Iowa City enjoys a vibrant, scenic downtown district. A major portion of what we view in the district is the building façades that line the streets. The appearance of our downtown is the result of a number of factors, including economics, individual taste, and stylistic trends through time. It is also the result of fires, individual building demolitions, and of course Urban Renewal. Unlike most downtown areas in the state, Iowa City enjoys a vibrant economy. Rather than the usual problem commonly referred to as “missing teeth” in downtown streetscapes where buildings are demolished and never rebuilt, there is instead a drive to modernize, which has a tendency to erase the historic nature of the downtown.
The historic fabric of Iowa City’s downtown did not develop in a cultural or technological vacuum. The events that affect the history of Iowa City affect the architectural history as well. Architecture of a building, whether commercial, institutional, or mixed use buildings, follows from the cultural context, the milieu, or zeitgeist of the period in which they are designed. The difference between trends in residences and downtown buildings being the adaptation to the purpose for which the building served and the siting on a given parcel of land.
Set out by governmental fiat, Iowa City was created to host the first permanent home of the territorial government and the residences of those who would support the town. Leander Judson was selected to draw a plat of the new capitol city, and this was surveyed by Thomas Cox and John Frierson in June of 1839. On August 18th, the sale of the lots in the original town plat began and shortly after people started to build homes and businesses in the area we now call downtown. At the time, the only way to get to Iowa City was by foot, either your own, possibly those of a horse, or frequently a team of oxen. Although packet boats, keel boats, and flat boats were also used, generally people needed to be connected to the American Fur Company to make use of them. Overland roads were limited to the Military Road, running north east to Dubuque and then on to Madison, Wisconsin, the road east to Bloomington (known since 1850 as Muscatine), southeast to Burlington, and south to Mount Pleasant. The three Mississippi river communities had mills and regular access to steamboats, but Bloomington was the closest of the three by road. So materials were largely limited at first to what was available locally or could be brought overland by wagon or upriver by keel boat and flat boat.
Structure and Material
Only one known building was a square timber, mortise and tenon, peg-joined building. Most buildings were built from dimensional sawn lumber, not hewn lumber and this included most brick buildings. Cut lumber was available from the start. A sawmill was set up on Rapid Creek by Henry Felkner and Eli Myers in 1838. That mill provided dimension lumber for the first Johnson County Courthouse at Napoleon, which exhibited few stylistic design details, but placement of windows and doors were symmetrical and in nature. Due to the importance of the construction of the Capitol building, the mill reportedly devoted production to just that project for several years, with the notable exception of possibly supplying the cut lumber for the temporary capitol built by Walter Butler. Additional saw mills would follow by 1845 and 1848 and many buildings continued to be made of dimension lumber. Glass windows are impossible to make without an industrial basis and a lack of trades people probably meant nails and millwork were almost certainly delivered from the East, already completed, at least until blacksmiths and carpenters arrived.
Perhaps unexpectedly, brick was a common building material from the start. Sylvanias Johnson, stranded in Iowa City by the quick end to Iowa-Missouri Line War began construction of buildings made of brick in 1840. He is said to have begun immediately with a brickyard in out lot 20 of the original town plat, the location was the southeast corner of East Burlington St and South Linn Street, but it is known he also used clamp kilns on the site of buildings he constructed as well. In 1858, Nicholas Oakes began making bricks south of his house at 1142 Court Street and by 1868 Martin South Talbott had joined in, making bricks at the corner of South Capitol Street and Des Moines Street This is near the location of the railroad viaduct over Capitol Street in 2015. Two types of brick could have occurred, either a multi-wythe wall which was load bearing, a wythe in historic context being the full set of cross bonded bricks, or a frame building with brick veneer, which tended to be just one historic wythe thick and served as a firewall in addition to cladding. Based on early photographs, brick was fairly common. Other businesses were wood frame buildings with false front façades on the upper story and commercial display windows on the ground level. Many early wood clad buildings were just one story with a false front. Conversely, most brick clad buildings were three stories tall and had a prominent cornice of some form1. In the downtown, no wood clad buildings survive, but they appear in photographs. Probably all of the wood clad buildings were replaced by the 1880s. The reasons were several, including buildings of additional height replacing the one to two story buildings. However, a number of fires, one in 1864 in particular, was especially damaging to wood clad buildings where as brick cladding offered fire protection. Note, that even when the wood frame of brick buildings burns from within, it tends not to spread through walls as when buildings were clad in wood. As was seen in 2011, fire does also spread from roof to roof, with the typical modern bitumen and asphalt materials being especially susceptible. By the beginning of the 20th Century, modern face brick became available, as brick manufacturing became increasingly centralized in large industrial areas with rail shipment of good to the hinterlands. The new brick had a chemical formula and extrusion process to make the bricks extremely hard, durable, and retain their color and appearance
The use of brick implies lime, as it was needed to make mortar at the time. It also would then be available for plaster walls as well. An early lime kiln was located near where Newton Road cuts through the limestone bluff at Riverside Drive. Records indicate Peter Trimble provided lime for the Old Capitol beginning in 1842, and left Iowa City in 1853. Anton Linder built his house near his lime kiln after arriving in town in 1852. His kiln was probably started soon after he arrived, taking over from Trimble, who had moved to Iowa County.
With the completion of the Capitol in 1842, carpenters and masons stayed on in Iowa City and built a number of cut stone, frame, and brick buildings. No known commercial buildings were built in stone, though a few would much later have a stone veneer as a façade. Early on several churches were built in thick, quarry cut stone, as indicated in the 1854 Millar Map. None of those buildings survive today.
The final historic material to be discussed is decorative tin work, which appears in the 1870s. Mold-pressed galvanized metal, commonly referred to even today by mechanical contractors as tin, which is short for tinplate, even though tin has not been used to coat iron since galvanization became widely available. Galvanization is a process of coating iron or steel with zinc in order to provide greater protection against corrosion for the iron or steel base. The process of galvanizing sheet iron was developed simultaneously in France and England in 1837. Both employed a “hot dipping” process to coat small sheets of iron with zinc as a preservative treatment. It is a straight forward technique wherein a shaped piece of metal is dipped into a vat of molten zinc. Like tinplating, early galvanized metals were hand dipped. The sheets would be fairly small, no bigger than could be dipped into the vat. Modern mechanized galvanization, where wide and long roles of steel are etched and kept in a reducing atmosphere until coated was not invented until 1924.
It is not known who the conducted the earliest work in Iowa City. The only known architectural tin workers did not appear the late 1860s. So we are left with deciding if all of these buildings were built with the Renaissance Revival details or if those details were added later, especially after known architectural tin workers appear.
The earliest known tinner (tinsmith), J.N. Seydel, arrived in 1842. It is not clear if architectural tin work was being made at this early date. Seydel is known to have worked with tern metal roofing in the 1870s. By 1868 tinworkers were quite abundant in town with three stove shops also selling, tin, copper and sheet iron. A number of people were recorded as having the profession of tinner. However, it is not apparent that anyone was making architectural tinwork. No cornice builders are known. The use of tin ornament seems to appear during the 1870s with the formation of Maresh & Holubar, Cornice Builders. Advertising as stove dealers and cornice builders, they also did other jobs involving decorative and functional sheet metal work, both galvanized iron, known as tin, and copper, such as downspouts and roofing materials, including terne metal and slate. They also made weather instruments, such as rain gages, a thermometer shelter and other apparatus for Gustavus Hinrichs’ Central Iowa Weather Station, the first state weather service in the nation. In 1881 they provided, stoves, furnace work, refrigeration work and tin work for the State University. In 1887 they provided tin work for the Iowa State Department of Public Education. They contributed work to the 1880 addition to the McCollister House and the decorative sheet iron work on the College St. Block building. They had a hardware store at 210 East Washington Street, later expanding to the adjacent store front (the addresses in Iowa City were renumbered at one point). Their greatest period of success was in the 1880s and in 1885 they donated a watch case to the State Historical Society for their collection.
Joseph Holubar, born about 1840 was a tinner and stove merchant who moved to Iowa City from Bohemia. He became a naturalized citizen and mustered into the 22nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry in 1862, and mustered out in 1865. By 1868 he had become a tinner working for R.M. Bixby & Brother, who sold stoves and did tinwork, sheet iron, and cooper work. R.M. Bixby & Brother had begun in 1853. He lived on Van Buren Street near Davenport Street and was neighbors with Bohumil Shemik. By 1876 Holubar had partnered with Vaclav Maresh.
