Iowa City Historic Preservation Plan
Consultants Svendsen Tyler, Inc. Davenport, Iowa Clarion Associates, Inc. Chicago, Illinois
The Iowa City Historic Preservation Plan was funded in part from the Historic Resource Development Program administered by the Historic Preservation Bureau of the State Historical Society of Iowa. This program is part of Iowa's Resource Enhancement and protection (REAP) program. 

Photographs and maps reproduced in this report are courtesy of the State Historical Society Library in Iowa City. 

  Introduction " Why should a community like Iowa City care about historic preservation?    What is the purpose of having a historic preservation plan"

The simple answer is that conserving old buildings and neighborhoods makes a good community better. Iowa City is blessed with a collection of fine, well-maintained older neighborhoods and individual landmarks which are recognized and appreciated by the entire community. By adopting a historic preservation plan, policy-makers acknowledge this fact and provide direction for future leaders faced with making difficult and sometimes controversial decisions about redevelopment, protective measures for threatened buildings, potential to enhance the quality of life and economic well-being of current and future residents.

The central tenet of the plan is the need for a deliberate, thoughtful process for deciding how to carry out historic preservation for the public good. The plan recognizes that historic preservation spawns controversies. It challenges the community to think about tangible as well as intangible issues during these debates. The plan reminds all Iowa Citizens that preservation is, by its nature, a series of compromises - changing the use of an old building in order to preserve its economic viability, conserving selected older neighborhoods while redeveloping others, or retaining an irreplaceable landmark but accommodating contemporary needs in a compatibly designed addition. The plan also recognizes that not every old building is a candidate for preservation.

The recommendations is this historic preservation plan grew out of a ten-month process which involved dozens of interviews and ten meetings with residents of older neighborhoods, business owners, developers, City staff and officials. Both preservation proponents and critics participated. Implementation of the plan will require the involvement of more than City leaders. State officials, owners of historic properties, preservation interest groups, neighborhood activists, educators, and business and civic leaders must participate. A condensation of the 100-page plan follows.


Iowa legislators in the 1850s probably considered their decision to establish the new state's university in the former state capital politically expedient. Recycling the former capitol building for education purposes made common sense and the concept of historic preservation had not even been invented. Ninety years later when Iowa artist Crant Wood set out to restore his residence at 1142 E. Court Street, no one would have described his as a historic preservationist. Nevertheless, these actions - one public and one private - share the central elements of the modern historic preservation movement - reuse, restore, rehabilitate, and recycle. Old Capitol was later used for various purposes while the former Oakes family residence, lovingly restored by Wood, continues as a single family home.

Modern historic preservation activities date to the late 1960s when civic betterment movement took root in Iowa City. Private citizens inspired by the writing and lectures of several University architectural historians sought to identify and promote the value of historic neighborhoods and individual landmarks. By the early 1970s, the State's new agency responsible of administering federal historic preservation laws located in Iowa City. The work of local preservation leaders took on statewide importance a short time later, when preservationists organized to preserve the historic and architecturally significant residences of South Summit Street. In so doing, the area was listed as Iowa's first historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Heightened public awareness contributed to the neighbors' success in preventing a significant landmark in the area from being replaced by an apartment building.
the Park House ( 130. Jefferson ) was a popular hotel for legislators until the capital moved in 1857. The hotel closed in 1861 and three years later, St. Agatha's  Seminary opened its doors. In 1909 it became Svendi Hall, a dormitory for female university students, and later, the Burkley Apartment
By mid-decade, the debate over the value of older neighborhoods and strategies to recycle deteriorated building stock was underway in other parts of the city. The pros and cons of saving Old Brick Presbyterian Church were discussed and eventually litigated while a statewide campaign was launched to restore Old Capitol. Downtown urban renewal plans were revised in order to retain the College Block Building for redevelopment rather than replacement, and the old Post Office became the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center. By the end of the decade, city planners were studying strategies for conserving the North Side and county officials had made the decision to rehabilitate the Johnson County Courthouse in addition to building a new administration building.

The 1980s saw historic preservation become municipal policy. Surveys of historic and architecturally significant buildings were undertaken by City staff, and in 1982, the City's first historic preservation ordinance was adopted. The ordinance offered protection for designated historic districts by requiring the newly-established Historic Preservation Commission to approve designs for exterior improvements compatible with a building's historic appearance. Within 18 months of passage, the South Summit Street and Woodlawn historic districts were in place. Efforts to designate a residential and commercial historic district in the North Side languished for more than four years and eventually failed. Without benefit of previous experience, some owners questioned what designation might mean to property values or their ability to exercise their private property rights.

