Shorewood Hills: Home to Distinguished Residents

Photo by Daniel Greenspan

Last issue, we featured John C. McKenna Sr., developer of the Village of Shorewood Hills. Building for Shorewood Hills began in College Hills, his first plat, prior to World War I but didn’t take off until the 1930s and again after World War II. Development of the Shorewood plat began later in the mid-1920s. Architects brought an eclectic mix of building styles to Shorewood Hills, designing houses for some of Madison’s most successful individuals.

Frank M. Riley, designer of 14 homes in Shorewood Hills, was one of the most important architects to practice in Madison in the early 20th century. Born in Madison and educated at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Riley spent time working in Europe before returning to Madison in 1914 to begin his own architectural firm. According to the National Register of Historic Places nominations, Riley is “best known for his residential designs, most of which were expertly and knowledgeably done in either the Colonial Revival or Georgian Revival style. … Riley was equally at home with all the major period revival styles, and his mastery [of these styles] resulted in some of Madison’s finest houses.” Interestingly, several of the local architects who designed homes in Shorewood Hills worked for Riley’s firm over the years, including William V. Kaeser.

Recognized as “Madison’s Organic Architect,” in 1935, Kaeser was Madison’s first city planner. His home designs were largely influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, especially in the Porter and Mary Lou Butts House, built in 1937. One of the first modern houses in the area, the interior walls are clad in wood paneling, and expansive windows overlook lush greenery—a house reminiscent of a tree house both inside and out, as reported in Dwell.

Butts was the first director of the Wisconsin Union, serving in that capacity from the opening of the Memorial Union building in 1928 until 1968. He helped design the buildings and programs for more than 100 student unions in the United States and around the world. A representative of the Association of College Unions International called Butts “the most influential figure in the development of the college union movement in the United States” upon his retirement.

A few years ago, the naming of an art gallery at the Memorial Union for Butts proved controversial when it was discovered that, as a student, he had been a member of an honorary society called Ku Klux Klan. Not affiliated with the secret racist organization, the society changed its name to Tumas (a Native American term) in 1923. Nonetheless, some students in 2018 expressed that they felt uncomfortable around the gallery because of the name and perceived historical ties, so Butts’ name was removed. Today Butts’ professional accomplishments are presented as part of the Union’s history on a second-floor kiosk.

Ryan and Emily Bohochik, current owners of the Butts House, have lived there for the past two years. “The setting is phenomenal,” says Ryan. “The house is built into nature and sits well into the hill, a real complement to the landscape. This house is everything we could have dreamed for, very suited to modern-day living. … I love the house’s connection to history.” The Bohochiks possess the original blueprints and contract for building the house.

Kaeser built his own home and studio on Circle Close in Shorewood Hills in 1951. His modern-style home showcases the effective use of natural materials. The large living room features a copper-hooded fireplace.

Another home designed by Kaeser, this time for Marshall and Joyce Erdman, was across the street. Marshall Erdman immigrated to the United States in 1938. With a fascination for architecture, he established his own firm in 1951. The construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unitarian Meeting House is among Erdman’s early achievements. He is also recognized as one of the pioneers in the building industry. Erdman brought architects, engineers, construction managers, and other staff together in one firm to deliver medical offices. He even built his own factory to prefabricate building components. By the 1990s, his firm was the leading provider of small clinics in the United States. Today, the firm’s focus is still on healthcare, but for community and large integrated systems.

A pioneer in her own right, Joyce Erdman, appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System in 1975, was the first woman to hold the post of president, from 1980 to 1982. She was elected the first female president of the Shorewood Hills Village Board in 1973. As a student at the UW, in 1946, Joyce Erdman was the first woman chosen to be president of the Wisconsin Student Association.

Madison’s largest architectural firm in the 1920s and 30s, Law, Law & Potter, was founded by brothers James and Edward Law in 1913 and expanded to include Ellis Potter as a principal. The firm designed many of Madison’s most important commercial buildings, including its first skyscraper, the nine-story Gay Building on the Capitol Square. The firm had close ties to Shorewood Hills, with Potter and Edward Law building their own homes there. In addition, Potter acted as the Village’s first building commissioner. Today, the successor firm, Potter Lawson, Inc., is an award-winning architecture, planning, and interior design firm.

Dr. Frederic E. and Mary Ellen Mohs built their house in 1938. Frederic E. Mohs developed what is considered the most effective technique for treating common skin cancers. He treated his first patient in 1936 at Wisconsin General Hospital (now the Medical Sciences Center on University Avenue in Madison). The procedure, still used today, is done on an outpatient basis, spares healthy tissue, and leaves the smallest-possible scar.

Lyle and Mary Hill built their French Provincial house in 1939. Lyle Hill, with Wally Henderson, founded Vita Plus in 1948. The employee-owned company, headquartered on Fish Hatchery Road, manufactures animal and livestock feed, supplements, and base mixes. It was during the Great Depression of the 1930s that Lyle Hill and Henderson developed a new approach to livestock feeding by utilizing more of the vitamins and minerals that were becoming available as a result of research at the UW’s College of Agriculture.

Not a retiring soul, Lyle Hill, with Bob Heideman, initiated the ARMS (Adult Role Models in Science) program in 1990 as a partnership between WISCIENCE (formerly the Center for Biology Education) and the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Madison. Reaching more than 5,000 people and training more than 100 new mentors in a single year, this program serving Madison schools coordinates ongoing collaboration around K-8 science education and brings existing programs, resources, and stakeholders together to make a lasting impact.

Don Voegeli, UW professor and music director at public radio station WHA, and wife Jean built their house in 1950. Because he composed music for commercials and television, Don Voegeli was asked by National Public Radio (NPR) in 1971 to write a theme song for All Things Considered, NPR’s first daily news program, for which he used a synthesizer—cutting edge sound at the time.

John Logan, retired UW Sociology professor, has lived in the Voegeli house since 2004. “I like the open plan of the living and dining rooms,” says John. “A baby grand piano is in the same place as Voegeli had his grand piano. My son plays it well. Perhaps Voegeli’s spirit is guiding him.”

This is just a sampling of the people who probably saw in Shorewood Hills what McKenna Sr. envisioned when he took that walk west of Madison more than a century ago.

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

Photograph by MOD Media Productions