Future of Wonder Bar structure remains uncertain

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:32 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wonder Bar in Madison is known for its ties to prohibition and organized crime in the 1920s and 1930s. Due to complications of the pandemic, the owner has decided to close the restaurant, now the fate of the historic building hangs in the balance.

There are plans in the works to demolish the building, and put up a new development, but one group is fighting to save the Wonder Bar.

Their solution is to physically move the building to a new location, according to one preservation advocate.

“It’s a link to Madison’s past, it tells us how people lived a hundred years ago,” Bob Klebba, an advocate with the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation said.

Klebba said his group is looking for a private buyer to relocate the building. That means picking it up and moving the whole wonder bar structure. The estimated cost is about $500,000.

“The site that it needs to land on, needs to be relatively close to where it currently is, ideally in a one-mile radius,” Klebba said.

Klebba says after speaking with development and city professionals, the building weighs almost three times too much to be carried over the beltline bridges, limiting the group’s options.

“Usually, [the Landmark Commission] finds no historic value in landmark’s commission, this property unusual because it does have historic value,” Heather Bailey, preservation planner for the City of Madison said.

The Wonder Bar is not a landmark, nor is it in a landmark district, but the building’s storied past only makes it harder for city leaders, in the present.

“While we would love to save and protect every bit of history in this city, you can’t always, and that’s a hard reality of this line of work,” Bailey said. Klebba also hopes for a successful plan. “Not being able to save building and relocate are possibilities, we’re working hard to avoid that possibility,” Klebba said.

There is an Urban Design Meeting for the project scheduled for Wednesday night. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on July 26. That is when they will talk about demolition permits and conditions. The Madison Common Council will discuss zoning on Aug. 3.

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