Wilson Middle School in Cedar Rapids listed among Iowa’s Most Endangered buildings
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Preservation Iowa has listed Wilson Middle School on its Most Endangered Properties of 2023.
Save CR Heritage nominated Wilson due to the push to demolish this 1920s, structurally sound building and replace it with a new school as part of a $312 million bond referendum. We are grateful to the residents who voiced their concerns to the Cedar Rapids School Board.
While the school district indicated an architectural firm will now examine the possibility of renovating Wilson and building an addition in lieu of demolition, residents are still encouraged to speak at School Board meetings and to email school board members at: email@example.com
The bond referendum wording is not yet finalized, Iowa recently passed a measure that could potentially lead to a drop in students attending public schools, and with a new superintendent, Save CR Heritage encourages a reexamination of the entire Facilities Master Plan, including the elementary plan that calls for further demolitions.
Learn more about Wilson and other buildings, from Preservation Iowa:
Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Property program was started in 1995 and was implemented to educate Iowans about the special buildings and historic sites that are slowly and gradually slipping away from us. Over the past 25 years, Preservation Iowa has designated over 200 archaeological sites, commercial buildings, homes, churches, landscapes and a variety of other properties in 69 Iowa counties.
The Most Endangered Properties program helps to bring to the public’s attention the risks to a designated historic property and introduces owners of an endangered property to preservation advocacy and resources that can help preserve their historic property. Additionally, there have been interest groups who have been able to use the designation as a mechanism to leverage other financial resources to restore and preserve properties. For more information about the Most Endangered Program, check out Preservation Iowa’s website at www.preservationiowa.org
#1 William Fletcher King Memorial Chapel, Mount Vernon, Linn County
King Chapel on the campus of Cornell College has dominated the skyline of Mt. Vernon since its completion in 1882.
Designed in the Victorian Gothic style by Chicago architect Cass Chapman, the building is constructed of yellow dolomite limestone quarried in nearby Stone City. It is marked by three towers the largest of which rises 130 feet and features the only remaining working Model 17 tower clock made by the Seth Thomas Clock Company. Windows throughout the building are filled with stenciled glass including the transom over the entry.
After its completion, King Chapel, re-named in 1940 in honor of the Cornell president who oversaw its construction, quickly became a cultural center not only for Cornell but also for the surrounding community. In addition to church services and college events, it has been host to public concerts, performances, and lectures featuring speakers like Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Lloyd Wright, and Carl Sandburg.
The chapel has undergone many renovations over the years to meet the changing needs of the campus community, but the exterior has remained largely unchanged. The chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is a key contributing structure to the Cornell College Historic District listed on the National Register in 1980.
From the beginning, Cornell College has been strongly committed to the maintenance and preservation of this focal point of campus and community life. Most recently the college completed a comprehensive tower reconstruction project in 2018, including the restoration of the original Seth Thomas clock. Also, when an elevator was added to the exterior in 2015 to make the building more accessible, local limestone was used in the construction. Cornell was forced to close the chapel, however, after high winds during the 2020 derecho that tore through Eastern Iowa caused considerable damage to the structure. The roof took on a large portion of the damage. The four main support trusses were fractured by the force and sustained winds of the derecho. The west wall, that took the brunt of the storm, was pushed out an estimated 8+ inches. Three structural engineering firms and two architectural firms have investigated the building and reviewed its original architectural plans. Preservation specialists are actively investigating the damage and working to map out a plan for repairs to begin by summer.
The financial resources needed to address and repair the identified issues will be steep. In addition to FEMA and insurance, Cornell is making a concerted effort to work with alumni, local foundations, the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office to leverage available opportunities so repairs can be made.
#2 Wilson Middle School, Cedar Rapids, Linn County
Constructed in 1924, Wilson Middle School, in southwest Cedar Rapids, was the last of four iconic junior high schools built in the city during the 1920s and was the pride of the neighborhood.
It was designed in the Gothic Revival style featuring entranceways with arched doorways and decorative elements like gargoyle and spire carvings. All four junior high schools were doubled in size in 1934-35 so they could serve as six-year high schools which they did from 1935-1957. Like other schools constructed at the time these schools were built with thick walls and durable materials designed to last for generations.
While the Wilson school building remains structurally sound, the Cedar Rapids School District’s current Master Facilities Plan favors demolishing Wilson and replacing it with a new school building. Voters will decide in September 2023 whether or not to approve a bond issue which could include demolishing the school. While some community leaders are garnering support for the bond issue and the school building’s subsequent demolition, Save CR Heritage is working to build a coalition that would educate voters about the plan and the educational, environmental and fiscal advantages of renovating and adding to the existing school.
