Cass Gilbert Society


Madison Central High School, Madison, WI

Historic postcard image of Madison Central High School

Image from the Tom Blanck Collection

Madison Central High School

Other Names:
Arch at Madison Area Technical College
Razed. Fragment at 211 N. Carroll St., Madison, Wisconsin
Design & Construction:
1904-1908, razed 1986[1905 Irish-1999]
Cass Gilbert 

Madison Central High School was designed in a style related to the Collegiate Gothic, applying a variety of English elements to a modern building prototype. The entry portals were exquisite statements of English Renaissance design. Gilbert's extensive knowledge of historic sources could be seen in the building's detailing, including carved grotesques of monks engaged in educational activities, which contrasted with the brick of the walls.

In 1904, Gilbert won a competition to build Central High School. At the time, he was working on drawings for the Wisconsin State Capitol competition, and it is likely that he entered the high school contest to gain local recognition. Even though he won the competition, Gilbert encountered many problems in the design and construction of the building. A major irritant was a local architect named Jennings who had his own ideas about how the building should be designed and constructed and which contractors should do the work. Gilbert's superintendent was a man named Burnside who reported to George Carsley in the St. Paul office. Carsley reported to Gilbert in 1907 that the contractors were going around Burnside and getting verbal approvals for change orders from the building committee. Gilbert finally instructed Burnside to report directly to him in New York. Later that year, Gilbert criticized the masons for shoddy work, creating further turmoil. After sending Carsley twice to Madison, Gilbert finally had to go himself to get the project on track. The new building finally opened in 1908.

The last high school class graduated from the building in 1969, and it became part of the Madison Area Technical College. All of the building, except for the Wisconsin Avenue entry arch, was demolished in 1986 to make way for a parking lot. While the arch was saved to mollify local preservationists and Central High alumni, it deteriorated over the next twenty years. Finally in 2007, it was restored under the direction of stonemason and sculptor Jacob Arndt. [Goff-2007]

See Also