By the end of the decade, the positive effect of preservation was felt in the local economy. Federal tax laws encouraged completion of $3.2 million of commercial rehabilitation in the downtown and at its fringe. Older residential neighborhoods experienced a resurgence of popularity for owner occupants. Historic house tours, self-help workshops, school programs, and preservation. By the end of 1991, the City's Historic Preservation Commission had cooperated with more than 100 property owners in the design review process by providing free technical assistance and guidance.

The development of a historic preservation plan to guide future efforts of the community was begun in early 1991. Svendsen Tyler, Inc. of Davenport, Iowa was retained as a consultant for the project, with Clarion Associates, Inc. of Chicago providing legal expertise. Five strategic planning sessions on neighborhoods, the downtown, economic incentives, and governmental regulations were held in late 1991 and early 1992; a neighborhood survey was conducted during the summer of 1991; and personal interview were conducted throughout the process.
Mission Statement

The mission statement developed for Iowa City's Historic Preservation Plan states the following:

Work Plan Goals and Objectives

Ten goals identify major elements for the historic preservation plan. The order of listing is not meant to indicate a hierarchy of priorities. Instead, it suggests a logical sequencing of activities to accomplish the preservation mission. The first nine goals outline citywide efforts to conduct systematic identification, protection and appropriate preservation of Iowa City's historic resources. The last goal offers a series of objectives for responsible historic preservation planning in twelve separate neighborhoods. These objectives are included in a separate document on Neighborhood Strategies.

Many of the objectives will require action on the part of City Council, the Historic Preservation Commission and/or the City staff. Other tasks will be the responsibility of organizations and instructions such as the Friends of Historic Preservation and the University of Iowa. By adopting this plan, the City of Iowa City is not assuming the responsibility of enacting each objective but is endorsing the policies and concepts included.
View of the northside of the 200 Block of East Washington Street, 1934
Goal 1:             Identify historic resources significant to Iowa City's past.

Historic resources include buildings, structures, sites, districts, and objects which reflect the city's cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history. Individual historic resources or districts are generally a minimum of fifty years old. Identification includes a survey and inventory process which requires substantial research and careful evaluation in order to determine which resources are of historic, architectural or archeological significance. Every building has a history but not every building is historic. The amount of visual integrity retained by historic resources is an important consideration. Identification efforts relate to both a local process of designation of historic resources through the provisions of the Historic Preservation Ordinance and the national process of listing resources in the National Register of Historic Places carried out in coordination with Iowa's Historic Preservation Bureau.

Survey and inventory efforts were conducted by professional historians and architectural historians in Iowa City beginning in the late 1970a and continued through the early 1980s and again in 1990. Hundreds of buildings in order sections of Iowa City were photographed and researched. Historic contexts have been developed as a part of the current planning process to provide a framework for future National Register nominations and local ordinance designations. Current historic contexts for Iowa City include "The Territory and Early Statehood Era, 1840 - 1857", "The Railroad Era, 1856 -1898", " The Town and Gown Era, 1899 -1940", "The Development of the University of Iowa, 1855 - 1940", and "Iowa City Neighborhoods: Town and Country, 1840 - 1940". Suggested topics for future contexts include "Architects and Builders, 1840 - 1940", "Ecclesiastical Architecture, 1850 -1920", "Native Stone Buildings and Structures, 1840 - 1940", with Moffit Buildings as a sub-theme or separate context, "Fraternity and Sorority Houses, c. 1880 -1940", and "Iowa City's Literary Tradition, c. 1900 -c. 1970" Earlier survey data must be updated, expanded and properly evaluated in order to determine which properties and neighborhoods are so significant that they require preservation and which buildings or neighborhoods are so significant that they require preservation and which buildings or neighborhoods are without visual integrity or lack historic or architectural significance so as not warrant protection on historic preservation grounds. New Survey efforts should be undertaken for portions of the city not previously studied. Funding sources for these efforts in the future include grants from the Iowa Historic Preservation Bureau.
Objective 1: Research & evaluate historic resources; HPC & IC Staff

Objective 2: Set designation priorities for historic districts & landmarks for an orderly listing process; designate the most important or threatened resources; HPC & City Staff

Objective 3: Nominate properties to the National Register of Historic Places; HPC & Iowa Historic Preservation Bureau (IHPB)

Objective 4:  Instances where archeological resources may be involved, coordinate the identification and evaluation process with the Office of the State Archeologist (OSA) with headquarters in Iowa City; HPC City staff  and OSA.

Objective 5: Improve organization of City historic preservation survey files and inventory materials; maintain copies of  National Register nominations for all local listings; HPC, City staff and Iowa City Public Library.

Goal 2:            Enhance the municipal policy of protection of historic resources, and implement this policy through effective and efficient legislation and regulatory measures.

