Community

Iowa City's First Unitarian Church added to National Register of Historic Places

The Gazette

The First Unitarian Church building on South Gilbert Street in Iowa City, shown here in 2014, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Gazette The First Unitarian Church building on South Gilbert Street in Iowa City, shown here in 2014, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

IOWA CITY — One of Iowa City’s oldest churches, which just years ago seemed poised for demolition, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs last week announced that the church building on 10 S. Gilbert St. had been added to the National Register, citing the building’s historic architecture, blend of traditional craftsmanship and preindustrial forms.

“The addition of the First Unitarian Church to the National Register of Historic Places is a significant milestone for Iowa City as it continues to preserve and celebrate its history for future generations of Iowans to enjoy,” Steve King, the state’s deputy historic preservation officer, said in the release. “We congratulate and commend all who worked so hard to make this a successful nomination.”

The church was designed in 1908 by Boston architect Edwin J. Lewis Jr., according to the release.

“The building is an outstanding example of the ‘church home’ architectural aesthetic, which is closely associated with a small but influential group of liberal women ministers who practiced in Iowa and surrounding states roughly between 1880 and 1930,” according to the building’s National Register nomination form.

A parsonage was built next to the church in 1909, but it was torn down in 1962 to make way for an education wing. The education wing also was razed, with only the church still standing.

In 2015, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City congregation, which then called the church home, voted to sell the site in order to build a new, larger church.

At the time, the church’s application for the historic registry still was pending, and developers were reluctant to spend big on land that might come with a historically protected building on it.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

In an attempt to secure a sale, church officials applied for a demolition permit for the church. The hope was doing so would ensure a full-price offer on the near-downtown land.

Ultimately, developer Jesse Allen, of Allen Homes, purchased the site with plans of preserving the church. The space likely will be turned into commercial or office space.

Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City now resides in a brand-new church at 2355 Oakdale Rd. in Coralville.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.