Vaclav W. Maresh was born in 1839. He spent a number of months touring Europe, especially Germany and eastern Russia, but also Austria and Switzerland and then moved to the United States in 1866 from Bohemia, spent four months in New York, then moved to Iowa City and eventually became a naturalized citizen. He married Antoinette Miller in 1867 and they moved to Iowa City in about 1870. They lived on the 500 block of Market Street near the intersection with Johnson Street, an area now occupied by Mercy Hospital. Maresh was a tinner and coppersmith by trade, which he learned in his homeland. He was very experienced in sheet metal work, having introduced Russia to machinery for making the small iron sheets that were the base material for all the elaborate constructions made. The Czar awared Maresh for his work. Sons Stanley and William took over the business as Maresh Brothers in 1900. Of the two sons continuing the business, William studied business, architecture, and was apprenticed as a coppersmith, so it is expected his mastery of copper was superior. Stanley had been working in the Maresh and Holubar hardware shop and was skilled in galvanized metals as well as selling stoves. From about this time a number of buildings began to have ornamental tin work featured prominently. Whereas earlier details were wood and to a lesser degree stone, they were now made in galvanized sheet. Elaborations in design began to appear, with increasingly complex designs being made into early 20th century. Clarence Aurner proclaimed them as the largest dealer of their wares west of Chicago. They are recorded as having shipped tin cornices to Chicago and a number of communities in the west. In 1875 they built a building on Dubuque Street, and then in 1880, moved to a double store front at 212–214 East Washington Street, where the Maresh Brothers took over in 1900.
There first major commission for Maresh and Holubar was the decorative work for Coldren Opera House (1876, 1940) , also known as Opera Block and the Coldren Building, designed by Robert Finkbine. They potentially had been perfecting their craft for six years leading to this point, possibly reconfiguring a number of vernacular buildings during the time leading to the Opera House. It was built on the site of Clinton House that burned down in 1872 at the southwest corner of Clinton and College streets. The Opera House was designed in a classic revival with Renaissance detailing in the window treatments, cornice line, a small tympanum over the canted entry bay, and a prominent balustrade above the cornice. The cornice and other architectural details, such as window hoods and balustrade were made by Maresh & Holubar tin workers.
As Iowa City architecture progressed through the 19th century, Maresh and Holubar elaborated on their work and tried their hand at a number of different forms, likely following the wishes of their clients. Cornices and window hoods were made for buildings along the south half of the 10s block of South Dubuque street and buildings adjacent to the corner and along East Washington Street. As far as it is known, Maresh and Holubar were the only architectural tin smiths and cornice builders in Iowa City. Their next major commission was the Block building (1878, 1883, 1979, 2006), 125 East College Street, Listed NRHP and a designated local landmark, built by Chauncey Lovelace and designed by Robert Finkbine. The building façade was designed primarily in the Italianate style but with eclectic flourishes borrowed from Renaissance revival styling, particularly in the broken pediments with urns, applied decoration in the frieze and architrave, with a touch of High Victorian Gothic styling in the cutwork designs and fluted consoles supporting the window pediments and cornices. The water droplets issuing from the bottoms window hoods may even be a naturalized expression of the classical guttae found in the Doric Order and thereby an architectural reference to the Old Capitol with a possible Art Nouveau expression.
Their next known major commission was the IXL Block (1883, 1962), 218–220 E. Washington Street 1883. The building is usually described as Italianate but is in fact a mixture of Italian Renaissance revival, especially the window hoods, and Italian Gothic Revival in the Cornice. Again a touch of perhaps the Eastlake style appears in fluted consoles and cut work let into various details in their work. It is equally valid to describe the building as High Victorian Gothic. Undoubtedly the pair continued with commissions until they handed over the work to Maresh’s sons in 1900. We don’t have a good record of all of the work they did, but visual inspection indicates they made most of the surviving tinwork cornices and window hoods in Iowa City.
Architectural Trends through Time
Architectural detail appeared almost immediately after founding of Iowa City along with finished building goods by riverboat. Steamboats would arrive as early as 1841, and railroads nine years later in 1856. In addition to goods and services, the improved transportation also carried news and ideas.
The first period of buildings in Johnson County predate the 1839 platting of Iowa City, occurring anytime after the territory was opened for settlement after 1832. The buildings were log cabins for the most part. Gilbert’s and Chase’s trade cabins and a cabin at Napoleon are examples. A dog-trot cabin, so named because an open space between two cabins that shared a common roof was called the dog trot, was also built as a claim cabin in the vicinity of the intersection of Brown and Gilbert streets and inhabited by George T. Andrews and Asaph Allen, Edward Foster held a license to sell goods out of a cabin on the north side of Capitol Square, which doubled as the post office, Robert McKee and Company held a license to sell goods in a cabin at the northwest corner of Burlington and Clinton streets, the Buck Grocery sold goods out of a cabin on the east side of Dubuque street between College and Burlington streets and Mathew Teneyck had a small cabin on Clinton Street in Block 21 of the original town plat as well. The aesthetics and other cultural considerations for style in these buildings were more or less beside the point.
The community was begun by well educated individuals who sought to recreate the culture and society enjoyed in the established Eastern Seaboard. For instance, the call to form a lyceum, a formal meeting for education and socialization among adults, went out as early as 1841. Most buildings began to exhibit clear architectural styling from an early date.
Historic sources and existing buildings indicate the notable buildings from this second period following the platting of Iowa City, include the Mathew Teneyck’s timber frame home, built sometime before August of 1839. It utilized a building technology essentially unchanged since the middle ages and served as a travelers’ inn in addition to the Tenyck’s home. The first dimensional lumber frame building was built by Wesley Jones in 1839 (demolished 1857). It and other frame buildings used the new technology known as balloon frame construction because buildings were built much more quickly than timber frame buildings and were said to go up as fast as blowing up a balloon. This new system was invented during the 1830s in Chicago that made use of technical improvements of saw mills and automated iron nail cutting and forming machines. It is similar to the later development of platform frame construction, but used extremely long timbers that were not cut for a single floor height and tied in at each floor level with a separate platform. Instead, floor joists were supported by ledger boards nailed to the stud wall frame for each level and wall studs ran the height of the building, from the sill plate to the roof plate. In addition to the Jones house, Walter Butler’s hotel (1839–unknown2) on Block 80 and later the temporary State House (1841, 1856–unknown) sited on the corner lot 6, of block 80 south of Butler’s hotel, and a third building for a tavern were all wood frame buildings. The building was moved to Dubuque Street between College and Burlington. Despite a wood timber foundation, and possibly hand sawn lumber, Butler’s State House had glass windows and classical revival detailing in the form of side gable, open tympanum with gable return and much simplified columns and architrave running across the long front of the building. The first school, located on College Street at Clinton Street (1840–after 1882) was a frame building built by Jesse Berry. Next door stood the Seydel Grocery (around 1839–after 1882), 130–132 East College Street, also a frame building stood two stories tall, side-gabled and wood clad. A three story, side-gabled, wood clad hotel building stood near the present location of the Englert Theater that was likely associated with a livery stable there, and Lean Back Hall (1839–around 1859), near the corner of Linn and Washington Streets in Block 61 also appears to have been a frame building, of a sort, but is reported to have been constructed from poles and rough cut clapboard and had a dirt floor. Normally clapboards were sawn and finished with a plane, but it appears they were also hand split in this early period.
Brick buildings at this early period included The Mechanics Academy (1841–1896) and a building built by a Mr. Bostick (1839–1867). William Bostick’s house (1851), 115 N. Gilbert St., Listed NRHP and A designated local landmark, was built by George T. Andrews. Other buildings from this time period include the Windrem Home (around 1845) 604 E Iowa Avenue, Listed NRHP and A designated local landmark, The Crumm House (built sometime between 1841 and 1859), at 726 E Iowa Avenue, a designated local landmark, and Rose Hill, Listed NRHP and A designated local landmark (1849), the south facing portico is an apparent addition, which were constructed with fairly simple detailing. Close examination of end walls, widow and door placement and the restrained use of ornament reveal they were built in an Early American Classical Revival, specifically a late adaptation of the Federal Style. Most of these early buildings exhibited a well developed sense of bilateral symmetry, side lights and transom at principal entryways, and a small row of upper story windows appears to have been original. These buildings lack many aspects of Greek Revival, including no classical columns and no portico or end gabled arrangement to suggest a tympanum. The heavy lentils are not indicative of any specific architectural style.
Based on historic photographs, commercial and mixed use buildings followed the typical pattern, with store fronts on the ground floor that typically was of the highest architectural order. Upper floors typically were more restrained. The store fronts typically occur with a bay of display windows with entryway for the shop. The entry can be on the right or left and next to a double display window, or alternatively with bays of display windows and shop entryway in the center and single display windows, one on either side. The entrance may be flush with the display windows, or as time moved on, more frequently set back from the frontage with canted or straight-sided windows on the sides. Typically when the upper floors were not living quarters for the owner of the shop, there is a separate entrance to the upper floors would occur if the building is more than two stories tall. Where not living quarters for the shop owner, the upper floors housed offices, meeting halls, and residences.
