Richard Haas trompe l'oeil mural, hidden under Monona Terrace and visible only from John Nolen Drive.
Here's a secret in the Capitol that you probably haven't seen. Head to the southeast entrance (that's the Martin Luther King Boulevard side) and train your eyes on the second-floor windows to your left. Look closely and you'll see that the decorative scrollwork on the fourth window from the left is unfinished. This architectural flaw is not likely a mistake, but rather an example of stonemasons following the precept that only God can be perfect, and that attempting perfection can bring His or Her wrath down upon you.
Quick: What building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is closest to the Square? No, it's not Monona Terrace (not really his design anyway), but rather the Lamp House, a boxy brick residence largely hidden from view but accessible at 22 N. Butler St. Designed for childhood friend Robie Lamp in 1903, the house, with its cube shape and diamond motifs, was quite modern in its day. Steal a peek now before it ends up forever in the shadow of a mammoth condo.
Fighting Bob slept here! Yes, Robert La Follette, Wisconsin's favorite son and leader of the Progressive movement, honed his crusade for corporate accountability and expanded democracy from a humble gray abode at 314 S. Broom St. Now carved into student apartments, this unmarked Italianate two-story not only offered respite for traveling presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, but it's the birthplace of a senator and a governor (sons Robert Jr. and Phillip, respectively). What's a guy gotta do to get a lousy plaque, anyway?
The Kennedy Manor Dining Room and Bar, 1 Langdon St., belongs to a different time. What other apartment building in town has little signs explaining how to use the elevators, as though it were some curious new technology? Step down into the basement and you find an elegant place - with prices to match, for sure. The restaurant opened in 1931, and even though it was redesigned in 1993, it feels as though it has never changed. When you leave, you might feel a touch out of place in the modern world.
The rental property at 137 E. Gorham, near James Madison Park, was partly built with materials recovered from a castle that once stood a few blocks away. During the Civil War, a transplanted Englishman named Benjamin Walker built a castle in the medieval style further out Gorham Street, at what is now a dead-end street called Castle Place. The castle had twin turrets and octagonal rooms and lasted until the late 19th century. Parts of it, including its distinctive stonework, were used to build 137 E. Gorham, a rental property with some with floor plans that reflect the shape of the exterior turret.
John Martinson's 1979 sculpture Spare Time, a figure sitting on top of the building at 11 W. Main St., is a treat if you know where to look. The figure appears undernourished, and perhaps it would put on weight if it ate some of the wares from the chocolatier Candinas, just below.
If you look closely, you can still see physical evidence of one of Madison's most notorious events: the 1970 bombing of UW Sterling Hall on North Charter Street. Four men targeted the Army Math Research Center to protest the Vietnam War, killing a researcher inside and heavily damaging Sterling Hall. The repairs are visible in the newer brick used on the side of the building. A plaque was dedicated on an outside wall in 2007 to honor victim Robert Fassnacht.
Atlas Improv Co. performs improvisational comedy on Saturday nights, squeezed into the tiny back room at Electric Earth Café, 546 W. Washington Ave. The tickets are cheap, and the atmosphere crackles with danger. Will the performers be able to spin comedy out of the latest weird audience suggestion? Most of the time, they do.
A $60,000 work of art is hidden by the tunnel under Monona Terrace. It's a trompe l'oeil mural of a courtyard by prominent artist Richard Haas, commissioned in a controversial city process in 1987. The mural was often vandalized and derided, and the construction of Monona Terrace was its final bit of bad luck. A sad fragment is visible as you speed by on John Nolen Drive.
In the lobby of UW's Engineering Hall, 1415 Engineering Dr., is an original Edison dynamo. Every February it's fired up on Innovation Day. The irony is that nowadays the dynamo, which produces electricity, is powered by electricity from a wall outlet. Innovation!
Most Madisonians have been to Picnic Point off University Bay Drive, but relatively few venture onto the adjacent property, Frautschi Point, a pristine patch of land donated to the university by the Frautschi family in 1989. Here are thick woods with trails that lead to stunning lakeshore bluff overlooks. If you can find Picnic Point, you can find this place. Just head north and west.
You thought all John Muir did was found the Sierra Club and save the Yosemite Valley. But he was also an irrepressible inventor, and when he was a UW student in the 1860s, he designed a clockwork desk that turns the pages of books. It's in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State St. Every budding scholar needs one.