116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - For four decades members of one Iowa City non-profit organization has dedicated its time and energy to preserving and protecting the city's architectural heritage while bringing awareness to the cultural, economic and environmental benefits of preservation. That group is the Friends of Historic Preservation, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
The group got its start when a group of community members rallied to save First Presbyterian Church, one of Iowa City's oldest historic landmarks. The church, built in 1856, was facing demolition in 1975 by the University of Iowa, which had purchased it and planned to tear it down.
Two congregation members, Emil Trott and Dorothy Whipple, 'looked for alternatives to demolition, initially going to the State of Board of Regents to ask that the university find a use for Old Brick, rather than razing the building.”
In July 1975, Trott and Whipple along with Corianne Suter, Thomas Baldrige and Jeff Schabilion formed Friends of Old Brick to preserve the church.
'Because the building was on the National Register, they would get quite a black eye for buying it and demolishing it,” Schabilion said of UI.
The Old Brick Defense League was formed with the purpose of 'filing a permanent injunction against the state, Board of Regents, the University of Iowa and the First Presbyterian Church.”
The league raised $73,000 and received at $70,000 grant from the Iowa Division of Historic Preservation to eventually save the church. But the organization didn't stop there. Friends of Old Brick raised more funds to 'restore the building, holding conferences and writing booklets on historic preservation,” Schabilion said.
The group morphed into the Friends of Historic Preservation.
On Nov. 7, the group celebrated its 40th anniversary in Old Brick Church, the former First Presbyterian Church.
'This was the oldest surviving church in Iowa City,” said Friends of Historic Preservation executive director Alicia Trimble. 'They managed to raise money and get grants, and were able to save the church.”
To mark its anniversary, the organization hosted 'Keys to the Past,” on Nov. 7, a daylong event that included workshops and presentations. It also celebrated the release of its second book, 'Finials: A View of Downtown Iowa City,” written by Marybeth Slonneger and others, which tells the story of the drive to save Old Brick. Trimble estimated 100 people attended some part of the celebration.
For the last 20 years, the Friends of Historic Preservation has operated the Salvage Barn, 401 Scott Blvd. in Iowa City, a warehouse that preserves historical architectural items.
It has also helped create the historic districts in Iowa City and hosted dozens of educational workshops and helped with house-moving projects, Trimble said. It worked to save the Wetherby Cottage in Iowa City and rehabbed two rundown rental units.
But preserving Old Brick remains one of the organization's most noteworthy accomplishments.
'Their whole mission when they formed was to save this building,” Trimble said. 'It was a local grass roots movement, a group of people who got together and decided that they were going to work to save the church.”
The organization has played a key role in local advocacy for preservation efforts, Schabilion said.
'The idea of local historic preservation was a very new one,” said Schabilion, who is stepping down from the organization. 'Since we got so much notoriety, it really helped bring forward this notion of local historic preservation.”
Today, Old Brick is a community center where non-profits are housed. The sanctuary space hosts weddings, receptions and other community events. It also has a large kitchen, which allows the Episcopal Chaplaincy to host Agape Cafe, a weekly breakfast program for the homeless, Trimble said.
Trimble, who has served on the Historic Preservation Commission in Iowa City and the Friends of Historic Preservation since 2007, said historic preservation is 'the most sustainable thing anyone can do.”
'If you tear down a building and build a new building, you'll waste more energy,” she said. 'Historic materials are generally better. They tended to be stronger, made of materials that you could repair.
'No matter what type of energy efficient building you replace an old building with, you'll never get the embodied energy you threw away in that old building back.”