Buds on the trees, daffodils peeking out of the ground and ducks on the lake may be classic signs of spring, but Badgers know the truest indicator of winter’s departure is the arrival of the iconic Terrace chairs at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union.
Prominent campus community members like Dean of Students Lori Berquam and men’s basketball player Ben Brust were on scene Wednesday morning to help unload and set up the chairs.
Wednesday signaled the unofficial start of “Terrace season,” Wisconsin Union spokesperson Marc Kennedy said.
A classic symbol of UW student life, the origin of the Terrace sunburst chairs is unclear, but they first appeared in photographs dating back to 1938, according to the Wisconsin Union website.
The Memorial Union, nicknamed the “living room of campus” opened in 1928. At that time, the chairs were made of hickory and the Deauville design style did not appear until the late 1930s, when it was featured on only the seats of the chairs, the website said. In 1966, the tool used to manufacture the chairs was destroyed when the company went out of business.
Following Deauville, the sunburst style was introduced, but the original designer also remains unknown. In 1981, Wisco Industries began producing the chairs and continues to produce them every year, a Wisconsin Union story said.
Each chair color relates to the seasons and Wisconsin agriculture, with names like John Deere green, Allis Chalmers orange, and corn harvest yellow, according to the Memorial Union Terrace Landscape History Project.
In 2012, 300 limited-edition “Mendota Blue” chairs were added to the mix to publicize the Memorial Union Reinvestment Project.
Now that the Memorial Union Reinvestment is nearing its end and after the shoreline expansion that concluded last summer, outdoor seating area has expanded greatly, Kennedy said.
“Actually, they made the shoreline match the contour of the natural lake,” Kennedy said. “Now there’s more room for tables and chairs without interrupting the Lakeshore path.”
Currently, there are about 700 chairs and close to 250 tables, Kennedy said. About 100 or more chairs are replaced each year, he said.
Chris Acker, a custodial supervisor at Wisconsin Union, said he has been actively transporting the chairs since he first began his job in 1991. Over time, he said the Terrace chairs and tables have been stored in multiple locations ranging from warehouses in Verona to underneath Camp Randall.
Setting up the Terrace largely hinges on weather conditions each year, Kennedy said. It would be nice to have a set day or festival associated with the chairs’ arrival that students could look forward to, but the preparatory process does not allow for it, he said.
Before the chairs and tables come out, Kennedy said the entire Terrace area needs to be pressure washed. Once this is complete, it is a three-day process to transport everything, he said.
Students who work for the Memorial Union can also take shifts to help unload, but staffers usually have trouble finding a decent turnout as exam time nears, Acker said.
For Acker, the annual event also signals the arrival of all that comes with a Madison summer.
“It just means spring is here, summer’s here,” Acker said. “Lots of business, lots of parties, lots of music. Good food and good beer.”