Brick store fronts exhibited similar arrangements, with offices, meeting halls and living quarters above store fronts. Those with small parapets concealing the roofline with fairly massive limestone lintels over doors and windows and no other architectural details are best characterized as vernacular. They had wooden cornices originally, some of which had a dentil moulding in the entablature with alternating raised and flat pieces like teeth. Examples of this parapet vernacular include 126 E Washington Street, and the basic structure of a number of buildings later modified into other styles by application of ornamental details. For example, the second Sanxay frontage facing south on Washington Street near the former location of the Butler Hotel, was built in 1856. It was similarly sparse in details, but had simplified Greek Revival style, in that it had stylized columns at the entryway. An absence of columns generally requires identification of these highly simplified building designs as simply no style, vernacular category as very other details qualifies them as true Greek Revival buildings. Another example was the building on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Clinton streets, where the Iowa City Academy Commercial College stood for a number of years. At least one front gabled, mixed use building appears on Clinton Street in an 1854 sketch on the J.H. Millar map, unless it was an unexpected and unlikely example of artistic expression alone. Unlike the later 1868 birds eye map, the architectural sketches in the Millar map are quite detailed and accurate. The same 1854 map shows that a number of churches with Greek Revival Styling were built by time from stone and wood, representing what was then known as the National Style due to its prevalence for institutional, public, and bank buildings. The adoption of the Greek Revival style in the United States seems to have stemmed from a sense of solidarity felt among early America and the Greeks, who were fighting a war of independence from the Ottoman Empire. And too, Greece was seen as the cradle of western civilization and the founding of our government looked to the politically liberal Greek Democracy along with the government system of the Roman Empire. While a number of prominent early Iowa City buildings were Greek Revival, none of these with the exception of the Old Capitol (1842, 1922, 1970, 2001), National Historic Landmark and contributing to the Pentacrest Historic District, remain. It should be noted that the eclecticism of the Old Capitol, exemplified in using Corinthian columns on the lantern while the remainder of the building is of the Doric order, was fairly common on state buildings of the time and grew in popularity with the example set by William Strickland’s design for the Merchants’ Exchange Building in Philadelphia (built between 1832 and 1834). The stylistically later order for the lantern is attributed to the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a monument in Athens, Greece that survived the civil war there. It was funded by Lysicrates, a patron of the chorus of the Dionysus Theater was completed in the Corinthian order, the last of the three classical orders of Greece in 335/334 B.C. Patrons such as Lysicrates were known as the choragus because they funded the chorus. The monument was used heavily in British landscape architecture in the 17th century as basis for garden follies. In the United States, it was in farily common use as an architectural feature of public buildings at about the first third of the 19th century. Eclecticism is therefore more than a vernacular approach to freely borrowing bits and pieces from different building styles, but also an example of intentional style choices made by skilled designers and was common in Iowa City and elsewhere. And too it should be remembered, that any given style designed in its pure form tends to pass into the vernacular within a generation of its initial appearance. Even without an architect of record, most building designs from the late 18th century well into the middle of the 20th century were informed by publications, such as architectural treatises, carpenter’s guides, and architectural pattern books that were further informed by the experience and knowledge of immigrant craftsmen.
With regard to residences and commercial buildings, relatively few appear to have been constructed in the Greek Revival style in Iowa City, despite the prominence of John Rague’s design for the Iowa Statehouse. The majority of homes of this period were almost exclusively built side gabled and so did not readily form a tympanum on its front. Greek Revival buildings are typically, though not always, front gabled so as to form a tympanum with the gable end. They further have Greek column types and porticos with architraves or pediments. While some of these features were also common in the Federal style, the Federal Style portico rarely suggested a temple, but was more highly stylized. While several Federal Style buildings may feature full entablature cornices with cornice returns on the side gabled ends, this feature was not uncommon in early American styles, such as Jeffersonian Palladianism and Federal styles which were classical revivals as well. A good many may have originally had stylized Doric or other Greek column types, but at this time evidence is mostly lacking. Instead, a number of brick clad buildings were built in a local, Iowa City version of late Federal style.
These buildings feature steeply climbing, parapeted end walls that rose up from the cornice of the second floor, in a slope or alternatively in steps, and extended another half story tall, surmounted with double chimneys at the top. The style follows in the line of the Julia Row (1832) in New Orleans, the Merchant’s House Museum (1832) and a number of buildings moved to Tribecca for the Borough of Manhattan Community College and elsewhere in lower Manhattan in New York, and the Peal Museum of Natural History (1786) in Baltimore. The style likely has its origins in the Georgian architecture of the southern colonies around 1725. In Iowa City, example is the end walls of the Brossart Building (around 1853, 1883), 16 South Clinton Street. The double chimneys and parapets are still visible from the Pentacrest, though the Italian Gothic Revival or Venetian Gothic Revival cornice and window hoods were added in the 1880s. Another is 18 South Clinton Street, on which the exposed aggregate façade and window placement clearly are not original but date instead to the 1970s. These buildings show up in on a Wetherby photo of South Clinton Street. A photo of Isaac Wetherby’s store front was also an example of the Federal Revival style. The original three story building that was later converted to the St. James Hotel is an example. Peter A. Hiney’s Oyster House and Saloon and south adjacent Hardware Building, (1850s–Urban Renewal) were located on the west side of 200 Block of South Clinton Street. Over by the City Park platted between Iowa, Jefferson, Dubuque and Linn Streets, in the School Reserve facing the park, The Mechanics Academy, located on Linn Street and Iowa Avenue where the west wing of Old University Hospital was located, was similarly a simplified, late adaptation of the Federal Revival style with the addition of a central cupola, which was a common feature in both Georgian and Federal buildings, especially institutional and governmental buildings of the time and has some precedents in high style American Colonial architecture. Further existing examples include the first of two buildings built by Theordore Sanxay at the northeast corner of Clinton and Washington streets (Butler’s Hotel had been moved by this time). The first building, facing Clinton Street, was constructed in 1850 and originally had a similar simplified federal styling, and though just being just two stories tall had a similarly pitched roof and parapeted end walls meeting at double chimneys at the top.
The gold rush in California (1848–1855) may have drained the local economy as many left town to seek their fortunes there and sales and other economic activity slowed. While some, such as John Stover returned with making a $2,500 others were not as fortunate. However, the number of buildings constructed in this period is substantial, suggesting the activity generated by hosting the state capitol was important and offset any potential losses.
The next economic threat in Iowa City was removal of the Capital to Fort Des Moines. Any loss of activity due to the removal of the state capital was offset by a couple of factors. One was the other was the long process of planning for a railroad coming to fruition. With the arrival of the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad in early January 1856, Iowa City became not only the capitol city, but also the western terminus of the new principle form of transportation. The railway didn’t entirely eclipse the steamboats, which were still noted in 1868 as contributing not a little to the material prosperity of Iowa City and the county. This was despite the Iowa River being accessible only in the spring and fall. Still, the railroad was noted for its regularity and quantity of materials that could be shipped as well as more efficient passenger transportation, not having to steer south, then back north to get to the eastern part of the country. In any event, people, goods, and ideas had to flow through Iowa City. A year later a city directory was published with more than 70 businesses listed. The other was the new State University, meeting for the first time in the fall of 1856 at the Old Mechanics Academy building. The State University continued to increase it’s enrollment during the Civil War, and especially afterword with an early form of GI Bill for honorably discharged and wounded Union Soldiers. The University soon became a source of economic development and stability for the community, buffering it through many of economic downturns that followed the Civil War. Though banks closed, the town did not experience the fate of many Iowa towns due to financial panics and missing or later removal of railroads, or highway bypasses, for that matter.
In 1858 a committee “to promote manufactures” was formed. As a result, Iowa City was the site of a rapidly expanding economy and population, growing by more than 317 percent between 1850 and 1860 even as the state capitol was removed to Des Moines (1858). The railroad would not extend its terminus to that location until the next decade (1867). With its permanent connection to the East and the jumping off point for the railroad, Iowa City was on the forefront of modern trends in Architecture in this period.
The designers of many of the buildings of Iowa City worked in the Renaissance Revival style. By the mid-1850s, a number of commercial brick front buildings began to be built in this style, which for the Midwest was an exceptionally early adoption. The Renaissance Revival was explored by John Ruskin (1819–1900) in his second architectural publication Stones of Venice (1851–53), in which he discussed the Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture of Venice, albeit through a somewhat picturesque lens and were not, as architectural historians sometime say, archaeologically correct. The influence of Ruskin’s studies while on the Grand Tour and subsequent visits to Italy was noticeable in the attitudes he conveys toward building design. Much of the work he saw was designed by Andrea Palladio during the Renaissance and though he may not have favored the Renaissance, his third volume was an excellent catalog of design for those unable to travel to Venice themselves. The architecture of the early to middle Renaissance was reintroduced to Europe by the École des Beaux-Arts in the 1820s. The school was founded much earlier, but it was during the first quarter of the 19th century that the designs began to make their way to other countries. With several prominent examples being built in London, John Notman began making urban façades in this style in the United States during the 1840s, such as the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Whether it was from the books of Ruskin, or from seeing examples on the Easter Seaboard before emigrating to what was then the Western frontier, there were multiple routes for the Renaissance Revival to make it to Iowa City. After its introduction, the Italian Renaissance Revival styling, not truly the Italianate at the beginning, continued to be popular for building façade design.
