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Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announces state’s highest awards for historic preservation

Jun 8, 2023

DES MOINES – The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs today announced that 17 projects and individuals in 10 Iowa communities received the state's highest historic preservation honors at the 2023 Preserve Iowa Summit.

IDCA and Preservation Iowa presented the awards during the 2023 Preserve Iowa Summit, held last week at the Warrior Hotel and Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City. The summit, presented annually by the department’s State Historic Preservation Office, is the premier statewide conference for historic preservation. More than 220 architects, developers, historic preservation professionals, government officials and others attended the three-day event.

“Sioux City’s revitalization centered on arts, culture and historic preservation, and has created a vibrant downtown,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “The historic Warrior Hotel and Orpheum Theatre were the perfect destination for the summit. Congratulations to our award recipients.”

During the summit awards ceremony, State Historical Society of Iowa Administrator Susan Kloewer presented four projects with a Preservation Project of Merit Award and this year’s Excellence in Archaeology and Historic Preservation Award. The list of award recipients follows:

State Historical Society of Iowa
Preservation Project of Merit Awards

Adrian D. Anderson Award
Taubman Block
110 South Main Street, Maquoketa
This award recognizes outstanding preservation of a small historic preservation project using State Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program incentives. For purposes of this award, small projects are defined as those having total qualified rehabilitation costs of $750,000 or less.

The Taubman Block is located in Maquoketa, where it was built in 1920 to replace the original 1890s Taubman building after its catastrophic collapse in 1919. By 2019, the Taubman Block had fallen into a state of disrepair; gutted and standing empty. Rescued by new owners, Andrew and Emily McCready, rehabilitation work included rebuilding the rear wall and foundation, repointing exterior masonry, restoring the original recessed storefront, and replicating historic windows. First floor interior work included restoration of the pressed metal ceiling tiles, plaster wall repair, and refinishing of the hardwood floors. Today the building contributes once again to the vitality of downtown Maquoketa. A craft brewery and a clothing boutique occupy the first floor, and two modern apartments constructed on the second floor help address the community’s shortage of quality housing. 

Judith A. McClure Award
William L. Bradley House
1268 Locust Street, Dubuque
This award recognizes outstanding preservation of a residential property using State Historic Preservation and Cultural & Entertainment District Tax Credit Program incentives. It is limited to buildings with two or fewer residential units.

Built in 1872, the Bradley House is located in the Jackson Park Historic District in Dubuque. The Jackson Park district encompasses some of Dubuque’s best examples of ca.1850-1900 residential architecture in one of the city’s earliest affluent neighborhoods. This stately house weathered the years, becoming a boarding house, an antique shop, and eventually back to single-family ownership. The current owners, Andrew and Emily McCready, completed exterior work including restoration of the front porch, extensive masonry repair and structural stabilization, restoration of original wood windows, repair of wood soffits, and new paint. Interior work included refinishing of the ornately patterned wood floors, plaster repair, repair and replacement of original trim, updated building systems, and new kitchen and baths.

Margaret Keyes Award
Brooklyn Opera House
115 Jackson Street, Brooklyn
This award recognizes outstanding preservation of a large historic preservation project using State Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program incentives. For purposes of this award, large projects are defined as those projects having total qualified rehabilitation costs of more than $750,000.

Built in 1911, this once-thriving entertainment venue in the small town of Brooklyn was listed in 2014 as one of Iowa’s most endangered historic buildings. In that year, Brian and Laura Manatt spearheaded an effort to rehabilitate the property. The rehabilitation work included extensive interior and exterior repair, sensitively designed life-safety improvements, new building systems, and the construction of a one-story addition to connect the opera house and the adjacent community center. With a sidewalk level entrance, the addition provides accessibility to the auditorium and to the stage with ADA-compliant lifts. Connection to the community center provides overflow space for a waiting area, concessions and additional restrooms. Today, the live venue/movie theater/events space retains its original splendor and has been a catalyst for new downtown business improvements, including rehabilitation of a nearby bank built in 1908.

