Hill Farms and Sunset Village seek national historic status

Two Madison neighborhoods on the West Side are seeking to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both Sunset Village and Hill Farms are seen as significant in local history and the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Review Board approved these two nominations at a Nov. 21 meeting.  As a result, they are now listed in the state register and will next be forwarded to the National Park Service for consideration on the national register.

“Collectively, [these] neighborhoods have distinct architecture and a development history that sets them apart from other neighborhoods,” said Jim Draeger, state historic preservation officer and director of outreach at the Wisconsin Historical Society. “They contain significant examples of postwar suburban design and planning, from prefabrication to ranch houses to high end architect designed houses.” 

According to Draeger, the City of Madison has been comprehensively studying the city looking for potential historic districts to allow its residents to utilize the economic benefits of historic preservation. 

“Historic preservation tax credits give owners an economic incentive to reinvest in neighborhoods while retaining the special qualities that make those places historic.”

Draeger also discussed the multitude of benefits historical districts bring such as attracting rehabilitation work, stabilizing property values, and attracting people who prefer historic areas over suburban places. 

“People love to live, work and play in the historic areas of the city,” Draeger said. “It is those neighborhoods that define the community identity and create special places that make the city livable and distinctive. Historic districts are the physical memory of the social, economic, and cultural forces that created them.  They tell us what people believed and how they saw both themselves and their city.” 

The Sunset Hills Historic District is a residential subdivision  that was first offered for sale in late 1953. It consists of 92 single family contemporary style, ranch style, and Wrightian style houses that, for the most part, were built between 1955 and 1978. 

The University Hill Farms Historic District occupies most of a 620-acre parcel that once belonged to the University of Wisconsin since the 1890s and had been used as an experimental farm by the University’s College of Agriculture. By 1953, this farm was being surrounded by city and was blocking the city’s westward expansion. Development of the new subdivision began in early 1956 and by 1964, 87 percent of the district’s buildings had been built, with the vast majority of them being examples of Modern Movement style designs.