Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday October 4, 2003 

Saturday Postcard 214: Reusing Building Parts 

Reused local building parts include an entrance arch from a 1904 University of Iowa gym (left) 
now gracing a downtown building. Another is a column from 1890 Close Hall (right) now a grave marker. 
The old images reside in the Hibbs postcard collection; the current photos (center) are by Bob Hibbs.


 By Bob Hibbs

The ancient Egyptians reused building materials; so did the Greeks and Romans in Europe and the Maya in Central America. In fact, most societies have done it, as do Iowa Citians today.

Recycling of materials was practiced by Egyptian pharaohs who demolished old monuments to build the next. The Maya of southern Mexico and Central America frequently used an older temple building as the foundation for one built on top of it.

Modern examples in Iowa City abound. A recent one is the intricate stone cornice work taken from the Steindler Building, built in 1919 as Childrenís Hospital and recently demolished to make way for further expansion of the new College of Medicine complex.

The salvage was used atop an addition to the north parts of old Psychopathic Hospital which now serves other purposes. Itís readily visible looking southward from along the relocated Newton Road in the area of the main entrance to the new Newton Road university parking ramp.

A prominent downtown example easily missed is at the side entrance to the Paul-Helen Building at 209 E. Washington St. It doesnít face the street; rather, it faces onto the statuary court of the pedestrian mall across from the Jefferson Building.

Itís an arch taken from the entrance to the University of Iowaís Armory and Menís Gym built in 1904 across West Washington Street from what is now the site of University Library. Twin sturdy, stubby granite columns support a graceful limestone arch with a central keystone that once carried the 1904 construction date.

The date and a simple inscription announcing in large, separate letters one to a stone ďA-r-m-o-r-yĒ have been removed, probably ground away. Three letters were located on either side of the central date stone at the top. It represents a good reuse of trim material from another time; and, itís nice that it stayed in the local area.

A much more massive reuse is the 2001 conversion of the 1904 Iowa City Public Library into apartments. It had been sold after a new library building was completed catty-cornered across the intersection in 1981, a facility currently undergoing major expansion and reconstruction.

Adaptive reuse of older buildings is important to their survival. Ironically, purists who resist changes to accommodate modern needs are helping insure that fewer old buildings will survive at all. Buildings which donít make their own way in the world eventually will be lost; first to decay, then demolition.

The late Art Pickering saw an opportunity to make adaptive reuse of a marble column which helped support the corner turret of Close Hall built in 1890 on the northwest quadrant of Iowa Avenueís intersection with Dubuque Street. A 1940 fire took the upper floors of the building including the turret.

Pickering acquired the column and had it placed upside down at his gravesite in Oakland Cemetery. It eventually was inscribed with his necrology dates and those of this wife, Nena. Itís located almost directly east of the main entry to Oakland Cemetery along curving drives near the far edge of the cemetery across a drive from a new outdoor funeral service pavilion.

If you have a corollary tale, please call or email it to the number or address at the end of this piece.

P.S. Long-time friend Bud Louis has decided to slow down. Itís about time after probably 150 years!

A pharmacist associated with the Henry Louis drug store founded by his father in 1884, as a retirement hobby Louis has written of local memories, first of World War II for a couple of years in the Press-Citizen some years back, and during the past four years as a weekly piece published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Tuesday he announced heís calling it quits, except for an occasional piece. Warm regards, always, Bud!

Next Saturday: UI football along the Iowa River before Kinnick Stadium.

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

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