#3 Iowa Canning Company Seed House, Vinton, Benton County
Built c. 1927, the Seed House is the last surviving structure associated with the Iowa Canning Company. Processing mostly sweet corn, it was one of Iowa’s earliest and largest canning operations operating from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.
The company was an important economic contributor to the city of Vinton and surrounding area during this time. At its peak, the operation employed 250 people and produced more than 3 million cans annually. To recognize its value, the community established an annual sweet corn festival in 1929 which was attended by thousands each year. The Seed House was constructed to handle the drying, conditioning, processing, and storing of seeds for the company’s contract farmers and company-owned farming operations. Evidence of this use remains in the ten pairs of windows on the north and south sides of the building, aerator vents along the roof edge, and rows of nails in the ceiling with shadow marks of circular wire hooks which may have hung suspended strings of multiple corn drying hangers.
The structure retains the original brick and poured concrete foundation as well as many of the original wood frame window sashes and interior wood and concrete floors. The structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. In 2008 all of the remaining canning company buildings were inundated with flood water from the nearby Cedar River and subsequently all but the Seed House were demolished. The Seed House sustained additional damage from high winds during a derecho in 2011. Both events have considerably threatened the integrity of the structure.
A year ago, the current owners were cited by the City of Vinton for numerous nuisance issues related to the building. In response, the owners have worked over the past year to cover the unprotected windows, close ground-level openings, and remove failed roofing and beams. Despite this effort, the City condemned the property in November 2022 and it is currently in danger of being demolished.
#4 Hastie Farmhouse, Carlisle, Warren County
This farmhouse sits on 18 acres of land high on a ridge between the North and Middle Rivers and has a magnificent view of the Middle River Valley below.
While much of the house’s early history is unknown, it was likely built around 1863. The Andrew Hastie Family are the first identified owners of the house and they are living in it by 1887. Andrew Hastie immigrated to Warren County from Scotland around 1850 and was one of the original founders of the nearby Scotch Ridge United Presbyterian Church organized in 1853. Today, the house continues to be maintained as a residence and is in good condition apart from some deferred maintenance. Despite several remodels over the years including the addition of a north portico, much of its historic character remains.
The area where the farmhouse is located was recently rezoned so that a large section of agricultural land could be divided and a subdivision built. The current owners of the farmhouse plan to build themselves a home in the new subdivision and place the farmhouse and the 18 acres surrounding it up for sale. With the area rezoned, neighbors are concerned the farmhouse land would also be divided and the house demolished.
#5 George House, North Liberty, Johnson County
This spacious former residence of the Jacob and Martha George family was built in 1892.
The Queen Anne style home is one of the few houses built in the 1800s remaining in North Liberty and retains many original features including a wraparound porch and turret on the exterior as well as wood flooring, and a staircase, pocket doors and other millwork on the interior.
Jacob George was a prominent and prosperous farmer who owned over 450 acres of farmland near North Liberty at the time the house was built. He also operated a successful saw, feed, and sorghum mill and was a vice-president of the North Liberty Savings Bank. Over time, this home has become surrounded by the growing city of North Liberty and is currently in danger of being demolished. The 1 1⁄2 acres of land on which it is located has been rezoned as a multi-unit residence district and the current owner plans to demolish the home before building on the site unless someone expresses an interest in moving the historic structure.
#6 207 Lafayette St., Waterloo, Black Hawk County
Built in 1913, this once grand Four Square plan house has fallen into serious disrepair. Distinctive features of its Colonial Revival style, however, such as the round classical columns and the pedimented gable on the porch remain.
The house is located near the Cedar River in what was a historically redlined area, a section designated by lenders as high risk for investment. Consequently, the neighborhood residents who were predominately African-Americans and other minorities were unable to get loans or even insure their properties.
The house is an example of the many historic homes in Waterloo that have been neglected over the years and in serious condition because of a lack of regular maintenance. The City of Waterloo purchased this home in 2022 after it had been vacant for 5 years and the owner was unwilling to fix the many issues with the house. The dwelling currently remains vacant and has not had water service since 2016. The front door and some of the windows have been boarded up. Extensive roof damage and unsealed exterior openings have caused significant interior damage as well.
The City has attempted to sell the property to a group to rehabilitate the site. However, there has not been any interest up to this point. The City’s planning department will soon determine the next steps for the structure which could likely be demolition if a developer cannot be found.