Façades of this time have sumptuous window hoods, extended windowsills—often supported by brackets or consoles, and a decorated cornice with a modillions or corbels supporting it. The modillions and other design features often are decorated with acanthus leaves. Windows openings were typically rectangular, but not narrow. Overall the raised metal hoods were somewhat low relief, rectangular, and had less flamboyant detail than later examples but suggested stone, though it appears all surviving examples are made of molded, galvanized metal. Existing examples include The south facing building of the Sanxay Corner (1856), later called Whetstone’s, on Washington Street, and the Franklin Printing house (1856). Moses Bloom’s store front at 30 South Clinton Street, today called the Grossix Building, dates to before 1864 when Bloom’s clothing store expanded to include the building to the north, but based on a photo of Clinton Street, the remodel of the second bay of his combined store did not occur until sometime during the 1870s. A Wetherby photo of the Lewis grocery provides important details about the entryway in this period, and its Renaissance Revival details, with floral capitols and foliate brackets supporting a fairly restrained pediment. The Cook, Sargent and Downey bank at the southeast corner of Washington and Clinton Streets (around 1856–1912), the Townsend Daguerrean Gallery building (around 1854), located on the west side of the 100s block of South Clinton Street, and Metropolitan Hall (1858–1912), southwest corner of Washington and Dubuque streets were in the same Renaissance Revival styling as well as Old South Hall on the university campus (1859–1901). The most prominent and apparently last building to be built partially in this style before giving over to what we typically call Italianate design was the 1876 Opera House, which had a Renaissance Revival Balustrade with classical urns and a classical pediment. However, the windows and Doorway were Italianate in style. However, the transition to this style had begun in Iowa City some six to ten years previously.
During the 1870s, the Italianate style grew to become the dominant style of mixed use buildings downtown. As the nation entered the decade, Italianate design verged on becoming a second national style (Greek Revival being the original National Style) and was known by some architectural historians as the American Style due to its prevalence at the time. Thus, in the post civil war, late nineteenth century period many American artists and architects began to study the works of the Italian Renaissance (1350–1580) that came together in the upper city states. The Renaissance in Italy, earlier than anywhere else, was a period of devastating plague, city states at war. It also was period of renewed interest in the art, architecture, and literature of classical antiquity, as well as a number of significant developments in technology, such as mills, sailing vessels and production of materials, such as paper and cloth, and the newly formed accounting and methods of trading money. Wharton and Codman Jr. suggested the year 1500 was the beginning of what was considered the appropriate period of exemplar architecture in Italy.
The Italianate style came to the United States in 1840 and was popular in the Midwest especially during the 1870s and 1880s. The 1870s marked the beginning of the American Renaissance, a period Michael Kammen calls a time of “nostalgia and tradition orientation,” wherein the American people first became interested in their own history. Although this was a period of tremendous innovation and new expressions in the arts, it also was period of social upheaval, a boom and bust cycle of economics, and a period of increased urbanization. Faced with territorial expansion, a new sense of social diversity, and economic unpredictability, Americans looked to their pre-industrial heritage for inspiration. As the people of our nation analyzed their history, many looked to their European heritage for inspiration. Regency Architect, John Nash (1752–1835), whose work lead to a flourishing of the Italianate style in England is credited with originating the style. Alexander Jackson Davis, who had been instrumental in earlier Greek Revival style of architecture, was the main proponent of the Italianate style in America. The Italianate style focused on elements of primarily vernacular northern Italian architecture, that included certain elements of Italian medieval architecture and later periods and may include elements of Renaissance classism juxtaposed with the Gothic and Romanesque design elements. In appearance, the vertical of the Italian Gothic period is accentuated by tall, narrow windows that have either segmental or semi-circular (Romanesque) arches. Although acorn pendent brackets are common, and sometimes are foliate, they rarely are further embellished as they are in the Renaissance revival buildings. Decoration in the frieze is limited to dentil mould and rarely are their modillions, floral decoration or applied shapes. The style displays a sense of élan and sophistication and is rarely overstated. The picturesque, asymmetrical massing common to residences is not common in Italianate commercial buildings where siting and use prevent this design aspect.
The Italianate style became quite popular in Iowa City and involved a couple variants of a arched windows, being the higher, round arch and the segmental, flatter arch. Many early buildings were built with, or conceivably added arched windows and curved decorative window hoods in stone or metal. Elaborate window hoods or stone curved lintels, often with bracketed, deep cornices with pendants. In Iowa City, the details of these building were frequently executed in sheet metal, a comparatively cost-effective material when compared to native limestone, which is too porous and granular to allow effective sculpting and far cheaper than importing Salem limestone, also known as Bedford or Indiana limestone.
Examples include the cornice added to the Whetstone corner at Clinton and Washington Streets, the Burkley Hotel, The building where Kinney’s was located on South Clinton Street, Shrader’s Drug, also known as Things & Things & Things, and most of the buildings on the west side of the 100s block of south Dubuque Street. Most of these buildings likely were updated during the 1870 to 1880s, and there is a strong overlap with the Rundborgenstil commercial brick front style.
Frequently a decorative frieze was designed in corbled brick but in this case the cornice overall was less elaborate and signals an earlier period of construction of the cornice. Sometimes the frieze was more Romanesque than Renaissance Revival in that it was made of an arcaded corbel table. These brick cornice, Romanesque buildings are more directly reference the Rundborgenstil, the German Romanesque version of Renaissance Revival style, of which the Astor Library (1854) in New York is exemplary. Most of these façades, if not the entire building, have been lost over time to various causes. Some window hoods were built into the façade with protruding, corbled brick. Existing examples include the numerous buildings in the 10s block of South Dubuque Street—The north half of the Franklin Market (around 1874), 2–4 South Dubuque Street, the upper floor of the third or south bay next door at 6, 8, and 10 South Dubuque (around 1870, around 1955) known variously as Ham Hall, Parson’s and Stouffer Hardware, and the Tanner Building, where Frank Tanner had his carriage factory, and the buildings they face on the west side of this half block and the Packing and Provision Building (around 1974), 118 East College Street.
Some latter had elaborate Italianate cornices added as well as more elaborate window hoods made of galvanized iron, perhaps covering the original arches. Examples include the Dooley Block (around 1874), 109 East College Street, the building at 115 East College Street, dated by survey at around 1895.
Another trend highly similar to the Italianate style was a number of buildings built with strong Italian Gothic Influences. These buildings feature bracket supported cornices, but without the pendants, frequently geometric detailing in the architrave, rather than a dentil mould, and a tympanum pediment in the center of the building. Among these include the remodeled façade of the Brossart Building (around 1853, 1883), the three bay IXL Block (1883, 1962), most of the buildings between it and the First National Bank, The Thomas Hardware Store on the northwest corner of Dubuque and Washington Streets, the building on the northeast corner of College and Dubuque Streets, and the original west facing façade of the First National Bank (around 1869, 1911) that included urns as decorative flourishes along the cornice and pediment prior to the 1911 remodel into a Beaux-Arts façade that faced south.
Another heavily Italian influenced building was the rural Italian Gothic and Romanesque themed Universalist Church (1870–after 1933), northeast corner of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street. The building featured corbel tables between brick buttresses, double round arch windows along the aisles, a prominent round or rose window on the front façade and a Byzantine styled bell tower that compares well to the free standing campanile of the church of San Vitale in the northern Italian town of Ravenna, which had a Byzantine phase in its history. The bell tower had Italianate stone window hoods. The modillions supporting the roof and the dormers on the steeple were both Renaissance revival details.
A different nation-wide trend developed in architectural styles during the 1870s and grew most popular during the 1880s and continued into the early 20th century. This was an eclectic style that borrowed freely among various historic examples and revived different architectural elements in a single building. This trend is commonly known as Victorian, because it grew in popularity during the reign of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom or Queen Anne, which refers to the free borrowing of traditional English architecture, actually not from the period of Anne, Queen of Great Britain whose reign extended over the turn of the 18th century and for which Renaissance detailing was prevalent, but instead for borrowing of folk motifs from the Tudor and Jacobean periods. Mixed in with the folk architecture from England were examples of classicism, such as columns, pediments, cornices and so on. A number of buildings at this time were designed, while others were more the result of vernacular influences. The later shaped a stylistic trend termed National Folk style.
Again Iowa City appears to have been on the forefront of the trend. The George H. Van Patten House (1873, 1898–2011) was built at 9 South Linn Street between 1873 and 1874. The building was principally a classical revival building with bracketed soffits over the entry, bay and bay window and modillion-supported cornice. But it was fairly eclectic, with a square portico bay, a canted bay window and very deeply planed moldings on the paneled doors with comma or tear drop shaped windows which are evocative of the later Art Nouveau style. The front wing of the house had curved stone lintels with label stops while the later addition of a north wing, though built to match, played with the time sequence and architectural orders found in Iowa City by using a second decorative order with massive stone lintels that harkened back to the 1840s and 1850s making the north wing seem older than it in fact was. Also remarkable was that although the brick appeared to be locally made, which is consistent with the period of construction, the Van Patten selected only reduction fired brick for the exterior courses, providing a deep wine color for the exterior, which stood in sharp contrast with the typical bright orange of oxidation fired brick. Residences in the Downtown occur frequently in the upper floors above store fronts, but at one time a number of residences occurred along the eastern boundary of downtown, especially on Linn Street.
