The city will begin the process of making Langdon Street an official historic district, a decision that could have consequences for renovations slated on several Greek houses.
The Landmarks Commission decided Monday the Langdon Street neighborhood satisfies the city’s standards for a historical district. Commission Chairman Stuart Levitan said he was shocked the area had not been considered for a historical district designation sooner.
“I think it’s embarrassing that we’ve gotten to the year 2013 and what arguably should have been the first or second historical district has never been created,” Levitan said.
The designation has seen some controversy, as some Greek students have said it would make renovations and alterations to Greek houses difficult.
Currently, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Upsilon fraternities are looking to renovate their houses, and Theta Chi broke ground on a new house earlier this year.
Marsha Rummel, Ald. District 6, said the historical designation protects the buildings themselves and gives the committee more influence over construction and architecture in the area.
“It gives us a little scrutiny as the Landmarks Commission to see new development proposals that are adjacent to a landmark,” Rummel said.
According to a city ordinance, the area in question must exemplify three important cultural and social eras in Madison history, including the early development of Mansion Hill, the development of the area as a prestigious neighborhood for university faculty and the development of greek letter societies.
The area must also identify several people from a list who are historic in the context of Madison and the University. The list includes such names as Charles Van Hise, Charles S. Slichter, Levi Vilas and others.
A neighborhood must also embody the distinguishing characteristics of several architectural types the city deems inherently valuable for the study of a period or style of architecture, such as Colonial and Georgian Revival or Spanish Colonial Revival.
Lastly, the architects of the buildings in the area must be considered to have influenced their age. However, Levitan said the committee is currently in the process of amending the ordinance and the provision will be amended.
“I mean, clearly, as far as I can tell, [the area] satisfies at least three of the four possible criteria,” Levitan said. “And I don’t think its even a close call that it satisfies these criteria.”
He also expressed concern because the area has not been designated a historical district before, it has already lost important buildings important to Madison’s history to demolition and new building projects.
Rummel said there is no good answer for why the neighborhood has not been nominated as a historical district before.
According to Rummel, there is a formal legal process to designate the area as a historic district that can now begin.The committee motioned to begin the process to make the Langdon neighborhood a local historical district, which is different from a national historical district.
Madison currently has five historical districts: the Mansion Hill Historic District, Third Lake Ridge Historic District, University Heights Historic District, Marquette Bungalows Historic District and the First Settlement Historic District.
The Commission will prepare a special report establishing the appropriate review criteria and a historic preservation plan and have a public hearing, Rummel said. The decision will then go to City Council for review.