William J. Wagner Award
Hippee Building
206 6th Avenue, Des Moines
This award recognizes the historic preservation project which best exemplifies conformance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation while using State Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program incentives.

The 12-story Hippee Building is located in downtown Des Moines. Upon completion in 1913, it was touted as Iowa’s “tallest skyscraper,” “absolutely fireproof,” and “all wrapped up in a stunning Beaux-Arts sheath.” The upper floors of the building were designed for professional offices, the ground floor included five storefronts and banking space for the Iowa Loan & Trust Co. – the building’s part owner. From grandeur to decline, the building stood sparsely occupied and in a state of partial interior demolition when the current owner, Aparium Hotel Group,  purchased it in 2017. Rehabilitation of the Hippee Building involved transforming this underused and much-altered office building into a boutique hotel. Now known as the Surety Hotel, the project focused on marrying the character-defining features of the building with the requirements of the new use, with particular care taken to rehabilitate the terra cotta cladding, replace all upper story windows with accurate reproductions of the original wood windows, restore damaged plaster beams and capitals in the elegant first floor spaces, expose the iron and marble staircase, retain hex tile corridor flooring and marble wainscoting, and modify the upper story-floor plans to hotel rooms in a way that limited impact to the corridors. The project has positively impacted the local economy through property taxes and sparking retail business on a large scale.

Excellence in Archaeology and Historic Preservation Award
Varsity Cinema
1207 25th Street, Des Moines
This award recognizes the best archaeology or preservation project at the local or state level.

The building that is home to the Varsity Cinema near Drake University in Des Moines has a diverse history. Built in 1917, it originally housed the University Motor Company. In 1918-1919, it became Drake University’s Student Army Training Corps Mess Hall and Canteen. Through the next two decades, it was a Coca-Cola bottling facility and, in 1938, became home to the Varsity Theater. In 2019, Des Moines Film took over the building and launched a multi-year rehabilitation project. Today, the Varsity Cinema again serves as a social, cultural and economic hub for Des Moines and the Drake Neighborhood. 

In addition, the nonprofit group Preservation Iowa presented 12 awards for “Preservation at its Best” projects in Anamosa, Colfax, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Jefferson, Petersburg and Preston. The annual awards honor properties and educational efforts that meet the highest standards of preservation practices.

“Each year, Preservation Iowa seeks to honor individuals, organizations, projects, and programs whose work demonstrates a commitment to excellence in historic preservation with our Preservation at Its Best Awards Program,” Preservation Iowa board president Bruce Perry said. “In doing so, we hope to inspire others to take action to preserve, protect, and promote historic resources.”

The list of Preservation Iowa’s Preservation at its Best award recipients follows:

Commercial District Award
Downtown Façade Revitalization, Anamosa
Like many small towns, Anamosa’s downtown suffered from disrepair, neglect, vacant commercial storefronts, and underutilized upper-story housing units. This project rehabilitated 10 buildings through the Downtown Revitalization Program administered by Iowa Economic Development Authority. Inappropriate renovations were removed, original cast iron columns were exposed, ornate metal cornices were repaired, and bright new color schemes were chosen from historic color palettes. Other work included significant masonry repair, uncovering original decorative metal ceilings, restoring original wood windows and beautifully detailed, etched transom glass.

Small Adaptive Re-use Award
Colfax City Hall, Colfax
In 2018, the City of Colfax purchased a historic downtown building that had been sitting vacant for a decade. The circa 1920, 7,300-square-foot brick building was built as the Everett and Baker Ford Garage and dealership. The plan was to renovate the building into a permanent City Hall, Police Department, and Colfax Main Street Office that was ADA accessible. Because of 13 years of collaboration between the City of Colfax and Colfax Main Street, historic preservation of this building was a shared goal. On the interior, the original vaulted roof trusses were cleaned, repaired and left exposed. Since the building had been gutted, all of the interior plumbing, electrical, walls and finishes for functional office space had to be installed.

