James Graaskamp

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James A. "Jim" Graaskamp (1933–1988) was a professor and department chairman of real estate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who helped establish his field within the realm of academia. He is credited with creating a multi-faceted ethics-based curriculum now widely used in teaching real estate.


Born in Milwaukee in 1933, Graaskamp was the son of Arnold G. and Lillian (Haufe) Graaskamp. His grandfather, Garret William Graaskamp, was born in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, and his grandmother, Lavina Risseeuw, was born in the Netherlands (Ancestry.com, James A. Graaskamp Family Tree, retrieved January 16, 2015). As happened to too many children of that era, Graaskamp contracted polio at the age of 17. The disease left him quadriplegic, with no sensation or control from the shoulders down. This forced him to abandon a football scholarship to Harvard and seek a warmer climate for a time. He earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, then went on to earn a master’s of business administration in security analysis from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a doctorate in urban land economics and risk management from the University of Wisconsin. He began teaching real estate at the University of Wisconsin in 1964 and continued until his death in 1988 at the age of 54, as which time he was chair of the department. He was survived by his long-time companion, Jean Davis. Graaskamp's devotion to students and intellectual oratory earned him legions of loyal student followers.

Graaskamp was a world traveler and determined to be as independent as possible. Every school year, he hired several students to live with him at his home on Breese Terrace, near Camp Randall, the University of Wisconsin football stadium. These students assisted Graaskamp with his personal care and traveled with him on his many journeys, including trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Europe and in pursuing his favorite pastime, deep sea fishing, for which he developed his own specialized tackle.[1]

Graaskamp was one of the first to discuss the concept of "affordable housing". He successfully showed that the prevailing government sentiment of the time that commercial properties offered higher tax yields and lower service demands created unnecessary barriers to build housing for those less well-off. His argument was that such housing is needed for both efficiency (workers live near work) and equity (everyone has a right to housing). He also took on the challenges between current residents and new residents and new development, a fight currently attributed to the NIMBY residents--"Not In My Back Yard". Graaskamp demonstrated that restrictive land use regulations can stagnate communities as new residents, businesses and development are shut out. Although Graaskamp refused to allow his personal health issues to restrict him, and indeed, many of his colleagues, friends and students completely forgot his disability, his limitations of necessity made him a pioneer in accessible real estate, far ahead of the ADA, projects on which he worked with friend and fellow professor, Mike McBurney.

Contribution to real estate[edit]

In the 1970s, he began to advocate for an environmental ethic in real estate proceedings, recognizing that development has considerable and nearly irreversible impacts on the land. He also believed in the need for a social component to real estate deals, appreciating that the rights of private and public property owners are inextricably linked.

His theories meant a departure from typical real estate deals of mid-century, based on appraisals that reflected only narrow interests and were not always financially sound. Because any resulting failures hurt communities and small investors, Graaskamp began to advocate a much more comprehensive approach to feasibility analysis. His book, A Guide to Feasibility Analysis, is still used as a standard text today. During the savings & loan collapse of the 1990s, Graaskamp’s concerns were widely seen as vindicated.

By the time of his death, Graaskamp had firmly established the preeminence of the UW Real Estate Department at the University of Wisconsin and nationally. Graaskamp emphasized a multi-disciplinary approach to the curriculum, moving it from a traditional finance emphasis and instead incorporating an eclectic mix of classes in behaviorism, physical science, and business administration. He believed in preparing students to tackle complex, unstructured problems that didn’t lend themselves to neat academic models. Today, the Graaskamp approach is commonplace in most real estate schools.

Graaskamp did not shrink from becoming involved in local politics. In the mid-1980s in his home city of Madison, Wisconsin, he often inserted himself into major city/university discussions over the disposal of large downtown land tracts being vacated by railroad companies.

In 1982, James Graaskamp was named a trustee of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit education and research institute that promotes responsible land use. In 2004, James Graaskamp was one of ten “real estate legends” profiled in a book published by ULI, “Leadership Legacies.”[2] Of the ten, Graaskamp was the sole academic.

The Urban Land Institute's textbook "Real Estate Development" now in its fifth addition is dedicated to Professor Graaskamp. As the intro states, he was "dynamic, insightful, slightly opinionated and one helluva guy".

Recent developments[edit]

In April 2007, the University of Wisconsin Center for Real Estate was officially renamed the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate as part of a $20 million alumni-led fundraising campaign.[3]

The James Graaskamp Landmark Research Collection at the University of Wisconsin was made public on October 25, 2007. It contains over 165 consulting reports from Landmark completed between the late 1960s to the early 1990s. There are appraisals, market and feasibility studies as well as other types of research and analysis.[4]

The City of Madison named a park in Graaskamp's honor, James A. Graaskamp Park.


  1. ^ "A Century of Tradition and Innovation". bus.wisc.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  2. ^ "Leadership Legacies | ULI Knowledge Platform". knowledge.uli.org. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  3. ^ "UW real estate center to be named for real estate legend James A. Graaskamp". news.wisc.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-05.
  4. ^ "James Graaskamp Collection – UW Digital Collections". Retrieved 2020-08-05.

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