116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — How many times have you thought about the history of Kinnick Stadium as you felt the energy of a Hawkeye touchdown in your nosebleed section seats? How often have you thought about the first legislators of Iowa as you passed the Pentacrest on North Clinton Street?
Most people don’t think about the history of these buildings, even as they pass by them or enter for special events now and then. With a new PBS “Historic Buildings of Iowa” documentary on Monday, you can revel in up-close details that form the touchstones of Iowa’s history.
“Most people (are) going and thinking about that experience today,” said Andrew Batt, senior producer at Iowa PBS. “They’re not necessarily stepping back and thinking about the old Iowa Capitol or history of how long Kinnick has been there and how much it has changed over the years, or what transformed Iowa City and so many communities in 2008 with the flood.”
With this episode, taking a moment to appreciate the past pays future dividends, he said.
“The next time you go to these venues, this brings more value to the experience today to know what happened in the past century,” Batt said.
Even as a producer for PBS crisscrossing the state, Batt had never been inside Old Capitol or the new Hancher Auditorium.
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, on Iowa PBS during Fall Festival 2021
Where: Iowa PBS and Iowa PBS WORLD .3 and Iowa PBS Create .4; livestreamed at iowapbs.org, and through Facebook Live on the Iowa PBS page
Details: Featuring history of the Englert Theatre, Old Capitol, Hancher Auditorium, Kinnick Stadium and the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History
The senior producer said Iowa City was the next logical step for the PBS series, which featured Cedar Rapids in March.
“Iowa City has the perfect mix for a series of historical buildings in Iowa. It’s a touchstone to Iowa’s history,” he said.
In order to be featured on the series, a building must still exist (meaning it has not been destroyed by a historical event) with a rich history that offers variety.
“These are inherently different structures and inherently different stories,” he said of the Iowa City buildings chosen. “That variety helps paint the fabric of the community.”
In a city with a vibrant university life, that historical combination is juxtaposed with even more color. With a bustling life today, Iowa City tends to be overlooked for its historical value.
This episode will include:
- Iowa City’s history as the first state capital in the Old Capitol building, before the capital moved to Des Moines.
- Signature, modernized structures like the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium.
- The Englert Theatre, which was filmed during interior and exterior renovations, including the disassembly of the landmark marquee to ship out of state for refurbishment.
- The history of Kinnick Stadium, how it was built and how the concept developed over time. Includes aerial imagery of the stadium both empty and full to show the contrast in energy during a game.
- The UI Museum of Natural History, with a fascinating history dating back a century and a collection of natural history elements — a previously untapped topic for the Iowa PBS show.
“Those are some of the core stories we wanted to tell that makes up a great documentary,” Batt said. “People don’t think about some of those as historic. … This is an opportunity to step back and really understand the back story to so many of these buildings that are still with us.”
Many of these concepts, the producer conceded, may not at first sound like the makings of a vibrant program. But as storytellers at Iowa PBS, part of the inspiration comes from firsthand knowledge that many of the best stories about Iowa are told off camera. For lifelong Iowans who have never been inside the structures, a look through their TV can prompt new interest in intrastate tourism.
PBS bus tours for members, paused during the early days of the pandemic, were completed this fall.
The documentary series, which first premiered in Des Moines in March 2020, during the pandemic. Filmmakers had the advantage of being able to film in empty structures without the interruptions of tour groups — giving the producers and videographers more room to roam about. Iowa City’s episode was filmed throughout 2021, with the bulk of footage and aerial drone recordings shot in July and August.
With about 25 hours of video cut down to an hourlong episode, producers have distilled Iowa’s history to Iowa City’s most captivating parts. Interviews typically run two or three times longer than the pieces that make the cut, Batt said.
One big take-away for him is the amount of work that has been happening behind the scenes to preserve Iowa’s history for future generations — often without notice.
“You walk into (Old Capitol), and it looks like it was pulled out of time. These iconic structures have a mix of old and new, that takes a lot of work,” Batt said.
It brings a new appreciation for the dedication and work of not-for-profits and volunteers who worked over decades to keep the structure looking like it did almost 175 years ago — from staircases to legislative chambers.
“It’s eye opening,” he said.
Every community in Iowa has a story. This time it’s Iowa CIty’s turn.
“Historic Buildings in Iowa” will later feature episodes in cities along the Mississippi River, including Dubuque. The series then will move to western Iowa cities like Sioux City and Council Bluffs.
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