History of the Park

The first contributor to Alumni Park was Arthur Peabody.

Peabody was the university architect at the beginning of the 20th century, and it was he who set down the ambition to create a public entrance on the northeast corner of campus — a “lakeshore gateway.”

By The Numbers

80 Length in feet of the Badger Pride Wall featuring Madison artist Nate Koehler’s renditions of UW icons

7 Height in feet of the Lantern, a lit-from-within cone with laser-cut imagery of 10 decades of university culture

Working with Warren Powers Laird and Paul Philippe Cret, the Beaux Arts architects who designed the Stock Pavilion, Peabody commissioned the 1908 campus plan, a document that laid out a vision for what was then called Lower Campus, the area between Park and Lake Streets.

The plan “aimed to secure harmony of aspect among the groups through emphasizing their unity as parts of one great University.” Sadly, this vision outstripped available resources, and few of the structures ever came to be. Over the next century, Lower Campus developed in a helter-skelter style, as did the rest of the UW’s buildings and grounds. The dream of a green, welcoming park was deferred again and again.

At various times, UW administrations tried to revive it: in the 1960s, with the creation of the pedestrian-only State Street; in the 1990s; and again in 2005, when then-Chancellor John Wiley MS’65, PhD’68 released his plan for an east campus arts district. This East Campus Mall stretches from the Kohl Center in the south through the Chazen Museum of Art and Library Mall to Memorial Union and the Union Theater. But in 2005 it was merely aspiration — it needed something spectacular to cap the district.

In the fall of 2017, Alumni Park opened and did just that, completing one of the key elements to Peabody’s century-old vision.


From prehistory: The shores of Lake Mendota are home to the region’s first inhabitants, as Native Americans occupy the shoreline. Today, the mounds they left behind bear witness to their time here — and UW–Madison claims to have more identified native burial mounds than any other university campus.


The university creates its very first master plan — The UW Plan — which calls for a large park centered around University Hill (now Bascom Hill).


The Old Boat House opens; it’s demolished to make room for the Below Alumni Center in 1968.
A men's crew team rows in front of the old boathouse and Armory, as spectators look on from the pier. Image couresy of UW Archives, #S11578


The Armory and Gymnasium (Red Gym) opens; 99 years later, it’s declared a national historic landmark.


YMCA is built on the lot next to the Red Gym.
A 1924 aerial view of campus from Library Mall looking east towards Bascom Hill. Image courtesy of UW Archives, #S12804.


Laird and Cret plan for developing lower campus in the Beaux Arts style.


Memorial Union opens.


Memorial Library opens
YMCA is razed; a parking lot takes its place.


700 and 800 blocks of State Street close to automobile traffic, creating State Street Mall.


Campus Master Plan calls for increasing pedestrian malls and natural areas.


Campus Master Plan calls for more visitor facilities on east campus.


Campus Master Plan calls for east campus arts district and gateway.


WAA initiates plans to create Alumni Park.


Alumni Park construction begins.
Image from the start of construction on Alumni Park. Image courtesy of SmithGroupJJR.


Alumni Park opens.

About the Park

The inspiration and action the brought Alumni Park to life. More >

Partners & Artists

The culmination of many years of work by many inspired individuals. More >

Design of the Park

Learn about the breadth and depth of the park design. More >