Monday, February 06, 2012

The resurrection of Creston's Iowana

Our final stop on Friday in Creston was the Iowana, formerly Hotel Iowana, derelict as recently as two years ago but now restored and risen from the dead as a 24-unit senior living apartment complex.

The six-story building in downtown Creston, a city of some 7,500 people, dates from 1920 and in its heyday was the finest hotel between Ottumwa and Council Bluffs.

The hotel had been in decline for many years, but became derelict after an owner abandoned it, leaving the country (literally; he moved to China).

When glass began crashing from windows to the street, the city footed the bill for boarding windows on the street facades, leaving windows at the rear open to the elements (and pigeons). Three or four times a year, the basement filled with water and the Creston Fire Department pumped it out. The interior was vandalized.

Eventually, the city went to court to acquire the building after it was declared a public nuisance. Many, according to city officials, thought the only practical solution was to tear it down.

However, Minnesota-based MetroPlains LLC agreed to take on the building and redevelop it, funding the $5 million project largely with grants and tax credits. The project was completed slightly ahead of schedule last fall, a grand opening was held during December and as of Friday, 22 of the 24 units had been rented.

The main entrance to the building is the original lobby, a full floor plus mezzanine in height. Although the lobby had been vandalized and many of its fixtures had vanished, the developers were able to salvage the marble tile floor and recreate the rest. The original hotel counter and mailboxes survived, but the marble countertop had been shattered, the fragments now stored in the Iowana basement.

Elsewhere on the ground floor are computer, craft and exercise rooms as well as offices and a congregate meal site. The only ground-floor apartment is outfitted specifically for someone who is confined to a wheelchair. Apartments designed for the vision or hearing impaired are elsewhere in the building. The old bar, just behind the reception desk, houses resident storage units. Its original fixtures had long since disappeared.

In addition to several apartments and a view of the lobby, the mezzanine contains this original meeting/entertainment space, now fitted with a kitchen and available free but by reservation to Iowana residents who need a large gathering place. The stage is original.

The remaining five floors of the building, once filled with more than 100 hotel rooms, now contain apartments. There are 14 one-bedroom apartments in the Iowana and 10 two-bedroom apartments.

Because of its place on the National Register of Historic Places, the Iowana project was eligible for a variety of loans and credits. But because public money was involved, work had to conform with Department of the Interior guidelines for historic structures. That meant hotel room doors along the hallways had to remain in place even though most lead nowhere now so that the halls retained their original character. Support rails along both sides of the halls pass over these doors to lessen confusion.

We even got to tour the Iowana basement Friday, not a public use area. Now well-lighted, spotlessly clean and dry, there’s no indication the area once was filled with several feet of water on a regular basis.

This is the old furnace room, with an original floor level some nine feet below the main floor. Part of the strategy to control flooding was to fill this sunken area with concrete, leaving existing parts of the old heating plant in place. The arches in the distance covered the old coal store.

I wish I’d taken --- but didn’t --- a photo in the southeast corner of the basement of the colorful ceramic tile floor of the hotel’s original basement-level barber shop, now looking a little like it had been uncovered by archaeologists excavating a Roman villa who happen upon a surviving mosaic floor.

Anyhow, the restored Iowana is a grand asset now to downtown Creston and proof that historic structures that sometimes seem in a hopeless state in most instances probably aren’t.

1 comment:

maruf hosen said...
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