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Despite its past use as the offices and workshop of noted local builder Marshall Erdman, the Madison Landmarks Commission declined to make a recommendation on landmarking this building at 5117 University Ave.

The former headquarters of Marshall Erdman & Associates -- the 1950 building sitting as it does smack dab on the site of a major new clinic planned by UW Health -- should not even be considered for landmark status, says Madison preservation planner Amy Scanlon.

It's too late to gum up the development review process with a landmark proposal, Scanlon argues in a report to the Landmarks Commission.

No one brought up any supposed historic significance of the building a year ago, she says, when Erdman Holdings Inc. floated a redevelopment proposal similar to University Crossing, the mixed-use development Paul Lenhart of Krupp Construction is now proposing for 14 acres stretching south and west from the University Avenue-Whitney Way intersection.

Considering a landmarks designation for 5117 University Ave. now, with city review of University Crossing already begun, affects the "established process," developers have a right to rely on, Scanlon writes. Besides, other local sites better embody Erdman's work, she says.

Scanlon refers to a list-serv that lets people interested in a particular property or demolition in general to sign up for email notification about buildings marked for destruction.

I'm not sure that seems like a good way to make people living in the vicinity of a potential landmark -- let alone the general public -- know about the planned destruction of what might be historic or cultural landmarks in enough time to do something about it.

It sounds like it failed to get out the word about the Erdman property.

Amy Kinast, a resident of the adjacent Spring Harbor neighborhood who filed the landmarks nomination last month, says she only recently became aware of the historic significance of the former Erdman offices. A well-known local builder who constructed the landmark First Unitarian Society Meeting House for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Erdman also was a pioneer in prefabricated housing and medical office design and construction.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, who was a member of the Urban Design Commission when it gave a nod to the Erdman Holdings plan a year ago, says now that she was not aware then of the historical significance of the building. As far as she can tell, neither was the city's landmark preservation staff.

Presumably Erdman Holdings principals, among them Erdman family members, recognized the probable historic significance of the building then, as should Lenhart when he became involved, Rummel argues. Seems no one mentioned it.

The perfunctory review by the Landmarks Commission of a "demolition report" a year ago that included the building was not an adequate review of the historical significance of the property, Rummel says.

"I guarantee that if I had known about the historic significance and cultural history of 5117 University I would have flagged it," the east-side City Council member says in remarks written for fellow Landmarks Commission members because she is unable to attend their meeting at 4:45 p.m. today in Room LL-110 of the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Blvd.

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The Landmarks Commission should hold a public hearing and consider landmarking the site, Rummel says, and urges developers to find a way to move the building or to work it into the redevelopment plan. The Wisconsin Historical Society has already determined the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, she points out.

Marshall Erdman's son Daniel is a partner in the current development proposal and says of 5117 University: "the structure is no architectural gem." Preserving the building isn't practical and probably would prompt UW Health to pull out of its agreement to purchase and develop the site for a new digestive clinic, Erdman says in a letter to city officials. That would leave the buildings vacant and the site undeveloped, he cautions.

The Landmarks Commission has to look beyond the financial self-interest of a few, Jeffrey R. Turner, who owns a nearby business and home, writes to the commission.

Ann Sowaske, chairman of the history committee of the Spring Harbor Neighborhood Association, also writes in support of landmarking the property. Find a way to work the building in to the redevelopment plan, she urges.

Like the chicken coop where famed naturalist Aldo Leopold penned "A Sand County Almanac," the Erdman office and shops complex isn't pretty, says Jason Tish of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. It is rather the nuts-and-bolts heart of the enterprise where its famed innovation took place. "In that sense it is uniquely qualified to convey the production and adaptation of the company," he says.

The Krupp proposal has already had informal reviews by the Urban Design and Plan commissions and is due for formal review from those bodies on Aug. 17 and Sept. 19. The plan is slated to go to the City Council on Oct. 4.

The question is: Will the historic value of the building be considered before it comes down?

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