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June 17, 2009 / Bo Mackison

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.


  1. Amanda / Jun 17 2009 6:27 pm

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

  2. montucky / Jun 17 2009 10:36 pm

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

  3. Gandalf / Jun 18 2009 7:29 am

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

    Wonderful pictures.

  4. suehenryphotography / Jun 18 2009 7:33 am

    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.

    • Bo / Jun 18 2009 6:14 pm

      It’s not a huge frat–only 12 or so guys live there. And from what I could see, the furnishings and house are in excellent condition. Granted, we didn’t tour the upstairs bedrooms or the basement lounges, but the house and grounds seemed to be attended to with great care.

  5. Anna Surface / Jun 18 2009 8:17 am

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

  6. Karen of morningjoy / Jun 18 2009 6:05 pm

    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. Marcie / Jun 19 2009 8:53 am

    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. J / Jun 19 2009 1:26 pm

    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!

    • Bo / Jun 19 2009 1:52 pm

      I corrected in name of the fraternity to Sigma Phi in the one place where I had mistakenly written another frat. Thanks for calling that to my attention.

  9. Bob Hartmann / Jun 19 2009 5:02 pm

    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.


    • Bo / Jun 21 2009 9:52 am

      0There were lots of facts and figures with all the houses–Yes, the house is ONLY 10,00 sq. ft.–which would be plenty big enough for me and my extended family.
      Thanks for caring enough to send in the correction.

  10. Sterling Magnificent / Jun 19 2009 8:48 pm

    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. Robin / Jun 21 2009 7:07 pm

    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. gypsy-heart / Jun 22 2009 1:14 pm

    Can you imagine such a 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. Xtine / Jun 25 2009 9:45 am

    Frat house? I wonder what the inside looks like.

    • Bo / Jun 25 2009 10:37 am

      The first floor interiors that we saw on the tour were spectacular–lots of Prairie School in the decor and furnishings. Check the link out in the post (between the third and fourth photos) and you can see how great the interior really is.

  14. Esto / Jul 13 2009 8:11 am

    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.

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