1970 – 1980

The 1970s in America could be described as one of the most tumultuous and life-altering decades in history. Urban riots, antiwar protests, and feminist campaigns were all part of the political climate. One of the most iconic moments included former President Richard Nixon’s “not a crook” defense against the Watergate Scandal. Pop culture, bell-bottom pants and lava lamps became all the rage. Throughout this decade of increasing social and political change, Findorff maintained its longstanding success as a leading contractor in Wisconsin.

By 1971, John R. Findorff, the grandson of the Company’s founder, succeeded Harold Hastings as President upon Harold’s retirement, keeping Findorff in the family. Such a legacy also earned the Company high remarks. That same year Findorff was recognized by Engineering News Record as one of the oldest construction companies in the United States.

However, the decade still experienced its fair share of change. John’s approach to leading the Company was inspired by his family’s legacy as well as the valuable knowledge and support received from Findorff’s loyal employees. During his tenure as President, a new era was on the horizon. From construction management to design build, Findorff stayed ahead of its competition with a willingness to adapt. As a result, the Company diversified its portfolio and made room for some of its largest projects.

One of the earliest and most notable projects Findorff completed in the 1970s was the renovation of the Sigma Phi Fraternity in Madison’s University Heights. Designed by the legendary Louis Sullivan and named the City’s first historical landmark in 1971, the building was devastatingly gutted by a fire one year later. In the face of tragedy and rebuilding the fraternity, Findorff was praised for its quality restoration and intricate interior millwork. Such efforts resulted in an award from the American Institute of Architects.

Shortly thereafter, Findorff entered into a joint venture with Hutter Construction Co. of Fond du Lac to bid on a technically demanding, two-phased UW Hospital and Clinics project. The partnership proved very successful and resulted in the winning contract for the $80 million facility. In late 1973, Findorff once again teamed with Hutter and earned another significant project, the Sentry Insurance headquarters in Stevens Point. This joint venture also earned the team a contract to build the $45 million Medical College of Wisconsin in 1977, marking Findorff’s first Milwaukee project.

Based on years of experience, Findorff easily recognized the value of strong partnerships and in 1975, it established a development company with Madison-based architecture firm Potter Lawson called ACF Ltd. and a solid, strategic match was again made. The new development company won a $12.5 million contract for two new buildings at CUNA Mutual’s campus, including the headquarters for the World Council of Credit Unions.

Also during the early 1970s, a past relationship with the Edgewater Hotel was rekindled. Originally started in the 1940s, construction of the iconic building continued with the five-story addition atop Madison’s Wisconsin Avenue. Also, just down the road, Findorff constructed Verex Assurance Inc.’s corporate headquarters in 1975.

Findorff’s construction efforts throughout Madison continued to shape the area surrounding the Capitol Square. The Company served as the largest contractor for structural work on the $12 million First Wisconsin Bank building, which opened in 1974. Today it is known as the Glass Bank and its construction value would have been over $64 million had it been built today. Findorff also maintained its relationship with Anchor Savings and Loan, constructing the addition to its downtown headquarters as well as several local branches throughout the area.

However, in 1977, Findorff witnessed changes in the industry to better meet the needs of its clients. Under tight budgets and soaring energy costs, Wisconsin adopted the design-build system for its facilities, where the State defined budgets and specific performance standards. Lowest bids won the contracts where the developer spearheaded design efforts.

Even with the new system, Findorff was awarded the design-build contract for the General Executive Facility II. Located a block off the Capitol Square, the project was completed in 1979 and is known today as the State Natural Resources Building. Shortly afterward, its sister property, the General Executive Facility III (today called the State Education Building), was constructed and later occupied in 1980. Findorff performed structural work on this 160,000-square-foot building.

As the decade came to a close, several internal developments were underway. While the Company experienced a significant expansion in its portfolio and continued its gratitude towards its employees, Findorff adopted quite the fitting motto: Companies don’t build. People build. Simultaneously, John was considering individuals for upper management upon the sale of Findorff. Fortunately, he did not need to look far. The Company was built over the years by many knowledgeable and talented people dedicated to carrying on Findorff’s legacy. Thus, a new generation in the Company’s leadership quickly hit its stride.

By 1977, Findorff was in the top 400 construction firms nationwide and earned $37 million in billings, which would be over $140 million today. Marking the pivotal transition in leadership was when John became the Company’s Chairman and Gerd Zoller was elected John’s successor as President in 1979. Confident in Findorff’s new leadership, John realized the Company’s ownership was the next matter of business.

After much research and consultation, the Findorff family itself decided that in order to preserve both the Company’s history and future, it was in Findorff’s best interest to be sold to three long-time employees: Curt Hastings, Ken Kruska, and Gerd Zoller. Such individuals led the Company into the next decade to define a new era of success.


Notable Projects

  • Anchor Savings and Loan Addition and Local Branches
  • Edgewater Hotel
  • First Wisconsin Bank Building (known today as the Glass Bank)
  • General Executive Facility II
  • J.C. Penney Stores at West Towne Mall and East Towne Mall
  • Madison Newspapers Offices and Plant
  • Pettit Ice Arena (Milwaukee)
  • Sigma Phi Fraternity
  • Verex Assurance Corporate Headquarters