Objective 1: Incorporate HP Plan into revised Comprehensive Plan; P&Z & City Council

Objective 2: Amend HP Ordinance to include landmark designation, conservation district designation, economic hardship provision, special merit exception, demolition powers and penalties; City Staff, HPC & City Council

Objective 3: Review & revise zoning for new historic & conservation districts; adopt zoning provisions to encourage reuse; City Staff, HPC, P&Z and City Council

Objective 4: Revise Building Code requirements for historic districts & grant City staff selected design review authority to ensure speedy review; City Staff, HPC, and City Council

Objective 5: Improve capacity and effectiveness of HPC in the areas of planning, communication, operations, training and staffing ( as funds are available ); HPC and City staff.

Goal 3:            Establish economic incentives to encourage the preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods.

The development of economic incentives by private sources and unites of government has proven to be an effective strategy for preserving historic resources. Incentives developed by units of government during the past several decades across the country include property tax relief in the form of credits and assessment abatements and special tax assessments in historic areas to fund neighborhood improvements. Private lenders independently, or in cooperation with not-for-profit organizations and units of government, have provided financing pools and revolving loan funds to encourage historic rehabilitation. Although some financing tools have become increasingly sophisticated, all incentives have the same general purpose: to provide a source of money for the acquisition or rehabilitation projects involving historic resources that might not otherwise be successfully completed.

Objective 1: Establish a property tax abatement program for historic buildings; City staff, HPC, City Council, Johnson County Board of Supervisors, and Johnson County Historic Preservation Commission
Objective 2: Promote use of Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement Districts (SSMIDs) for established historic districts; City Neighborhood Services staff and neighborhood associations

Objective 3: Establish a private loan pool for rehabilitating historic buildings; HPC, Private lenders, Friends of Historic Preservation ( Friends ), Neighborhood organizations and City staff

Objective 4: Establish a historic loan program using CDBG funds; City CDBG staff & HPC

Objective 5: Develop a policy and guidelines for special incentive plans offered by the City for endangered historic resources; City Staff, HPC and City Council

Goal 4:            Provide the technical assistance necessary to preserve and improve historic properties. .

Technical assistance refers to information about appropriate methods for rehabilitation, reconstruction, restoration, stabilization and documentation of historic resources ( for local designation or nomination to the National Register of Historic Places ) and the mechanisms for delivering that information. Good design, proper methods and affordability are objectives for technical assistance provided through individual counseling, training programs and publication.

Objective 1: Offer technical assistance to historic rehabilitation projects through design review process, and if funding is available, establish a new staff position with this responsibility; HPC and City staff.

Objective 2: Formulate and implement a downtown design program and  support neighborhood based programs; continue home improvement workshops; Downtown organizations, neighborhood associations, Friends, HPC & City staff.

Objective 3: Provide technical assistance to owners who wish to nominate properties to the National Register; HPC, Friends, IHPB, Iowa City Public Library and State Historical Society Library

Goal 5:            Strengthen historic preservation education programs and develop private support and commitment for preservation undertakings.

An informed public is necessary to support public policies designed to encourage historic preservation and community investment in historic resources and neighborhoods. Toward this end, awareness efforts should be aimed at heightening the general public's consciousness of preservation concepts and issues as applied to local historic resources and community goals. Awareness and education campaigns should be developed using the media, special publications, and other communication tools.
The Rundell Line streetcar headed east along College Street just east of the depot shared by the street railway and the CRANDIC interurban at Clinton and College. ( c. 1920 )
Private leadership and support for preservation policies and projects can be developed through not-for-profit preservation groups, neighborhood organizations and groups representing downtown interests. A well-rounded community preservation effort requires the private sector to take responsibility through individual initiatives as well as those of organizations.

Objective 1: Maintain marketing approach for all education and promotion products and activities; HPC and Friends

Objective 2: Create volunteer opportunities & special events; Friends, neighborhood associations and Johnson County Historical Society

Objective 3: Establish and maintain preservation as an element in community improvement efforts; HPC, Friends, neighborhood associations, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Association, Convention & Visitors Bureau, University, Project: GREEN, Iowa City School District, etc.

Objective 4: Broaden and strengthen not-for-profit preservation group; Friends & neighborhood associations

Goal 6:            Maintain and strengthen preservation partnerships between municipal government, state government, and federal agencies.

Government leadership at the local, state and federal levels has been instrumental in developing regulatory measures and incentives to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of historic resources. Examples of government partnerships include work carried out under the Certified Local Government program and the Section 106 process.

