1920 – 1930

A dynamic cultural shift marked the 1920s in the United States. This time period represented a new age of how society worked and lived, exemplified by affairs such as the birth of the flapper, passing of the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote, prohibition of alcohol, and mass culture permeating into peoples’ homes. Overall, America became a prosperous society experiencing significant economic growth after the conclusion of World War I. The Roaring Twenties were a defining decade in history, especially for Findorff as it came into its own after hardships from earlier in the century.

As Milton, John H. Findorff’s son, joined his father leading the Company a few years prior, their thriving partnership became official in January 1920, introducing the Company as J.H. Findorff and Son. Additionally, their success allowed John to pay debts due to the intense fire that swept through Findorff’s planing mill in 1909, freeing Milton of all company liabilities upon his future transition into his father’s role.

As the post-war economy roared through town, John continued to strengthen his professional standing in Madison and his company continued to take on significant new work. During the same year of announcing the Company’s new name, John served as a construction trades representative on an advisory committee for the City’s Industrial Commission. In this role, he helped implement the new building code defining health and safety regulations resulting from the recent progressive era. Additionally, he developed several strong ties to the area’s most notable architects, including State Architect Arthur Peabody and Professor Alan Darst Conover. Such a foundation set John and his team up to construct several of Madison’s most important buildings.

Marking the growth of the industrial east side and our relationship with Madison Architect Frank Riley, Findorff kicked off the decade building East High School in the Collegiate Gothic style and later built several additions for this registered landmark. In April 1923, Findorff secured several contracts further strengthening the company’s roots in Madison, and two of the buildings were again Riley’s designs. At the corner of State Street and Fairchild Street, Findorff constructed Yost’s department store, the first notable retail establishment on State Street. Next door, Findorff built company offices for Madison Gas & Electric. This location in Madison’s downtown was not only vital during the 1920s for Findorff, but eight decades later would become the home to one of the City’s and Company’s most iconic projects, the Overture Center for the Arts.

The third major building Findorff constructed in 1923 was the Masonic Temple on Wisconsin Avenue, later joined by the area’s first high rise known today as the Hovde Building. Both facilities were designed by John’s fellow Rotarian, James R. Law. Findorff’s work on the 10-story high rise was a particular triumph as construction was successfully completed in 1929, prior to when the Company owned a big-building crane.

During the 1920s, Findorff continued to construct facilities for various educational institutions, including the Sacred Heart Academy High School (now Madison’s notable Edgewood High School). Findorff also worked for UW-Madison once again on Langdon Street to construct the private dormitory of Langdon Hall as well as the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. A unique Mayan design developed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was in line for the fraternity. However, Findorff’s superior estimating skills provided a project cost exceeding the allotted budget for the new building. To Wright’s dismay, the project’s anticipated cost created a bit of sticker shock, leaving the fraternity to follow a more traditional design, developed by James Law.

The 1920s was certainly a flourishing time for Findorff. Through triumphant efforts and a will to succeed, John and his company continued to earn significant admiration and contracted 150 projects during this momentous decade. However, as it came to a close, the Roaring Twenties faded into the distance and in its place entered the start of the Great Depression with the crash on Wall Street in October 1929. However, such a devastating time did not stop Findorff from keeping up with construction and carrying on.

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Notable Projects

  • Beaver Insurance Company
  • Contagious Hospital
  • H.S. Manchester Department Store
  • Langdon Hall at UW-Madison
  • Madison East High School
  • Methodist Hospital
  • Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity at UW-Madison
  • Sacred Heart Academy High School (now Madison’s notable Edgewood High School)
  • Yost’s Department Store