Iowa’s 17 Award-Winning Historic Preservation Projects for 2023

Iowa has been a state since December 1846, though it was a settled territory for a long time before that. As such, the state is full of old buildings—some over a hundred years old, and some with significant impacts on the communities they’re in.

In early June, The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (IDCA) and Preservation Iowa awarded 17 projects with honors for the work they’d done to preserve and rehab some of these old buildings in the state.

The awards were presented during the 2023 Preserve Iowa Summit at the Warrior Hotel and Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City.

Taubman Block, Maquoketa—Andrew and Emily McCready

The Adrian D Anderson Award went to Taubman Block in Maquoketa. The award recognizes small historic preservation projects (less than $750,000) using the State Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program.

It was built in 1920, replacing the 1890s-era original after a 1919 fire. A hundred years later, the building was empty and falling into disrepair.

The Taubman Block building before rehab. Courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

It was rescued by new owners who had the building’s back wall and foundation rebuilt. Other repairs included restoring the original recessed storefront, replicating historic windows, restoring the pressed metal ceiling and refinishing the hardwood floors.

Taubman Block storefront after rehab, courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Today, a craft brewery and a boutique are housed in the first floor, and two modern apartments make up the second floor.

Taubman Block interior after rehab, courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

Hippee Building, Des Moines—Aparium Hotel Group

Iowa’s tallest skyscraper in 1913—the 12-story Hippee Building—used to hold professional offices, five storefronts and banking space for Iowa Loan & Trust Co. But by 2017, the building was in a state of disrepair.

Now known as the Surety Hotel, the building was transformed from offices to a boutique hotel. Most of the work went to keeping the character features of the building with hotel requirements. Windows were replaced, the terra cotta was rehabilitated, plaster beams were restored and an iron-and-marble staircase was exposed, among other improvements.

The project was given the William J. Wagner award because it best matched the standards for rehabilitation.

William L Bradley House, Dubuque—Andrew and Emily McCready

The Bradley House has gone through a lot since it was built in 1872.

The Bradley House before repairs, courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

It moved from being a single-family home to being a boarding house, an antique store, and went back to being a home for one family.

Its restoration won the Judith A McClure Award, recognizing the preservation of residential properties.

The Bradley House’s front porch and original wood windows were restored. Masonry was repaired, and repair and refinishing to wood floors, plaster, and the house’s original trim were done on the inside.

The Bradley House after rehab, courtesy of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The house is in the Jackson Park Historic District, which includes some of the city’s best examples of residential architecture dating between 1850-1900.

Varsity Cinema, Des Moines—Des Moines Film

This building had a lot of uses throughout its life.

Built in 1917, it was first the home of the University Motor Company. From 1918-1919, it was Drake University’s Student Army Training Corps Mess Hall and Canteen. Then it was a bottling facility for Coca-Cola. In 1938, it became the Varsity Theater.

Des Moines Film took over the building in 2019 and started renovating and rehabilitating the space into a social, cultural and economic hub for the Drake neighborhood.

The project earned the Excellence in Archaeology and Historic Preservation Award, given for the best local- or state-level project that highlights those two qualities.

Brooklyn Opera House, Brooklyn—Brian and Laura Manatt

Once upon a time in 2014, this building was listed as one of Iowa’s most endangered buildings.

Built in 1911, the opera house has now been restored to its former glory.

Brooklyn Opera House before and after, courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The work included interior and exterior repair, as well as additions to connect it to the community center and to make the stage and auditorium compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Today the opera house hosts live events, serves as a movie theater and an events space. It has also inspired other downtown improvements, including a bank built in 1908.

Brooklyn Opera House before and after, courtesy of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The project was given the Margaret Keyes Award, which recognizes the preservation of a large historic project that costs more than $750,000.

12 others awarded

Preservation Iowa gave a dozen more awards to projects around the state.

“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.”

Those awards:

  • Commercial District Award for downtown façade revitalization in Anamosa;
  • Small Adaptive Re-Use Award for Colfax City Hall in Colfax;
  • Special Project Award for the Decorah Altfillisch Project in Decorah, which catalogued the work of Charles Altfillisch, who had a big impact on the visual character of the city;
  • Large Adaptive Re-use Award for a vacant building in Des Moines on East Second Street;
  • Large Commercial Award went to Hotel Fort Des Moines in Des Moines;
  • Institutional Award went to the Polk County Historic Courthouse in Des Moines;
  • Single-Family Residential Award went to the Charlotte E. Maish House in Des Moines;
  • Small Commercial Award went to Varsity Cinema in Des Moines;
  • Sacred Place Award went to Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Dubuque in Dubuque;
  • Mixed Use Award went to the City View on State building in Jefferson;
  • Community Effort Award went to the SS Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Petersburg;
  • Rural Preservation Award went to the Preston Times Newspaper Building in Preston.


by Nikoel Hytrek

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