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Virtual ceremony honors 14 Iowa historic preservation projects

A barn in Ogden, a courthouse in Decorah, a tiny cemetery chapel in Avoca and a sprawling military base on the south side of Des Moines – these are just four of the 14 historic preservation projects that were honored in a virtual ceremony Thursday during the annual Preserve Iowa Summit.

“These outstanding properties give communities a unique sense of pride and place. The adaptive reuse of these iconic buildings is a creative and economic way to revitalize an entire neighborhood,” said Chris Kramer, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the State Historic Preservation Office and is co-hosting this year’s summit with the City of Dubuque.

The state office presented four awards, listed immediately below, for projects that were completed July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019. The nonprofit group Preservation Iowa presented 10 additional awards, which are also listed below.

“It’s thrilling to see owners, architects, contractors and communities work together not only to save Iowa’s historic treasures but to make them focal points to attract new investment into Iowa communities,” Preservation Iowa President Bruce Perry said. “Preservation is a unique way of using our collective history to prepare for Iowa’s bright future.”

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 company Blackbird Investments rehabilitated this abandoned National Historic Landmark and turned six decrepit historic buildings – four barracks and two stables – into a thriving, sustainable neighborhood for low-income families. Video.

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

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

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, which now shelters a new generation of dairy cattle from the elements. Video.

 Presented by Preservation Iowa

711 High Street, 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 is now a unique 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 hard work.

The Forge, Jefferson
 Best Large Commercial Project
 A former Odd Fellows meeting hall near the Jefferson square 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, all while preserving the original brick library’s character.

“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 hefty 680-page book that includes more than 1,800 images and related narratives gathered from residents. It’s a big hit: 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. Since then, they have fixed the home’s 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 to replace one that no longer worked. The project’s leaders also created a comprehensive plan to help county officials maintain the building in the future.