Another early eclectic building was the false front constructed sometime after 1888 and before 1892 at the Foster Livery Stable (1872, 1888 to 1892, 1912). W.E.C. Foster and his father partnered with a number of individuals through the end of the 19th century into the 20th century, including Smith & Foster in the 1870s, Foster and Hess up to about 1888, Foster and Levitz after 1892. The building was then owned by Graham and Schaffer around 1906. A large barn occurred continuously near the rear of the property in maps. At first a three story mixed use frame building occurred at the west front of the property, which other than a square bracketed cornice had little detailing. Between the two was an open lot. This configuration was later replaced with a two-bay structure and eventually a third building was added to the frontage of the property and a united front façade, quite literally in this case, was constructed across three addresses. A hoist was added to the main building for the buggy shop on the second floor. The new façade was eclectic in that it had Italian Renaissance revival attributes and also those of the Beaux-Arts School, including foliate brackets, segmental arched third story windows, which appear to have been only part of the false front, large X’s as a stylized representation of bay laurel banding, the X’s being one form of ties on the laurel garland. Tin work included the caps on the firebreak end walls, the cornice rising to the two-bay, false front on the third floor and the false front cornice with large bracketing. The large double doors on the middle and western thirds to allow horse teams and carriages to pass. The second story consisted of four pairs of two-over two divided light, double hung windows with modest window sills running the length of both windows in each set and provided light to the carriage works located there. The third story was partial and only occupied the middle third of the structure. It contained two pairs of windows the top fourth of each arcing toward the other in its set. It is not known if it was anything but storage and possibly equipment for the hoist. The building was demolished in 1912 to build the Englert Theater (1912, 1926, 1958, 2004), 221 East Washington Street, Listed NRHP.
The Frank X. Gieger Building, Senate saloon (1898–around 1976), 112 South Dubuque Street was a three-story mixed commercial-residential building built with a moderately elaborate commercial brick front. The second floor had a somewhat Tudor Revival or Jacobean three-sided bay window, with classical revival ionic columns and an elaborate cornice. The third floor façade rose an additional half-story into a gothic revival peak with a gothic details including a masonry scroll extension of the peak cornice line and a medievalesque carving of floral imagery wrapping around a fleur-de-lis in a triangular panel at its peak which was capped with a cast metal roof-comb on top. The window on the third floor held three double-hung windows in a Palladian treatment with the year of construction in the half-round top where the middle window traditionally would have extended. With its eclectic mix of late medieval–early English Renaissance styling combined with Palladian features, the building was clearly within the broader Victorian eclectic style. The building stood to the south of the Powell Block and was scheduled for urban renewal in 1976. A one-story brutalism inspired cast concrete building stood on the 40 by 80 foot site between the 1980s and 2012. A 14-story, glass curtain wall and concrete utility shaft high-rise was completed on the location in 2013.
City Hall (1881, 1882–1962), now known as 21 South Linn Street, was designed in an eclectic blend of Italian gothic revival—especially from Venice, early French Gothic revival, and French Renaissance revival that is grouped under the name High Victorian Gothic. The style developed out of Pugin’s earlier Gothic Revival, but had less care for what is termed archaeologically correct revival of architectural designs from 14th century England. Examples include Pugin’s clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, now known as the Elizabeth Tower but commonly referred to as Big Ben, and Scarisbrick Hall, both featuring tall hipped roofs on towers and a liberal application of triangular dormers. The City Hall building’s basic form, including the mansard roof lines, central tower and clerestory, triangular dormers compares very well with the Natural History Museum at Oxford (1855), which was supervised by John Ruskin. The polychrome brickwork, extensive use of brackets and corbels, segmental arched windows, and the pavilion on the clock tower with its high, hipped roof all exemplify this style. The Tower Place mixed use building at Iowa Avenue and Linn Street was designed largely as a pastiche, perhaps even an homage to this building, although it also incorporates the columns and entablature from the east portico of the former Eastlawn Building.
The Furbisch Building (around 1883–1973), southwest corner Clinton & Washington Streets, was a three story, building with a roughly square footprint that stood prominently at the corner of one of downtown’s busiest intersections. The building had a massive cornice, foliate modillions, Georgian keystone lintels over tall windows, a Beaux-Arts feel in the octagonal tower over a Romanesque stone arch above the corner entrance with the strong horizontal banding in the frieze above the first story and the deep, heavily dentate-brackets on the roof line cornice combine to suggest the eclecticism of high Victorian fashion in architecture. Its residential equivalent would be the Queen Ann style. It was designed by the son of Isaac Furbisch, the shoe store owner who built it. His son was an architect in Boston, Massachussettes. In 1973, the building was razed as part of the massive Iowa City urban renewal project.
Coast and Sons Building (around 1895) 10–14 South Clinton is essentially Beaux-Arts classicism in broad scope, with pilasters, Palladian tripartite windows with exaggerated keystones and paired columns, garland swags on the frieze and foliate bed mould and modillions supporting the cornice. The large triangular pediment, prominent dentil mould and the ionic capitals of the pilasters evoke Greek Revival styling and is without a precedent in the Beaux-Arts style which is defined in part by the flat or low pitched roofs hidden behind parapet walls.
The 1870s were clearly a period of growth in Iowa City and yet another eclectic revival style was represented in Iowa City’s downtown for two church buildings. The Gothic Revival style was popular in the United States from 1830 but became popular in Iowa several decades later in the 1870s and continued into the 1880s. Gothic-style buildings of the mid- to late-nineteenth century reflected the interest of some American architects in medieval Europe, England in particular. From 1824 on Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin set the standard in English Gothic Revival. In addition to the wood filled interior of the Palace of Westminster he designed a number of churches throughout the British Empire.
In America, Richard Upjohn, one of the founders of the American Institute of Architects, himself an immigrant from England who had trained as a cabinet maker and draftsman and was certified as a mechanic (a mechanic at the time being any tradesman, craftsman, or technician and included carpenters, masons, and the like). Working from a set of books on the Gothic Style by Auguste Pugin and his son A.W.N. Pugin, including Specimens of Gothic Architecture (1821) and Examples of Gothic Architecture (1838) Upjohn translated the Pugin Gothic Revival style into American tastes, beginning first with churches. It should be noted, however, that many American churches had always been designed with Gothic Revival styling, particularly from the Perpendicular Period (1350 to 1510), even in the colonies.
The Gothic Revival, part of the period of Romanticism in art, literature and architecture, represented a symbolic, physical representation of an idealized past—that of the Middle Ages of England, seen through the optimistic lens of the Enlightenment while at the same time a reaction to the secularism of the Enlightenment, and also as a cultural reaction to the Industrial Revolution. It represented a sanctuary from the modern age of mechanization with its soot filled air, dangerous working conditions, and urban congestion. The Gothic Revival was characterized by soaring roof lines and a number of details adapted from Gothic Architecture, particularly from the angular geometric period early in the Decorated Style (1250–90).
In 1869 the First Congregational Church (1869), located at 30 N. Clinton Street, Listed NRHP and a designated local landmark was constructed. The building introduced Gothic Revival style to downtown, with lancet windows and stone gothic window arches. The steeple however is more along the lines of James Gibbs or Christopher Wren, absent the octagonal drum at the base of the steeple frequently found in the neoclassicism both favored. The Congregational church was designed by Gurdon P. Randall of Chicago, who had become well established by 1866. Iowa City Republican of January 2, 1867 stated the Congregational Society had purchased the corner lot at Clinton and Jefferson Streets facing the University grounds with the purpose of erecting a “Neat, tasty building.” The Inland Architect and Builder, Vol. III, No.1 February 1884 was further quoted in the paper as follows, “They were for a Gothic house…with a tower upon the corner, which will serve as vestibule corner…to be a plain, but very neat and tasty building.”
At about the same time, a more recent variant of Gothic Revival style was adopted by the Trinity Episcopal Church (1871), 320 East College Street, Listed NRHP and a designated local landmark, with a stronger inclination toward Carpenter Gothic—including lancet details in the board and batten siding, large lancet arched windows and a smaller version of a medieval church belfry executed in wood in place of a steeple, and High Victorian Gothic—including the row of rounded modillions supporting the steeply pitched cornice, as if the building were made in stone, the clerestory of triangular dormers, and the polychromatic roof shingles.
Samuel Watson in his History of Trinity Parish (1893) stated the design for the church was attributed to Richard Upjohn. It was assumed to be an adaptation from the 1852 publication Upjohn’s Rural Architecture: Designs, Working Drawings and Specifications for a Wooden Church, and other Rural Structures. However, Upjohn’s own records reportedly only indicate one church in Iowa was designed by him, and that was located in Ft. Madison. The parish has found evidence the building resembles a drawing by Episcopal Bishop Randall of Colorado that was published in The Spirit of Missions in May 1867. In any event, Randall likely knew of and had read the work of Upjohn, which was used extensively in church construction and also widely by builders of homes. The carpentry work was supervised by August Hazelhorst of the local firm Sheets & Gesberg.
