Area Unions Have Had Four Labor Temples Since 1893
Formal dedication of the present Labor Temple took place on September 1, 1958 (Labor Day). This marked a significant milestone in the history of the Madison labor movement.
Historically the present Temple is the fourth meeting place and headquarters for Madison unions. The original idea for a home for local unions was formed back in the 1890’s when the “Madison Federated Trades Council” was chartered in 1893.
This council and a number of other unions then met on the third floor of a building at 105 State Street. Union meetings were held there until about 1911 when a move was made to the third floor of a building at 27 N. Pinckney Street. This remained the union meeting headquarters until 1921 when the building at 309 W. Johnson Street was purchased by the newly formed Madison Labor Temple Association.
Today the Association is a corporate entity in itself operating one of the finest Labor Temples in the state at 1602 S. Park Street.
Outgrowing Pinckney Street
On October 29, 1919 the Madison Federation of Labor received a letter relative to a Labor Temple and a committee of three was appointed to investigate and make a report. The committee brought in its report recommending that the Federation appoint a committee to organize a Labor Temple Association composed of members from the various labor organizations for the purpose of purchasing or erecting a Labor Temple.
This committee of seven arranged a meeting for January 6, 1920 and requested each local union to send two delegates. At this meeting 19 local unions were represented and plans were made to finance a Labor Temple through the system of a day’s pay from every member.
However, progress was slowed almost to a standstill during the spring of 1920 due to a labor dispute affecting the building trades. The years 1920-21 were the two years that the open shop or American Plan of organization was at its height and unions had a tough fight on their hands to protect their trades and repel and scab building tradesmen.
Despite this the union men and women of Madison went ahead with their plans for a future home.
On October 27, 1920, the committee of the Madison Federation of Labor and the delegates from the various unions met and a permanent secretary and treasurer were elected. It was decided to elect a chairman at each meeting.
Remodeling Dance Hall
The Madison Federation of Labor, Bakers’ and Carpenters’ unions were the first organizations to contribute toward the Labor Temple. It is interesting to note that the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper was the first public donator.
On May 6, 1921, a building committee was appointed to investigate the various sites submitted for consideration. The committee finally recommended as its first choice Kehl’s Dance Hall on Johnson Street. Two church buildings were second and third choices.
A mass meeting of local unions was held on June 17, 1921, for the purpose of taking a referendum vote on the various sites. The Labor Temple Association was instructed to incorporate and either buy or build a Labor Temple. A referendum vote of all local unions was taken at a meeting held on August 15 and the Kehl site approved.
The Association secured the services of a law firm to assist in drafting and filing incorporation papers with the Secretary of State. The Association charter is dated September 3, 1921.
The cost of the property was $18,000, a large sum for those days. February 12, 1921, Lincoln’s birthday, was chosen as the day when the initial drive was to be made to raise the first $9,000. About $7,000 was raised through the one-day pay assessment and about $4,000 from donations.
During the summer of 1922 another days pay assessment was levied, raising about $5,000. Labor Day, 1923, was chosen as the day when a $3 assessment drive began so that the final payment could be made.
Possession of this building was taken on December 2, 1921, and the work of remodeling began. All labor was donated by the building trades unions.
The interior of this building contained a lobby on the main floor along with three offices, a large and a small meeting room and a large kitchen. On the second floor was the former dance hall. It could seat 500 people. In the basement were two bowling alleys.
Outgrowing Johnson Street
The labor movement outgrew the Labor Temple on West Johnson Street. Parking for members attending meetings was also a problem. Agitation to construct a new and more modern Temple with adequate parking space finally led to the construction of the present Labor Temple at 1602 South Park Street.
It is a one-story structure with complete utilization of a basement. From the rear parking lot it appears to be a two-story building. The overall size of the building is 60 x 170 feet.
In the basement portion of the building there is one meeting room, 2 small meeting rooms, both 20 x 24 feet, plus a number of offices, a large tavern area and in back of the building plenty of parking space.
On the first floor there is a large auditorium, 33 x 120 feet, which can seat 450 people, and 12 offices for local union rental.
When the Labor Temple Association began construction in 1957 the complete assets of the organization were estimated to be in excess of $150,000. All unions were asked to pledge $4 per member per year to finish the financial project. Individual donors were also solicited. Mr. Joseph Rothschild of Baron Bros. store pledged $1,000 per year for five years.
In 1974 the Association completed the air conditioning of the entire building and also installed a movable room divider in the big hall so two meetings could be held at the same time.
Filling in since 1976
On November 15, 1990 a new addition was begun. It was completed July 10, 1991.
The current tenants of the Labor Temple are Bricklayers Local 13, Building and Construction Trades, Carpenters Local 314, AFSCME Local 2412, AFSCME Local 171, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 251, Iron Workers Local 383, South Central Federation of Labor, International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2304, AFSCME Local 60, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473, WI State AFL-CIO, Sheet Metal Workers Local 565, and IBEW Local 159.
The overall size of the building is 142,441 square feet.
In the basement portion of the building there is one meeting room, a number of offices, a bar area and in back and both sides of the building parking space.
On the first floor there is a large auditorium, 33 x 120 feet, which can seat 450 people and can be split up into 3 separate meeting rooms, and offices for local union rental.
– Reprint from Union Labor News April 1976