two semi truckloads of law books were donated and transported to various schools.
A perhaps infamous third-floor tenant was Take Over, a Madison underground newspaper published from 1971 to 1979. Some of the interviews featured in the 1979 documentary The War at Home, which chronicled the resistance to the Vietnam War in Madison, were filmed in the Take Over office. And the second floor was to be used in case of rain during the filming of the Madison outdoor scene in the 1994 movie I Love Trouble, starring Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte. No rain fell on filming day, so the Jackman Building set wasn’t used.
Peter frequently receives calls from prospective tenants hoping there are apartments for rent in his building. However, there are no apartments in this solidly executed commercial structure that has survived for more than a century, adding to the distinction of downtown Madison.
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.