The final style that appeared in the 1870s only lasted about a decade before being eclipsed. The style was known as the Second Empire style and it wasn’t as much a revival as a direct borrowing of contemporary style at the time. The style is named for the Second French Empire of Napoleon III (1852–1870) in which the French Baroque period of architecture was revived by architects at L’Ecole des Beuax-Arts to create many new buildings that occurred in prominent locations, such as public buildings throughout France and in Paris especially those lining the new ceremonial avenues created at the time. Representative buildings of the type were the New Louvre and the garden façade of the Élysée Palace. In the United States, the style was introduced in 1855 and became popular in the Midwest during the 1870s through 1880s. Examples include Old City Hall in Boston, the Baltimore City Hall, The Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. and the Grand Opera House of Wilmington, Delaware.
Key features of the style include the mansard roof originated by François Mansart (1598-1666) during the French Baroque period, who also introduced classicism into the architecture of the period. Other key features include a strong emphasis of horizontal lines, heavy cornices supported by brackets, often foliate, elaborate window hoods, of which quite a few are round-topped or ocular with exaggerated keystones and numerous pediments, pilasters, and engaged columns, frequently with composite capitols. The mansard roof originally was a concave (bell cast) or convex (domed) shape, with the slope much steeper from about one third the way down the slope from the top. In the United States, the roof lines are typically flat segments with an angle where the two segments meet more often than an inflection point on a smooth curve. In many cases, the upper slope is not visible from the ground. Overall, as a Rococo revival that was contemporary to the middle of the 19th century, the high level of embellishment is common. When strong horizontal emphasis and ostentatious embellishment are lacking, and especially when the building is clad in brick, the style can heavily overlap the appearance of the Italianate of the same period. Like the Queen Anne style, cast iron roof combs, finals, weather vanes, lightening rods and other ornament at the top of the building and running along dormers and towers are common in the Second Empire style. In commercial and public architecture, these features, when they occur, are brought to the forward edge of the roof line.
Buildings designed in the Second Empire style include the Eureka Block (1882, 1920s–1969), also known as Odd Fellows Building, the Shepherd Building, also known as Blackstone Building (1882, 1984), 118 South Dubuque Street, though with its cast iron columns and wooden panels the building is fairly eclectic and trends toward High Victorian Gothic, and the former Whiteway Grocery Building (1880, 1882–1999), 210 South Clinton Street. Each of these buildings had a mansard roof, a prominent cornice between the second and third floor supported by brackets and a band of dentil moulding in the entablature, decorative window hoods on the second floor and Baroque inspired dormers on the third floor.
With the approaching turn of the Century, the American Beaux-Arts style came to dominate the design of the most prominent new buildings in the downtown. The style influenced new construction for the next three decades in Iowa City, with a few notable exceptions. Nationally, the prominent architects and champions of this style included Daniel Burhnam as well as the firm of Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White. The form was heavily steeped in the traditions of renaissance architecture with further baroque revival flourishes. A building would not have just a pediment over an entry, but pediments on all of the fenestration or the openings in a wall. Also common were colossal columns, foliate brackets, modillions, festoons, laurel banding, cartouches, keystones, and acroteria—the decorative floral items at the apex and corners of the tympanum over high profile porticos, and sculptural elements, such as statues, mascaron (human masks) and chimera (animal figures). The style tended to feature prismatic rusticated stone work, where the edges were all chamfered, or banded rustication where the stone dressing emphasizes horizontal aspects of the building by creating long, horizontal channels between stacked blocks but ashlar, or smooth dressed, faces on the vertical edges, obscuring individual blocks in that direction. Also featured are quoins, pilasters, and an overall grand and outsized appearance. Another common aspect of Beaux Arts architecture is the development of architecture parlante, literally speaking buildings, and involves allegorical sculpted figures as well as inscriptions on a building to indicate the intended function of the building. The buildings of the Beaux-Arts style are built within the Primitive Hut concept in architecture developed by Vitruvius, in which roof lines and foundations are featured prominently, as they were in Greek architecture.
Although the school of the Beaux-Arts had been in existence since 1648, and while many prominent American architects had studied at the school in the 19th century, it was not until the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago that the style became popular in the U.S. In the view of the public, the Beaux-Arts designs of the World’s Fair buildings, especially the Court of Honor, less formally known as the White City, were especially suited to the feeling of American exceptionalism that prevailed at the time. The White City also fostered the City Beautiful movement, underpinning modern urban planning being developed by Burnham and others at this time. Examples of this style include The Chicago Arts Institute, The Field Museum in Chicago, the Siegel-Cooper Dry Goods store in New York, and the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. In form, most buildings in the Midwest follow an entablature and parapet that makes them look somewhat like the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.
Several buildings in Iowa City’s downtown and adjacent campus were designed in this style. The first was built by the University for their new Hall of Liberal Arts, construction beginning in 1897 and completing in 1902. The design was chosen from a competition that drew proposals from across a wide area. Charles Schaeffer convinced Henry Van Brunt, one of the architects of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, to judge the competition. The Des Moines firm of Proudfoot and Bird won the commission and went on to design many buildings in Iowa City, especially for the State University campus.
The response to begin updating commercial building façades in the new style came quickly. In 1899, Lemuel B. Paterson had the Patterson block, four separate buildings, re-worked into a contiguous façade for the commercial block. Each store front had a three-sided display case entry, of wood. The upper story was in brick and cut stone. The decoration was Beaux-Arts with plinths between the four matched sets of three windows. On the two end bays, the columns supported a broad, temple-like lintel with entablature. A festoon decoration was applied on the frieze. In the two middle bays, the columns supported three massive arches with exaggerated keystone. Above the upper floors, above the dentil mould and bracketed cornice, was a rectangular pediment with floral side supports bearing the name of the building. 13 & 15 South Dubuque Street were destroyed by fire in 1982. The northern two bays survive, though the second from the left is currently in a highly altered condition. The original Patterson cabin from the 1840s stood at this approximate location on Dubuque Street.
Other buildings followed, in both the City and on Campus, including Hall of Anatomy, also known as Medical Annex, Biology Annex, and Sciences Library (1902), the Carnegie Library (1903, 1963, 2001), 307 East College Street, a designated local landmark designed by Liebbe, Nourse and Rasmussen of Des Moines to which a mid-century modern entryway and addition was completed in the 1963 and later removed when the building was converted to apartments in 2001.
Additional examples include, Old Post Office (1904, 1931), 28 South Linn Street, Listed NRHP, which had a major and highly sympathetic addition in 1931, the Medical Building, also known as Zoology Building and Biology Building (1905), Engineering Building, also known as the Seamans Center (1905). Hall of Natural Science, also known as MacBride Hall (1908), Law Building, also known as Gilmore Hall (1910), First National Bank Building (around 1869, 1911), 202 East Washington Street, which was reoriented to the south and reclad with Salem limestone in 1911—the bank had been located in the building for a number of years prior to the remodel, The Physics Building, also known as MacLean Hall (1912), and University Hall, also known as Jessup Hall (1924). Additionally the buildings on the north side of East College Street where the Iowa City Public Library currently stands had Beaux-Arts façades quite like those of the Patterson Block. Those buildings were demolished during Urban Renewal. The current Iowa City Public Library (1981, 2004) façade has a number of Beaux-Arts elements, including roundels, stylized colossal columns, and oculus windows.
As was stated, at the turn of the century a number of important buildings on the State University campus were completed in an architecturally rich and authentic interpretation of the Beaux-Arts Style. Shortly after this period a series of buildings were completed in Iowa City that are fairly unique and represent a rather unique style that is termed here as the Beaux-Arts Commercial Style. In following examples, an eclectic blend of the plain faced style of commercial brick front buildings, wherein exterior architectural treatment of the windows is reduced to polychromatic brick, if emphasized at all, but there are certain aspects of the Beaux-Arts that stand out, particularly in modillions supporting deep cornices and certain exaggerated design elements, as if playing off the colossal order found in Italian Renaissance architecture but expanded to other design features including such decorative details as very large pediments, cornices, modillions, and so forth. Note that though the term uses the concept of commercial architecture somewhat removed from the Commercial Style originated in Chicago. Like the Chicago Style, these buildings all use face brick veneer in the façade which in a number of cases was curtain wall construciton.
Englert Theatre (1912, 1926, before 1940, 1958, 2001), 221 East Washington Street, Listed NRHP, was constructed in 1912. A devastating fire required the entire interior to be rebuilt, but the façade remained largely unchanged. A larger sign and lit marquee was added prior to February 1940 when a photo in the Library of Congress was taken of East Washington Street. In 1958, the marvelous mid-century marquee was added. The building underwent an extensive rehabilitation in 2001, however much of the architectural detail of the interior was preserved from 1926 and found beneath layers of material that had been used to convert the historic theater into a double screen cinema. In addition to the exaggerated modillions and the huge, segmental pediment in the center of the façade, the very large, broad brackets supporting the cornice are exaggerated triglyphs complete with guttae.
Jefferson Hotel (1913, 1928), 129 East Washington Street, exhibits exceptionally large foliate brackets at the corners supporting the two cornices. Typical of Beaux Arts architecture, the building has the name depicted in the masonry. Additionally the building has polychromatic brick, picking out the lines of the windows and creating a checkered field in the upper two stories.
