Bradley-Sigma Phi House

Louis Sullivan, architect

Louis Sullivan, Architect

Several weekends ago I went on Wright & Like 2009: Madison, a tour of architectural wonders including homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie School architects of that era. It was a wonderful experience, even though the threat of rain was ever-present. I went through six homes, including one that was open to a public tour for the first time (the John and Ruth Pew home.) It will take me a few weeks, but I’ll post photographs of the all of the homes I toured.

This immense home, approximately 10,800 square feet of space, was built as a wedding present for Harold C. Bradley, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and his fiancee, Josephine Crane, the grand-daughter of the founder of the Crane plumbing company. Her father engaged Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, to design the home. George Elmslie, one of the finest craftsmen in the period, did the exterior and interior woodwork and the elegant interior furnishings. The home was constructed in 1908-09. This was Louis Sullivan’s last residential undertaking, and in it he implemented many of the ideas of Wright and other Prairie School architects.

This is One Huge House!

This is One Huge House!

The home, located just south of the UW campus, was too large for the lifestyles of the Bradleys, and the size of the home made it difficult for the hearing-impaired Mrs. Bradley to supervise her young children. The Bradleys therefore sold the home to the Sigma Phi fraternity in 1915 and it remains a fraternity house to this day.

The Wright & Like tour provided an inside tour of the house, and though no interior photographs were allowed, it is evident that the Sigma Chi’s continue to maintain this architectural gem in the fashion it was intended. (I did find a blog which shows the lovely interior of several rooms, including a photograph of the circular dining room table which accommodates 16-well worth taking a look at.)

built in 1909, restored in 1972

Built in 1909, Restored in 1972

This home was nearly destroyed by a St. Patrick’s evening fire in 1972. Only one member of the fraternity was at home during the time and he escaped without injury. However, the second floor of the house was in ruins, and the first floor suffered from water and smoke damage. Due to the generosity of A. C. Nielson, the Nielson ratings guy and an alumnus of Sigma Chi, and other donors, a substantial restoration took place. Neilson and his son, also an alum, continue to assist in the support and maintenance of this architectural masterpiece.

Architectural Detail, Front Porch

Architectural Details, Front Porch

 

Elmslie designed the fretwork of the home’s exterior, including this detail which is on the enclosed front room of the house, and originally an open sleeping porch. The home’s interior woodwork and furniture retained this design, and some of it still remains in the home.

The home was placed on the National Historical Landmark after the restoration, a designation given to only the most historically-important buildings. It really is one of the most interesting of all the Wright-inspired homes I’ve toured, and I really have to give credit to the members of Sigma Phi who are living a part of history and taking care of a national treasure.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.

Comments

  1. Great pictures. I love the details on the house. Its hard to believe that its a frat house now, isn’t it?

  2. That is indeed a historic treasure and I also applaud Sigma Phi for their caretaking of it!

  3. Gandalf says:

    How awesome for a frat. I hope they appreciate what they have. Your link to the blog indicates they do.

    Wonderful pictures.

  4. suehenryphotography says:

    Fascinating. Like so many others, I struggle with the concept of this being a fraternity house! However, I applaud the fraternity for taking such great care of this beautiful structure. Interesting post, Bo.

  5. What a house! I would love to see the inside. Lovely details and interesting info. 🙂

  6. This truly is a beautiful house. I admire the ornate supports for the enclosed front room of the house. I have never seen anything like it. Thank you for sharing this amazing architecture through you excellent photos.

  7. I always enjoy when you take us on one of your guided tours of an architecturally interesting house or structure. This one – is no exception.

  8. The fraternity name is actually Sigma Phi. “Sigma Chi” is a very different fraternity. Sigma Phi appreciates that our efforts in maintaining this fine house are recognized!

  9. Bob Hartmann says:

    Glad you enjoyed the Wright and Like Tour. I was the house captian for the Bradley house. You state that the house is 18,000 square feet. It is a big house but, it is not that big. In doing the research on the house I found the house as built to be 10,000 sq. ft.. Sullivan did an earlier even larger scheme for the Bradley House which was never built . It could have been close to 18,000 sq. ft. but, I could not find an exact reference to the size of this first scheme.

    Bob

  10. Hi, Great site loved this information.Just wanted to say thanks for The Read.I have booked marked this page so I can come back again. Thanks

  11. I have a general idea about why they don’t allow photography inside these homes, but I’ve often thought I might be more likely to visit a place if I’ve at least had a glimpse of what’s inside.

    What a wedding gift!

    Great pictures, Bo.

  12. Can you imagine such a gift..talk about a “Daddy’s gir!l”
    I am especially looking forward to your future architecture posts.

    I enjoyed catching up on your world. By the way…happy belated anniversary!

  13. Frat house? I wonder what the inside looks like.

  14. As a former active of the Society, I spent many Saturday mornings keeping the house in good repair. Active members each contribute three hours weekly to cleaning, maintenance and repair.

  15. I had the good fortune in 1971 to meet Harold C. Bradley, PhD when he visited Madison and our house at 106 N. Prospect, now Nielsen Place. He said that he was very pleased with the way the Society and its active undergrad brothers had cared for the house over the decades and he liked our commitment to scholarship and our reputation as academically inclined gentlemen.

    He mentioned that they (Dr. & Mrs Bradley) sold the house because their daughter had died of meningitis there as there was no UW Hospital then,. The house that Sullivan designed was dark and reminded his wife vividly of the tragic event,. Thanks to her and her family (Crane Plumbing) they (the young couple)had the means to build another.similar prairie school house this time with George Grant Elmslie as chief architect in nearby Shorewood Hills, WI. He said that Mrs. Bradley liked Elmslie who was Sullivan’s assistant on our house, and that he listened much better to their personal wants and needs..

    He sold the house and the surrounding land for $40,000 in 1915, much less than the cost of construction.and its true market value even then Fortunately, we had wealthy Chicago and New York Sigma Phi Society alumni, from other chapters along with a famous UW Business Professor Steven W. Gilman,,who raised the money among themselves for the down payment and guaranteed the remaining note to Dr. Bradley. Dr. Bradley was too modest to say this, but I am told by Sig alumni from the 19 teens through the thirties that during the Great Depression beginning in 1929, many of our active undergrads could not afford to attend college and left to help support their parents and trim costs.

    Although the vast majority of the principal and interest still were owed him, Professor Bradley generously and quietly forgave the entire loan when our Society (fraternity) could not make its payments to him. Thus, in our fraternity history and lore, we learn that the three guardian angels of the Alpha of Wisconsin are UW Professor Harold C. Bradley, UW Professor Steven W. Gilman, and Arthur C. Nielsen, a Wisconsin Sig alumnus initiated in 1916. Besides being an alumni leader of the entire Society, Brother Nielsen guaranteed financially the restoration of the house in 1972-73 after a terrible fire on 3/17/72. He led the restoration effort and made numerous detailed suggestions and connections possible to our wonderful restoration crew headed by restoration manager Sam Moore F’70 of Silver Spring, MD and Dan Neumann F’71, then undergrad chapter president. from tiny Ixonia, WI .

    Like Art Nielsen, we have loved and cared for our home with sincere passion. Both the house and our chapter are fortunate to have between 10-20 unpaid, young men spending 3 hours every Saturday morning cleaning, polishing, maintaining, and repairing “our guiding mother” since 1915. No doubt it has helped us attract and inspire the kind of gentlemen brothers that have helped us thrive in the very unfriendly, anti-fraternity world that exists today in American society. All I need say is that we have many sons of UW professors on our alumni rolls, and they and their families have been some of our strongest advocates!.

    Esto perpetua & On Wisconsin!

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