Special Project Award
Decorah Altfillisch Project, Decorah
The Decorah Historic Preservation Commission set out to catalog and celebrate Charles Altfillisch’s Decorah architecture, and this ambitious volunteer effort resulted in extensive online resources: a detailed biography, a 60-property list organized within four tours, information on other Altfillisch properties, a section of Non-Altfillisch Properties that corrects some common local misattributions, and a Quick Tour map of the six best examples of Altfillisch’s work. Altfillisch had a greater impact on the present visual character of Decorah than any other single individual. As an engineer, from 1919 onwards, he conceptualized and forcefully advocated for the Upper Iowa dike system that was completed in 1951. As a city employee he designed major infrastructure systems and, in the 1930s, was the driving force behind the introduction of zoning and permitting procedures. He founded a Decorah firm that grew to four architects who designed hundreds of buildings throughout the upper Midwest.

Large Adaptive Re-use Award
217 East 2nd Street, Des Moines
Built in 1929 as the former home to Globe Hoist Company, 217 East 2nd Street in Des Moines was home to many businesses. Sitting vacant since 2018, the 20,000-square-foot building was deteriorated and needed significant work. Teams worked on an expedited timeline to restore the building’s historic windows; saw-toothed roof, brick walls, metal framing roof trusses; and exposed duct work while creating open and contemporary office space.

Large Commercial Award
Hotel Fort Des Moines, Des Moines
Responding to the westward expansion of downtown Des Moines at the dawn of Prohibition Era, the Hotel Fort Des Moines served as the city’s westernmost and state’s largest hotel when it opened in 1919. In 1962, the historic two-story lobby was infilled to provide additional meeting space on the second floor. The openings that once overlooked the lobby have been reconstructed to their original proportions. New railings, inspired by the original, were placed to meet current code. Installed as close as possible to its original location, a new, modern ceiling takes cues from the historic, ornate plaster ceiling.

Institutional Award
Polk County Historic Courthouse, Des Moines
Designed by Proudfoot and Bird, the historic Polk County Courthouse is the anchor of the Historic Court Avenue District in downtown Des Moines. Built between 1900 and 1906, the Beaux Arts Classical courthouse is unique in the state and region. The interior restoration brings the century-old building back to life by uncovering and restoring much of its original details and architecture, while also serving the functional needs of a 21st-century courthouse with modern office and support space for staff and new amenities for public users. The result is an architectural treasure restored to its original grandeur as a celebration of Polk County’s past while also creating a place of dignity, justice and safety for current and future generations.

Single-Family Residential Award
The Charlotte E. Maish House, Des Moines
This home was built in 1911 by Charlotte E. Maish. After more than 20 years in the Maish family, the home was briefly used as a fraternity and sorority house in the 1930s. It was subdivided into a duplex in the 1960s, but sat vacant without heat for about a decade before being purchased for restoration in late 2020. The narrow urban site made exterior restoration a challenge, much of which was performed with an oscillating boom lift. The Charlotte E. Maish House is an excellent example of preservation in one of Des Moines’ oldest and most diverse neighborhoods. It is a model for similar projects to be financially viable, and helps establish the Drake Neighborhood as a safe destination for large family homes close to downtown Des Moines.