Johnson County Savings Bank(1913), also known as MidwestOne Corporate Headquarters, 102 South Clinton Street exhibits a very deep cornice with coffers in the soffit and exceptionally large foliate modillions supporting it an emphasized first floor with banded rustication and lion head chimerae above the monograph of the initials for the Johnson County Savings organization.
Another building influenced by the Beaux-Arts style but also cast in the progressive architectural movement, is the Paul-Helen Building (1910, around 1990), 207-215 East Washington Street, Listed NRHP and a designated local landmark. The building has a typical Beaux-Arts composition of form and decoration, including notched rectangles but cast in a stylized, and restrained light with geometric brickwork in the face brick facade. The building has been described as an example of the Chicago School of Architecture due to its use of structural steel to provide a mostly open curtain wall, but it is much less tall than most buildings of this style, which somewhat upsets the balance of the design of most Chicago School buildings, which follow the form of a classical column, which is a pronounced base, a less ornate but tall shaft, and a decorated capital on top. The Paul-Helen building also lacks the typical tripartite Chicago School window, which was comprised of operable windows on either side of a larger plate glass window.
The Dey Building (1917, 1969), 8 South Clinton Street, was built on the site of Dey’s St. James Hotel Building, which was the student union at the time that it burnt to the ground in 1916. The new building features channeled or fluted colossal pilasters with Roman Ionic order egg-and-dart capitals and roundels in the frieze of the early 20th century simplified entablature and parapet wall. The windows are without ornament. The storefronts were originally more decorative, but were replaced after being damaged in student demonstrations of 1969. The somewhat awkward cast concrete awnings were added at about this time.
Also in this grouping is the Schneider Brothers Furniture building (1893), 114–116 East College Street. The building has many Beaux-Arts attributes, including a Renaissance revival cornice supported by Doric order modillions along with triglyphs and guttae as well as geometric panel decorations. But it has Commercial Style attributes such as the Chicago windows and face brick cladding. One further design aspect is in the form of American Progressive architecture with the Sullivanesque plaques in bronze patina that appear where deep brackets may occur at the sides of the cornice, that along with the geometric brickwork hidden behind the canopies and emphasis on the horizontal elements of the building cast it in the light of several contemporary, progressive and almost modern movements at that time.
A variant of Beaux-Arts and Chicago School architecture was the use of terra cotta tile for architectural details or even cladding. Louis Sullivan pioneered the use of rich ornament with cast terra cotta. Later entire buildings were clad in white glazed tile, which provided a White City effect on permanent buildings, was more resistant to soot than Salem limestone, and provided a relatively maintenance free exterior. Rich details can be molded into the tile, not unlike tinwork. A national example of a white tile building is the Wrigley building in Chicago. An Iowa City example of this trend is the Beaux-Arts Arcade Building (1874, 1907), 128-130 East Washington Street that underwent a façade remodel in 1907 to install the tile.
Another building that used architectural tile and a re-structuring of the Beaux-Arts style was the Press-Citizen building (1937), 319 E. Washington Street, designed by Fisk and Ruth, Kruse and Klein. The style has been attributed to the PWA Moderne style. The designers made use of terra cotta tile on the entryway for both the stylized colossal columns and the bas relief panel showing the progress of technology. Additional inset tiles appear near the top of the building on either side of the entry tower. Like more mainstream moderne buildings, they made use of architectural glass block, perhaps lending a sense of openness to the construction of the building. The building has prominent square corners, however. The Public Works Administration built a number of governmental buildings in the 1930s in the PWA Moderne, which also is known as WPA Moderne, Federal Moderne, and classical moderne all of which acknowledge the modern aspects, and most calling attention to the governmental aspects of the design. These buildings frequently featured bas relief sculpture showcasing American Progress. The style was borrowed by other entities who wanted to show their position in society was similar to that of the government, press buildings, a part of the fifth estate, being among them. Buildings typical of the style include the Minneapolis Armory and the Folgers Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.
Among the revivals popular in the United States, American Colonial Revival became popular as part of the eclectic revivals of the 1880s and has recurred many times, almost continuously, since. The original Georgian period refers to the architecture that was common during the reign of King George IV of the United Kingdom. The style was popular among the more wealthy inhabitants of the British colonies, including those in America. The style ended with the American War of Independence (1775–1783). Key features are a specific type of Renaissance classicism, including symmetry, columns, engaged columns, porticos, especially round ones, fan lights and modified Palladian windows, typically with lancet or spider web patterns in the lights, sometimes pronounced lentils with keystones, cornices supported by modillions, with or without dentil mold, and frequently they are clad in red brick with white trim. Iowa City examples include the Isolation Hospital (1915, 1931, 1988, 2009 ), also known as Stuit Hall and Old Music Building, 300 block of Iowa Avenue, now a LEED certified and historic building in the Jefferson Street Historic District, Listed on the National Register used for clinical psychology and Hohenshuh Mortuary (1917), 13 South Linn Street, a designated local landmark.
As the 20th century progressed, many buildings came be designed in, or remodeled to reflect the American Progressive Movement in architecture beginning after 1915. Known at the time in the United States as the four separate but allied stylistic movements of American Arts and Crafts movement—occurring here much later than in the United Kingdom, Prairie School of Architecture—including the giants such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as Walter Burley Griffin, George Grant Elmslie and William Gray Purcell, American Craftsman style, and American Mission Revival style. This movement was a second return to a hand-made decorative aesthetic, the Gothic Revival being the first. Details in commercial and institutional project exteriors in Iowa City include tapestry face brick, decorative application of this brick, such as basket weave and floral motifs, and application of tile and Salem limestone for key details such as columns, belt courses, cornices, and at the corners of windows and the like.
On the University campus, the original School of Art Building (1936), designed by UI architect George Horner was a prominent example, however it actually followed several buildings in the downtown district. Those buildings include the J.A. O’Leary Auto Company’s Velie Automobile Garage and Showroom (around 1918, 1924, around 2004 ), 104–116 South Linn Street, the Harmon Building (demolished 1999), southeast corner of Iowa Avenue and Linn Street, The commercial brick front building at 112 East Washington Street, the commercial brick front at where the Montgomery Ward farm store was located, 117 East Iowa Avenue (about 1920), The Reardon Hotel (remodeled about 1926), 215 East Iowa Avenue, and the commercial brick front building at 111–113 East College Street, where Sears, Roebuck & Company had located, which includes glazed terra cotta tiles as additional decorative accents and had been home to a Sears Roebuck Store. The current Iowa City Public Library also has some of these details.
The Changing Nature of Style
Stylistic changes as noted were frequently incorporated in later modifications to buildings, such as the upper story expansion such to the Sanxay Building (1850, 1870, 1882), 32 South Clinton Street, which converted a Federal Style building from 1850 into an Italianate building in 1870. Reportedly the upper cornice was added in 1882 after Whetstone bought the two buildings known as Whetstone’s corner and unified them under this cornice.
An existing brick building dating to before 1867, but possibly as early as 1840, was remodeled into the St. James Hotel (before 1867, 1872, about 1883, about 1912–1916) following a fire that destroyed the Clinton House in 1871 at the southeast corner of College and Clinton streets, where the Coldren Opera House was later built. A number of prominent business people recommend the owner, Peter Dey, reconfigure the commercial block to serve as a hotel, which appears to have added a fourth story based on an 1870s photo of Clinton Street taken by T.W. Townsend, a local photographer who had his shop in the Sanxay building at this time. The building from the 1872 remodel was in the Second Empire Style, having been a non-descriptive commercial brick front previously. The unified façade facing Iowa Avenue and Clinton streets incorporated three separately built buildings. The 1883 Johnson County History indicates the combined commercial block was just three stories prior to 1883, after which it was known for certain to have included an upper story, perhaps an addition, built with sloping walls to suggest a mansard roof. After the fourth story addition, the building was an example of a simplified Second Empire style applied to a commercial building that began life as a vernacular commercial brick front building, and in between had an Italianate appearance. Later the owner removed an elaborate cornice with brackets, which occurred sometime between 1895 and 1912. The building was built by local Railroad financier Peter A. Dey in 1867 after much of the block burned in an earlier fire, including the Masonic Hall Lodge No. 4 that had stood on this corner previous to the fire. Sanxay’s clothing store had been located here, and following the 1916 St. James fire, he built his own building which a good deal later became known as the Whetstone building on the other end of the block. The 1872 remodel of the St. James Building was undertaken at the encouragement of Moses Bloom and other local merchants and men of influence. Iowa City’s finest hotel, the Clinton House, had been destroyed by fire in 1872.