Objective 1: Maintain Iowa City's status as a Certified Local Government ( CLG ) and coordinate efforts with the Johnson County CLG; HPC, City staff, & JCCLG

Objective 2; Continue & improve HPC's role in the Section 106 review for projects involving federal funding & historic resources; HPC, HPB, CDBG staff, HPC staff

Objective 3: Monitor state and federal legislation involving historic preservation; HPC & City staff

Goal 7:           Establish and implement historic preservation objectives for the University of Iowa campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

The University of Iowa's history parallels the development of the community and since the middle of the nineteenth century, has been the largest single factor to shape the community's economy, social fabric, and physical development. Decisions made by the University in terms of individual cities and local government. Historic preservation discussions related to the University campus and its surrounding neighborhoods provide an opportunity for useful dialogue between Iowa City residents and University officials. The need for such discussions is likely to continue in the future.
East Campus, University of Iowa, from the west bank of the Iowa River, 1920s.

 Objective 1: Open Communication lines among the Iowa State Historical Society's Historic Preservation Bureau, the University & the HPC

Objective 2: Complete an inventory of University related historic resources; HPB, University administration, & HPC

Objective 3: Identify University physical plant needs which could be met by acquisition & reuse of historic resources; Board of Regents & University administration

Objective 4; Establish a heritage promotion program for University related historic resources; University administration, Iowa City / Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Objective 5: Establish a fraternity and sorority house stewardship program; University, fraternity & sorority leadership, HPC & neighborhood associations

Objective 6: Establish a forum for discussing neighborhood / University issues; neighborhood associations, University administration, City staff

Goal 8:            Establish and support heritage tourism efforts appropriate to Iowa City's historic resources and community needs.

The development of a heritage tourism initiative provides an opportunity for integrating historic preservation into two community goals - tourism and economic development. Successful heritage tourism requires the development of authentic and quality heritage offering for local residents and visitors. Heritage tourism planning should recognize local priorities and capability as well as the need for creative and accurate education and interpretation. Iowa City's heritage tourism efforts should be developed in tandem with other visitor interests and needs. Preservation and protection of historic attractions, including historic districts, should remain a priority.

Objective 1: Develop a heritage tourism plan; Iowa City / Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau ( IC / CCVB ), Friends, Johnson Co. Historical Society, University, HPC, etc.

Objective 2: Develop and promote heritage tourism packages; IC / CCVB, Friends, Johnson County Historical Society, University, HPC, etc.

Objective 3: Develop a heritage tour guide program; IC/CCVB

Objective 4: Expand heritage tourism potential for Old Capitol and Plum Grove; historic site managers, IC / CCVB

Objective 5: Develop heritage festival (s); Friends, neighborhood associations, Downtown Association, IC/ CCVB, HPC, etc.

Goal 9:           Conduct regular review and evaluation of historic preservation initiatives by the historic preservation community.

The process of evaluation involves regular review and modification of preservation efforts and is carried out by organizations and individuals involved with or affected by local historic preservation efforts. Regular evaluation allows for monitoring of the historic preservation plan itself and making adjustments for incorporating revised priorities and new elements. It has the effect of making the plan into an ongoing process.

Objective: Complete annual review and set work plan objectives; HPC, City staff, Friends, neighborhood associations, etc.

Goal 10:           Adopt strategies to conserve historic neighborhoods which reflect their organic development, historical roles and traditions, modern needs, and economic health and stability

One of Iowa City's strengths through the years has been the variety and health of its residential and commercial neighborhoods. Strategies are important which value these neighborhood differences and recognize that what may be good for one neighborhood may not be wholly appropriate for another. The first nine goals in this strategic plan outlined citywide objectives and mechanisms for identification, protection and preservation while this last goal suggests specific strategies and applications based on neighborhood location. These objectives are included in a separate document titled Neighborhood Strategies.

Neighborhoods which have been identified based on such factors as topography, landscaping features, ethnic origin, transportation routes, and other historical trends include the following: The Downtown, the Dubuque Street Corridor, the North Side, Goosetown, Woodlawn, College Hill, South Summit Street, the Longfellow neighborhood, Kirkwood Avenue, the South Side, The West Side / Melrose Avenue area, and Manville Neights. The list of neighborhoods will continue to grow as areas of the city take on a heritage of their own and are discovered by their residents. Neither is the list of strategies exhaustive. It will be subject to modification and refinement as more detailed plans evolve at the neighborhood level by residents, property owners, City staff, commissioners and elected officials.


Completion of the Iowa City Historic Preservation Plan marks another chapter in the story of local efforts to improve the community. Participation in the planning process by local residents is evidence of the value placed on stable older neighborhoods, an attractive commercial district, and recycled landmarks. The roles outlined for government, private preservation organizations, and individual property owners will be expanded and refined in the years to come.

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