Small Commercial Award
Varsity Cinema, Des Moines
The Varsity Theater closed in 2018 after 80 years of operation in Drake University’s Dogtown commercial district. At that time, it was the last operating historic theater in Des Moines. From 1917-1923, it housed University Motors. In 1923, it was converted into the main Coca-Cola bottling facility. In 1938, it was renovated to the Art Deco style Varsity Theater we know today. After a fire in 1958, many mid-century design elements were added. Removing paint from the upper facade revealed the 1938 blue-and-white glazed brick art deco design. The storefront level was restored to the mid-century appearance including the restoration of the glass doors, ticket booth window, and re-introduction of the black Carrara Glass details. The project restored the lobby to its original size by relocating bathrooms. The 1938 terrazzo flooring and 1958 mid-century spindle details and rock wall accents were restored or maintained. The back one-third of the auditorium was used to expand restrooms and concessions. The finished auditorium now has 235 new seats including accessible seating. This high-profile, community-supported project has brought attention to Des Moines’ disappearing theater history, has helped spur revitalization of the Dogtown commercial district, and serves as a social, cultural, and economic hub for the Drake Neighborhood. 

Sacred Place Award
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Dubuque, Dubuque
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Dubuque purchased its church building in the early 2000s. The Carpenter Gothic-style building was originally constructed for the German Methodist Episcopal Church in 1885. Over the years, the church building was substantially altered. In 2019, the congregation began exploring restoration of the building, and work began on the restoration in the fall of 2021. Exterior restoration was completed on the masonry, chimney, wood shingles on the roof and siding, and wood windows. Inside, the main floor had settled and was severely compromised and a new steel support structure was installed. In the east wing, a modern drop ceiling was removed to expose the original hand-painted vaulted ceiling, which was conserved for future restoration. An accessible lift and unisex restroom were installed on the main floor. This project is highly visible in the Jackson Park neighborhood, one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Dubuque. The complete restoration of this building signals to the community that investment into the neighborhood is important.

Mixed Use Award
City View on State, Jefferson
Historically known as the Head Brothers Bank Block, the City View on State building dates back to 1871, and is the oldest building in downtown Jefferson. A community developer partnered with a business owner to purchase the building. The business owner agreed to finish build-out of the remaining commercial space and the developer coordinated the subsequent rehabilitation of the second story. City View on State in Jefferson is the culmination of years of effort to preserve a corner building of Jefferson’s historic downtown square. This historic rehabilitation is an example for other rural communities to show the potential economic impact that comes from preserving our state’s rural historic buildings.

Community Effort Award
SS Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Petersburg
SS Peter & Paul Catholic Church was built in 1905 in the unincorporated village of Petersburg. The parish was established in the 1860s by the German-speaking population of rural Delaware and Dubuque Counties. The Gothic Revival church has a multitude of pointed arch window openings, many with stained-glass windows from Germany. The ceilings and walls are decorated with murals. By 2017, the parish decided that it was time for an extensive restoration of the church due to basement flooding, excessive humidity, and antiquated HVAC and electrical systems. On the main floor, plaster walls were repaired and repainted. A nationally renowned historic decorative paint conservator was retained to investigate the interior painting scheme. He uncovered the original design of stencils and other decorative paintings. With that evidence, some historic stencils and paintings were replicated to match the original interior design, and an art conservator was hired to conserve the murals. The project is an important example of how a small congregation in a rural community was able to plan a first-class restoration.

Rural Preservation Award
Preston Times Newspaper Building, Preston
Built in the early 1900s, the Preston Times Building is a vital part of the historic fabric of downtown Preston. Past uses included a saloon, pool hall and a laundry mat before it was used as a newspaper office. The brick building had to be vacated in 2020 due to sagging floors. Shortly after the main business items and artifacts were removed, the floor collapsed into the basement. The basement was cleared, the floors were rebuilt, the tin ceiling was restored, and the interior layout was designed based on historic photos and research. This project is motivating others to see the importance of historic preservation in a small rural community.

The 2023 Preserve Iowa Summit was coordinated by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs’ State Historic Preservation Office, the City of Sioux City and the Sioux City Historic Preservation Commission. It is funded in part by the National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

More information about the awards is available at

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its divisions – the State Historical Society of Iowa, including the State Historic Preservation Office; the Iowa Arts Council; the Iowa Humanities Council; and Produce Iowa-State Office of Film & Media – empower Iowans to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting to the people, places and points of pride that define our state.