Preserving the past: Eastern Iowa properties among those honored for renovations

Coffee on the River in Lansing has been honored for the renovation and preservation work that turned a grain elevator in
Coffee on the River in Lansing has been honored for the renovation and preservation work that turned a grain elevator into coffee shop steeped in history. (Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs)

Brucemore mansion and an elementary school-turned-apartments in Cedar Rapids, a courthouse in Decorah, a grain elevator-turned-coffee shop in Lansing and a sprawling military base on the south side of Des Moines are among 14 historic preservation projects honored in a virtual ceremony June 4 during the annual Preserve Iowa Summit.

“These outstanding properties give communities a unique sense of pride and place,” said Chris Kramer, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the State Historic Preservation Office.

The state office presented four awards for projects that were completed July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. The nonprofit group Preservation Iowa presented 10 additional awards.

Preservation projects of merit

Presented by the State Historical Society of Iowa

• Fort Des Moines, Des Moines: William J. Wagner Award for a project that best exemplifies federal standards for historic rehabilitation. Fort Des Moines was established in 1901 as a military base and training facility, where the nation’s first African American officers graduated during World War I and the country’s first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps trained during World War II. The local Blackbird Investments rehabilitated this abandoned National Historic Landmark and turned six decrepit historic buildings — four barracks and two stables — into a sustainable neighborhood for low-income families.

• Kuba House, Cedar Rapids: Judith A. McClure Award for a residential property. The nonprofit group Save Cedar Rapids Heritage saved this 1894 house from demolition. Originally built by Bohemian immigrants John and Josephine Kuba, the house was relocated and rehabilitated to become an affordable home for a new family, with support from the city’s ROOTS housing program and State Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

• Monroe Elementary School, Cedar Rapids: Margaret Keyes Award for a large preservation project. Built in 1961 for children of the postwar Baby Boom, this Mid-Century Modern elementary school now houses apartments. The Affordable Housing Network of Cedar Rapids guided the project, which minimized subdivisions to honor the existing building’s footprint and essential characteristics.

• Paulson Barn, Ogden: Adrian D. Anderson Award for a small historic preservation project. This 1908 barn was built to house dairy cows and draft horses, including some that helped build the county’s early highways. Owners Margot and Gregory Hodges-Tinner hired local crews to straighten the barn’s frame, repair and paint its board and batten siding, and fix its roof.


Presented by Preservation Iowa


• 711 High St., Des Moines: Best Sustainability Project. Architectural Record magazine named Principal Financial Group’s massive Art Deco building the best building of the decade when it opened in 1939 on an entire city block in downtown Des Moines. Eighty years later, the company gutted and updated the building’s mechanical systems while preserving its historic character.

• Brucemore, Cedar Rapids: Best Community Effort. More than 500 individual and corporate donors pitched in to the “Pride and Preservation” fundraising campaign to preserve the roof, doors, windows and other exterior elements of this 19th-century mansion museum, the state’s only National Trust Historic Site. The $4.5 million restoration also received state grants from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

• Coffee on the River, Lansing: Best Small Commercial Project. An 1868 grain elevator overlooking the Mississippi River has been turned into a distinctive coffee shop. The owners, sisters Wendi Eiden and Diana Wilson-Thompson, pulled off the transformation in about three months with a $52,000 business loan and roughly 1,500 hours of their own work.

• The Forge, Jefferson: Best Large Commercial Project. A former Odd Fellows meeting hall is now a high-tech hub for software developers and students from 39 surrounding communities. Funded with local, county, state and federal support, the 6,000-square-foot space has attracted praise from the State Capitol to Silicon Valley.

• Graceland Cemetery Chapel, Avoca: Best Rural Preservation Project. Members of the Newton-Avoca Historical Society teamed up with the city of Avoca to save a tiny octagonal chapel in the local cemetery. Built around 1875, the 320-square-foot chapel now has a refurbished chimney, restored arched windows and new cedar shingles that pay tribute to the original design.

• Hotel Maytag, Newton: Best Multi-Residential Preservation Project. This five-story hotel on the northeast corner of the Newton square anchored local social life since it opened, in 1927, until the mid-1960s, when it was divided into apartments, offices and shops. The building gradually declined until the city of Newton bought it and guided its top-to-bottom rehabilitation, complete with 45 modern apartments, a movie theater and a ballroom. The project received a mix of local, state and federal grants, loans and tax credits.

• Lauridsen Opera Center, Indianola: Best Adaptive Use. The Des Moines Metro Opera restored and expanded its offices in Indianola’s former Carnegie Library with a 4,000-square-foot addition. The $3.5 million project updated workspaces, enhanced accessibility and added room for rehearsals and receptions.

• “Le Mars, Iowa: A Pictorial History, 1869-2019,” Le Mars: Best Special Project. The Le Mars Sesquicentennial Book Committee celebrated the community’s 150th anniversary with a 680-page book featuring more than 1,800 images and related narratives gathered from residents. The group has sold more than 1,000 copies in the town of 10,000.


• Simmons House, Ottumwa: Best Personal Residential Preservation Project. Built in 1899 and 1900, this house in Ottumwa’s Fifth Street Bluff Historic District had been converted into five apartments and abandoned for more than a year before its current owners, David Nino-Liu and Dennis Willhoit, purchased it in 2017. They have fixed its structural damage, upgraded its mechanical and electrical systems, reconstructed its decorative elements and evicted a colony of bats.

• Winneshiek County Courthouse, Decorah: Best Public Project. Recent repairs and upgrades to the 1904 courthouse include a new roof, colored LED exterior lighting and a new lightning-protection system. The project’s leaders also created a comprehensive plan to help county officials maintain the building in the future.

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