The Franklin Printing House (1856), Listed NRHP and a designated local landmark, is one potential example. The window hoods and cast iron columns are inspired by Renaissance revival design and may not have been part of the building when it was built. However, the similarly aged building next door has no such ornament. The Mendenhall Block (around 1850–1968) appears to have had an elaborate metal work cornice in the Italianate style added. The Mendenhall Block also held the Strand Theater, beginning at about 1916 following state prohibition. A fire occurred in the early February, 1968 and destroyed the building. The Dubuque walkway crosses through this lot today. The Powell Block (1857, 1870–1974), at the southeast corner of Dubuque and Washington, also known as the Crummey House hotel and Morrison Building, is another good example of an early parapet vernacular commercial brick front building. After the 1870 remodel of its façade, the building was the epitome of Italianate commercial architecture with acorn pendants hanging from robust brackets under soffit with a fairly deep overhang. Tall windows were capped in the metal hoods typical of this style and used to indicate what might also have been done in stone if enough stone carvers and material were available for the job. Three three-sided inset entryways with large plate glass windows ran across the front of the building. The Stillwell Building (about 1880, about 1890), 216 East Washington Street, designed in an Italianate style, added a floor about 1890. The difference in metal window hoods on the third floor compared to the brick segmental arches on the second floor are an indication of this transition that was documented in the survey and evaluation of the central business district.
In addition to visual examples, the fact that modifications were common is attested to in an obituary for George H. Van Patten designer, builder and would be architect, which stated “[Van Patten] erected numerous early day structures in Iowa City, and made improvements on hundreds of others.” It should be noted that with regards to historic significance, a change such as this may earn significance in its own right, but this is certainly not always the case. The building needs to retain its historic integrity, a topic which is beyond the scope of this discussion.
By 1950, buildings were pretty much established in the form they are today, baring a couple fires and the widespread demolition of Urban Renewal. By the late 1960s, ongoing maintenance had become a problem and some in the community viewed the older architectural styles with disdain. A number of important buildings were lost to Urban Renewal.
- Cornice has two meanings that are used in this essay. The first is the 19th century building trade term for the decorative work that appears near the top of the façade, or face of the building. The second use is an architectural history term when describing the elements of classical architecture, in which the cornice is the topmost, projecting part of the entablature that consists of, from bottom to top, architrave, frieze, and cornice. Many times the tops of windows and doors are also called an architrave.
- Dates for buildings follow the following format Date Built, Date Modified–Date Demolished/Destroyed. Date Built indicates either start or completion date. Dates for Historical Periods indicate approximate beginning and end dates. Dates for people are beyond the scope of this essay.
About the Author
Tim Weitzel is long time resident of Iowa City, with roots in town going back into the 1960s. He is an Architectural Historian, Historian, and Archaeologist with expert level experience in property identification and determination of NRHP eligibility.
Townsend’s Daguerrean Gallery, Iowa City, Iowa, around 1854 http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/721
Clinton and Washington streets, Iowa City, Iowa, 1853. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/711
Image of first Regular Meeting Place of Iowa City Masonic Lodge #4, Iowa City, Iowa, 1843. Iowa City Public Library, accessed March 3, 2015. http://history.icpl.org/items/show/1360.
Wetherby’s Gallery, Iowa City. Iowa City Public Library, accessed March 3, 2015. http://history.icpl.org/items/show/1356.
Horse-drawn wagons outside Clinton Street businesses, Iowa City, Iowa, 1854. Iowa Digital Library, The University of Iowa Libraries, accessed March 3, 2015. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/775
Clinton Street drawing, Iowa City, Iowa, 1854. J.H. Millar Map.Washington Street businesses, Iowa City, Iowa, 1865. Iowa Digital Library, The University of Iowa Libraries, accessed March 3, 2015. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/718
South Clinton Street Businesses. Iowa Digital Library, The University of Iowa Libraries, accessed March 3, 2015. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/685
Clinton Street, Iowa City in 1854, between pp 24 and 25. Aurner 1912, volume 2.
Coast & Sons Building. Iowa Digital Library. The University of Iowa Libraries, accessed March 3, 2015. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/240
Metropolitan Building fire, Iowa City, Iowa, October 10, 1912 http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/720
Men outside George W. Lewis grocery store, Iowa City, Iowa, between 1862 and 1873 http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ictcs/id/251
Cook, Sargent and Downey, bank at corner of Clinton and Washington Sts. P.642 1883 history https://books.google.com/books?id=BfIN2L5htEwC&pg=PA642#v=onepage&q=cook%20sargent%20downey&f=false
Gebhard, David, Gerald Mansheim, and Society of Architectural Historians. Buildings of Iowa. Oxford University Press, New York. 1993.
Burchard, John and Albert Bush-Brown. The Architecture of America: a Social and Cultural History. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1961.
Geltner, Mark. A History of American Architecture: Buildings in their Cultural and Technological Context. University Press of New England, Hanover. 1999.
Hibbs, B. Iowa City. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina. 2010.
Horton, Loren N. The Architectural Background of Trinity Episcopal Church. pp. 539–548 in Annals of Iowa. vol. 43, no. 7. 1977.
Historic Downtown Buildings Map. Iowa City Downtown District, Iowa City, Iowa. http://downtowniowacity.com/media/historic-downtown-iowa-city-walking-tour.pdf. March 15, 2015.
Kammen, Michael, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. Knopf, New York. 1991.
Mansheim, Gerald. Iowa City: An Illustrated History. Friends of Historic Preservation and the City of Iowa City. Donning Co., Norfolk, VA. 1989.
National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Washington, D.C. http://www.nps.gov/nr/. March 15, 2015.
Newhall, John B. Sketches of Iowa, or, The Emigrants Guide. J.H. Colton, New York. 1841. “The unprecedented growth of Iowa City from a wilderness frontier, beyond the pale of civilization, is indeed a wonder in the growth of towns…I have heard of cities springing into existence as if by magic, but in no case have I ever known the application to be so just as when applied to this young capital of Iowa… I counted even in the middle of last may the rising of one hundred buildings and saw and heard busy workmen engaged on half as many more.” Newhall goes on to a colorful quote of a newcomer to the town of about 700 as it was rapidly expanding, who stated about his completed home, “Five days ago my house was in the woods, growing.”
Pryce, Samuel D. Iowa City Street Scene 1860s. P. 45 in Vanishing Footprints: The Twenty-second Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. Press of the Camp Pope Bookshop, Iowa City. 2008. https://books.google.com/books?id=5Uzw5SMs750C&lpg=PA21&dq=maresh%20and%20holubar&pg=PA45#v=onepage&q=maresh%20and%20holubar&f=false
Scott, John Seldon and Rodney P. Lehnertz. The University of Iowa Guide to Campus Architecture. The University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. 2006.
Sendzimir, Vanda. Galvanized Steel. pp. 34–35 in American Heritage of Invention & Technology vol. 25, no. 3. 2010.
Skjelver, Mabel C. Randall’s Congregational Church at Iowa City. pp. 361–370. Annals of Iowa. vol. 42, no. 5. 1974.
Shambaugh, Benjamin Franklin. Iowa City : A Contribution to the Early History of Iowa. State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. 1893.
Svendsen, Marlys. Survey and Evaluation of the Central Business District: Iowa City, Iowa. City of Iowa City, Iowa. 2001.
Mission and History. Trinity Episcopal Church. http://trinityic.org/mission-and-history-3/ March 15, 2015.
Weber, Irving B. Historical Stories about Iowa City. Iowa City Lions Club, Iowa City, Iowa. 1976.
Wharton, Edith and Ogden Codman, Jr. The Decoration of Houses. Scribner and Sons, New York. 1897.
Major William Williams’ Journal of a Trip to Iowa in 1849. Annals of Iowa, Vol XII, No 4, 3rd series, April 1920. https://books.google.com/books?id=iVlIAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA252&ots=-Lw5k29zA_&dq=crummy%20hotel%20iowa%20city%20history&pg=PA252#v=onepage&q=crummy%20hotel%20iowa%20city%20history&f=false “arrived at the City about 4 o’Clock, 33 miles. put up at Mr Crummy’s Hotel, a very excellent House & very pleasant Landlord”
Iowa City Historic Preservation Handbook: A resource for historic Iowa City, adopted September 7, 2010. Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission, City of Iowa City, Iowa.
The downtown district has been recommended eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in a Certified Local Government funded survey completed in 2001. An update to that survey has been proposed.
Copyright 2016, Tim Weitzel.
Landmark Properties and Districts in the Downtown Iowa City
|Address||Year||Iowa City Landmark||Listed National Register|
|Franklin Printing House||115 South Dubuque||1856||September 1996||April 1986|
|First Congregational Church||30 N. Clinton Street||1869||September 1996||June 1973|
|Trinity Episcopal Church||320 E. College Street||1871||September 1996||December 1974|
|Van Patten House, destroyed||9 South Linn Street||1873||September 1996||January 1983|
|College St. Block Building||125 E. College Street||1883||September 1996||July 1973|
|Boerner-Fry Company/ Davis Hotel||332 E. Washington Street||1899||January 1983|
|Carnegie Library||307 E. College Street||1903||July 2001|
|Old Post Office||28 South Linn Street||1904||April 1979|
|Paul-Helen Building||207-215 E. Washington||1910||September 96||April 1986|
|Englert Theatre||221 E. Washington Street||1912||August 2001|
|Hohenshuh Mortuary||13 South Linn Street||1917||October 2000|