Eve Galanter speaks about her memories of the Municipal Building, including her time on the City Council when the plans for what would become the Monona Terrace were initially discussed.
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Interviewer: My name is Sarah White, and I’m here with Eve Galanter on December 8, 2018, at the grand opening of the restored Municipal Building. And we’re going to talk about her memories of the building. What would you like to tell us, Eve?
Narrator: I was first elected to the Madison City Council in a special election in 1981. In June 1981. It made going door to door a lot easier than those subsequent years where you had to go door to door in the winter, uh, especially if you were going to have a primary. But I do remember my first meetings here in the Municipal Building, um, as a member at one point of the Landmarks Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission. Our meetings were in not very comfortable rooms—no view of the out-of-doors, windows half-obscured. And yet all of the attention—perhaps it was deliberate, because all of the attention of the participants was on what was going on rather than what we see today, which is the view out the window and, uh, a bit of a distraction, perhaps.
One particular moment I recall especially was the—as a member of the committee looking at the possibility of a convention center. Group sitting around, trying to decide, would we locate the convention center on this side of the square or on the other side of the square? Would it be behind the Concourse Hotel or would it be on the lake? Long discussions, some people thinking we really don’t need to do this at all. And then came an aha moment, which was the discovery of the plans of Frank Lloyd Wright for the, uh, I guess it was going to be a civic center. And the committee sitting up in room 260 around a table. And I recall specifically saying, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” It was so exciting to think about. And as I say, perhaps if we had been in this beautiful new restored building, we might have looked outside, we might have seen some of what was going on, but instead we were very focused on our mission. We moved forward, but not very far. There were referenda that passed where yes means maybe.
Interviewer: Can you think of the year that this meeting would have happened? About ’94, ’95?
Narrator: I was on the Council from ’81 to ’89.
Interviewer: OK, so that early.
Narrator: And I left in 1989 without seeking reelection because I had been asked by US Senator Herb Kohl to become the director of his office, uh, here in Madison. So, um, I did fill out the end of my term, uh, but there was an election in April of 1989.
Interviewer: So the convention center that opened in 1998 was already in committee meetings and discussions as early as ’88?
Narrator: As a concept. As a concept. Would we think about going over there, or should we focus on the space on the other side of the square? You know, there was truly a north versus south debate that was going on.
Other recollections that I have are more recent. Um, as a host of the Madison city channels district reports. Our makeshift studio, also in a part of room 260 here in the Municipal Building, was set up with lights hanging precariously from the ceiling, uh, with backdrops obscuring the walls. Uh, a table and a couple of chairs.
Interviewer: As I recall, it was sort of a boarded-off corner of the big meeting room, wasn’t it?
Narrator: Correct, yes. And then when there were no recordings going on, then all of that was hidden away in a closet somewhere. Uh, having to wend your way through and behind the curtain, the backdrops that had been set up just for the recording. That happened twice a month, uh, interviewing members of Council and city staff on, you know, pertinent and emerging issues that would be debated by committees or the Council. And it would be viewed or shown—we have no idea how many people actually viewed it, but it was shown in the one-half hour just before the Council meeting on Tuesday evenings.
One winter—that was six years ago—uh, when I slipped on the last piece of black ice in Madison in March, in a month that turned out to be the warmest March ever, I—it resulted in my having some lengthy rehab, including a stay in a nursing home, and then needing to be in a wheelchair. But I did not want to—I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to participate in the telecast. And the staff found somewhere a ramp that they put up so that I could come through and up onto the stage—stage—the risers that had been set up—in order to have the show. It was always, though, such a —. And, you know as a moment that I recall, I felt, you know, I felt very good about having overcome this just for this time, you know, sitting there in a wheelchair.
Interviewer: To manage to do this volunteer thing that was that important to you.
Narrator: Right. But also, it gave me for the very first time a sense of what a person with a disability would face in a building like this. There were certainly obstacles. Uh, and it made it—the maneuvering that went on by the person who was assisting me, my older daughter, um, brought home to me, you know, how critical that was, having been, as I say, on staff to US Senator Herb Kohl in 1991 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law and signed by then-President George Herbert Walker Bush. But because very few opportunities for reconstruction and revamping had occurred here, there were only minimal changes made to ensure at least access to the building. But once you were in the building the maneuvering of a wheelchair, uh, and ability to participate fully as a citizen, I could imagine wanting to come to a public meeting, made all the more difficult. Which makes this opportunity today to tour this fully accessible and light-filled building decorated with the art of many, you know, public, local artists, um, is really very, very special.
Interviewer: Have you been on the tour?
Narrator: I am going to—I have taken part of the tour and then will complete it after our conversation is concluded.
Interviewer: Great, great. It is exciting to see what can be done with a clean sweep through an old building. I really relate to what you’re saying about what you learned firsthand experience about the importance of the ADA.
Narrator: Right. Absolutely. And I think not just the revamping, but bringing in the art. There had always been some artwork—down in the foyer, or on the first floor when you entered when you came to get your parking permit. Uh, but there are things I will miss, uh, in the old building. I loved all those mailboxes.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Narrator: From the post office. Seeing all those old post office boxes that everyone, you know, had there. Even as a representative of a nonprofit organization that had a little box there. But that was always something very interesting to see and to imagine—all that mail in each of those little cubbies. And the person who was carefully putting them in. I miss—I will miss seeing that memory of the post office there. It will also, I think, be interesting—it would be interesting to hear the reflections of people who may have participated or—[been] in this building in some way when it was a courthouse. And to see, you know, what were these rooms like then? Were those long pews, you know, that we used in the old building, were they being used when it was a courtroom?
Interviewer: Maybe somebody will come and tell us about that, yeah. You talk about the mailboxes; it made me think of how nostalgic we are for the old library card catalog. It’s the same thing, it’s sort of the sorting and filing everyday things of another time.
Narrator: Right, right. And I am sorry—
Interviewer: You see glass and steel, where we saw bronze.
Narrator: That’s right! Exactly. Bronze and brass. Uh, and I’m sorry that they will not be returning to this building. Perhaps some people will find it easier where they are currently located, but I do miss [it].
Interviewer: What are your hopes for the people who use this building in the future? You’re someone who’s been deeply involved in the city’s life and evolution. Do you have a wish to send forward?
Narrator: Perhaps the light that’s now coming into this building will also serve to enlighten those who make our public policy and those who participate in it as an advocate or as someone with a concern or a problem that they wish to have resolved. The more light, the better.
Interviewer: Beautiful. Beautiful note to end on.
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