I’m not a University of Wisconsin alum but love to linger at Memorial Union Terrace on a sunny day or evening, facing pretty Lake Mendota. The Terrace is one of the most-loved outdoor destinations in Madison, but on Sept. 1 most of the area closes until next summer.
A $52 million renovation aims to enhance Memorial Union cosmetically while maintaining historic integrity. The need for practical updates – electrical, sprinkler and other mechanical systems – is what makes the project urgent.
“You can’t keep history alive if the plumbing and infrastructure are going to pieces,” says Anna Johnson, communications coordinator. This is the building’s first full-scale upgrade.
Merely 200 of the 1,500 Terrace seats will stay in place until the reopening. Now-frequent live music will be suspended temporarily because the project also involves two-thirds of the student union’s interior, including the Rathskeller.
Memorial Union was described as the campus living room upon opening in 1928, and it feels more like Madison’s living room today because of the age range and types of people it attracts. You technically need a Wisconsin Union membership card to buy a beer, but nothing else stops visitors from taking a seat and – on many evenings – listening to the free rock, reggae, bluegrass and other music that local and touring bands perform.
What is to come? New window-doors that slide open 15 feet mean 400 additional open-air seats during good weather. The new Alumni Park will replace a parking lot and connect to the Terrace.
All Memorial Union restaurants will be gutted, and food options no longer will be a little bit of everything. An Italian bistro will introduce piadina, flatbread wraps with a filling of angel hair pasta, chargrilled meats or roasted vegetables and a choice of sauce. Add five-minute pizzas with thin to deep-dish crusts.
Pub-style dining at the Rathskeller will mean sandwiches, “maybe some comfort foods” and late-night options, says Jim Long, who heads dining services. The new Badger Market, for sandwiches and other quick-grab food, will include “a reverse salad bar,” where the customer tells an attendant which ingredients to combine.
“The cafeteria age and (shopping) mall type of eatery are gone,” Jim says. Concentrating on a smaller number of menu items “allows us to focus on quality and concept.” Until the renovation is complete, just a coffee shop, Babcock Hall ice cream sales and limited made-to-order sandwich choices are available.
Already revamped is Memorial Union’s west wing, home to Wisconsin Union Theater events, Wheelhouse Studios (art classes) and a new art gallery and Play Circle Theater. Glass panels in the new Sunset Lounge show off lake views all year.
“Those things that have historic significance will look pretty much the same, just different behind the walls,” says Ted Crabb, retired Wisconsin Union director and the building’s first student president in the mid 1950s. He helped plan the renovation.
Historic murals will be protected, as will the hundreds of metal Terrace chairs, whose trademark is a sunburst design.
How long the Memorial Union project takes will depend on whether winter impacts construction work. The Sept. 18-19 Madison World Music Festival and other major Terrace events move indoors to Wisconsin Union Theater this year. uniontheater.wisc.edu, 608-265-2787
UW students, on an almost 2-to-1 vote, decided to fund large-scale improvements to both Memorial Union and Union South. The Union South project was finished in 2011 and is a lively gathering space, especially before home football games. The expanded building’s features include a 60-room hotel, available to Wisconsin Union members and UW guests. union.wisc.edu, 608-890-3000
The Terrace Paver Campaign is one way to leave your mark and memories at the updated Memorial Union. A donation of $250 to $4,500 buys a brick with your inscription on Terrace pavement. Brick size depends on size of donation. terracepaver.org, 608-890-1997
A photo of Memorial Union Terrace is one example of a fine, leisurely setting that is unique to Wisconsin. What else qualifies?
Start digging through your best photos and share one of your favorites. Your deadline is Aug. 21.
The winning entry will be of excellent photographic quality and demonstrate skill in depicting an only-in-Wisconsin destination that is accessible to the public. Send no more than one photo and briefly explain what makes your chosen destination special. Include your name and contact information.
Submit the photo one of three ways:
Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snail mail it to: Only in Wisconsin, Midwest Features Syndicate, PO Box 259623, Madison, WI 53725. The photo will not be returned.
Upload it to www.facebook.com/roadstraveled (uploads are monitored, so the posting won’t appear automatically).
The winning photographer, as selected by an impartial panel of judges, receives a two-night stay in a standard room for up to two people at Graduate Madison, a 72-room hotel at 601 Langdon St. with rooftop views of the campus, State Capitol and Lake Mendota. Some restrictions apply. graduatemadison.com, 608-257-4391
At least two runners-up will receive a smaller reward for their efforts. You retain ownership of your photo but agree to have it published in print and online.