Friday, March 11, 2016

Back to the future: Arcades come down

 The most dramatic change in appearance for the east side of Chariton's square --- now part of the Courthouse Square Historic District --- since the mid-1970s has been in progress this week as shingled arcades that had covered sidewalks there for more than 40 years came down. I'll come back another day to look at some of the individual buildings affected, since each has its own story, but here's an overview.

The project began last week when the stretch of arcade in front of Jack's Place Pet Shop and bridging the alley immediately to the south was taken down. Demolition of the arcade in front of the Eikenberry-Crozier building at the south end of the block was completed Wednesday.

Last year, arcades in front of two buildings involved in the Facade Improvement Program --- Iowa Realty at the north end of the block and the 1894 Knights of Pythias building just north of the pet shop --- were demolished as work began on those buildings. In addition, Ray Meyer removed the shingled canopy on his Meyer Law Firm office and rebuilt the upper portion of its facade, using decorative brickwork to pay homage to the original design in places, replicating the original design elsewhere.

Canopies in front of Family Shoe and the two storefronts north of it, consistently maintained over the years, remain in place. These buildings are known, historically, as the Hickman Block and the White Front.


The demolition in progress this week had been ordered and was financed by the city for a variety of reasons. One is the ongoing effort to restore so far as possible the look the square had in its heyday, from 1900 into the 1970s, in line with Main Street Iowa and Department of the Interior guidelines. In addition, some of the arcades had been allowed to deteriorate. Although attached to the buildings behind them, the arcades covered and were anchored to publicly-owned sidewalks which in some cases are badly deteriorated and need repair.

The arcades were installed after 1973 as part of a project involving the entire square, intended to revitalize the central business district in hope of retaining business that at the time was being siphoned off primarily by Des Moines (online shopping was not yet an option).

The Chariton Business Development Committee had employed Des Moines architect Bob Brierly to assist with planning. He presented several options and the final tentative plan was brought before City Council during February of 1973. 

The centerpieces of this plan were 10-foot-wide shingled canopies all around the square, development of new parking lots east and west of the square and improvements to an existing south-side lot. Parallel parking spaces adjacent to business buildings were to be converted to landscaped green space.

At the time, Albia was winning accolades for the comprehensive restoration of its square with historic preservation as a guiding principle. The Chariton committee rejected that idea. Chariton didn't want "just another restoration," committee members were quoted in the Herald-Patriot of February 15 as saying. "We have had too many changes to try to go back and emphasize the architecture of 1900," one unidentified committee member reportedly said.

The committee also had rejected proposals that the entire paved area of the square be sold to a developer and turned into a shopping mall and that the courthouse lawn be turned into a parking lot.


Although there was widespread support in the business community for the plan initially it was never fully realized, in part because of financing challenges, in part because of inevitable differences in philosophies and opinions.

The arcades installed on the east side of the square came closest to realizing the intent of the project. Although there were gaps in front of three buildings, lighted arcades eventually covered most of the block-long stretch of sidewalk. The alley, closed to all but pedestrian traffic to and from the parking lot to the east, was bridged with an arcade roof as well.

Some shingled arcades were built on the north side and those at the west end of that block, still well maintained, remain. No arcades were built on either the west or south sides of the square. The parking lot on part of the former Yocom Hospital site, east of the square, was built and paved, but plans for a west-side lot eventually were abandoned.

Maintenance of the arcades as well as what many considered their outdated look eventually became issues as ownership of some buildings passed to absentee landlords. No comprehensive maintenance  strategy ever was developed and responsibilty for arcade maintenance fell to the owners of the buildings behind them although they didn't actually own the property the arcades covered or was anchored to.

And the current and ongoing revitalization effort on the square is explicitly focused on historic preservation, the strategy rejected by many business leaders many years ago.

Here's how the east side looked with all of its 1970s arcades in place.

1 comment:

Mary Stout Stierwalt said...

I read with interest your blog. Much of that happening may have gone on after our awning was put in place. Our awning was placed there to protect those walking on the side walk in front of our store from falling ice/snow falling from the upper story of our building down onto the sidewalk. We had an almost new canvas awning destroyed by such a happening. Berns decided then to put up a metal awning, which he did, as putting up another canvas one did not make sense. The metal awning was bent by the same type of occurrence. As most of you know, that type of metal cannot be repaired to look good. So, Berns then decided to put up a wooden awning. He received approval from the city and shortly thereafter the awning, which still stands today, was put into place. It extended in front of Family Shoe and one storefront north. Berns was caretaker for that building at that time! That was the very beginning of the awnings on the east side of the square. It came about as a need to protect those walking in front of Family Shoe. As time has gone on it has served in other ways which were not considered at the time! And, so ends the story of the Family Shoe awning which was placed there because of a need...not because of a plan.