Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday Aug 23, 2003 

Saturday Postcard 208: The Burkley Home, Ardenia




Erected first in 1855 by the son of territorial Gov. Robert Lucas, Ardenia was rebuilt in 1925 by Iowa City hotelier Albert Burkley.
The site at the south end of Summit Street now serves luxury condominiums addressed on Marcy Street.


By Bob Hibbs


A plethora of unique homes gives Iowa City a distinctive ambiance.


There’s the French country home on Park Road, stunning Victorians at every turn in older neighborhoods, Moffitt stones along Ralston Creek, an ultramodern architectural box below Lincoln Elementary, a half dozen pioneer bricks in the central community, several corner dunce-cap-topped turret houses along Dubuque Street.


A complete list would cover more space than this column is allotted.


Worst of all, one often is confined to the view from the street even though it rarely equals the visual treat and homey warmth provided by the interior. But, in communities experiencing population growth, urban sprawl and neighborhood preservation are in constant conflict. Choices must be carefully made.

A perfect example is the English country home named Ardenia created in 1925 at the south end of Summit Street in a structure originally built in 1855 by the son of territorial Gov. Robert Lucas on the 80-acre Plum Grove tract Lucas purchased in 1841 for $150. He put the tract in his wife’s name since she was two decades younger.

The house began as a simple frame structure along Wyoming Road, now renamed Kirkwood Avenue after Lucas brother-in-law and Iowa Civil War Gov. Samuel Kirkwood who built along it, too. Through the years Lucas son Edward enlarged it several times, eventually stretching it up three floors.


It was rented for a half-decade or longer to master cabinet maker Rush Clark who made the house an object of attention by building for his sons a 900-foot-long miniature railroad in the yard which featured real steam locomotives pulling cars modeled on a Barnum & Bailey Circus train. It generated widespread publicity.


But, it was hotelier Albert Burkley who purchased the house in 1925, named it Ardenia, and remade it into an English country home modeled after one he had seen in England of like name. Clark supervised the reconstruction, including addition of brick veneer extending up into towering parapet walls, yielding a box shape with handles.


A brick fence with wrought iron sections at strategic visual points added an air of seclusion, if not grace.


Burkley, a bachelor, and his unmarried sister, Anna, lived in the house from 1926 until his death in 1941. He owned and operated the Burkley Imperial Hotel across from Schaeffer Hall where Younker’s is now located in the Old Capitol Mall downtown.


Burkley also owned two apartment houses, including one which still exists west across Dubuque Street from First Methodist Church downtown. It was built as Park House hotel, later serving St. Mary’s Catholic Church as St. Agatha’s girls’ school (1861-1911), and UI as Svendi Hall dormitory. It’s now apartments again.


The name Ardenia seems to have mystified many. Even on today’s internet it appears as a gameland Kingdom of Ardenia, where the Ardenia Temple Knights do battle as if from 1970s Dungeons and Dragons. Earlier tales of the house included its supposed haunting, and a belief it had a tunnel running two miles to the Iowa River.


After Burkley’s death, it soon was converted into three apartments, then about 1980 into the Emmanuel House of Prayer and Retreat Center.  Its demolition about 1990 led to luxury condominiums addressed on Marcy Street, completing the cycle of life and death, followed by rebirth in an increasingly dense urban environment.


Federal tax rules offering special treatment of capital gains from home sales coupled with the limit of interest deduction to home mortgages have created a home-building climate never before witnessed. The rules have helped fuel the current trend in building gargantuan homes of from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet by middle income families.


Among these current dream homes are representatives of the next generation of truly unique dwellings.


Next Saturday: Metropolitan Hall host of Civil War events.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them.