Architect presents art center building plans

Architect Doug Steinmetz said the current art center building has a good foundation for restoration. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

The renovated exterior of the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts building (the former First National Bank) will feature a reinforced canopy and reconstructed cornice.


By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor


Architect Doug Steinmetz, who has been working on renovation plans for the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts building, presented those plans to the McGregor City Council and other community members March 19.


Steinmetz said the plans represent the culmination of nearly a year of study and idea collection. His presentation included photos documenting some interior and exterior elements that the renovation will address, as well as floor plan and exterior renderings for the completed project.


Constructed in 1863, the building was originally home to the First National Bank, which is closely connected to one of McGregor’s most prominent citizens—Samuel Merrill. Merrill, a successful dry goods businessman and Civil War veteran, was president of the bank from 1863 to 1867. In 1867, he was elected governor of Iowa, a position he held for two terms.


The First National Bank operated in McGregor until 1933, with its upper floors home to several apartments.


Steinmetz said one term to keep in mind throughout the project is character-defining features or elements.


“Those are the bits and pieces that remain in the building or that have an association with the building,” he said, noting that the renovation will keep those details intact not only because of their aesthetic appeal but because it will also help the project receive more grant funding.


Steinmetz said the building still has a lot of character-defining features, most notably the bank safe.


“The safe becomes very important to the overall character of the building,” Steinmetz said. “No matter what happens, that should stay to keep the strong connection of the building as a bank.”


Other features include the plastered ceilings, trim, tile and wood floors and woodworking. Steinmetz said it is also important to consider historic circulation paths, remaining respectful to the original public spaces and corridors.


Even some of the elements not original to the building are important to salvage, said Steinmetz.


“Even in the remodels, there are some nice details,” he explained. “None were done without thought.”


Over the years, the building’s exterior has gone through a number of changes. The cornice atop the building was removed and the windows re-done, most noticeably near the first floor entrance. Even the entrance itself is at a different angle. The cornice, along with some of the windows, sash and the decorative stone window hoods, will be reconstructed or replicated and a more traditional, reinforced canopy added. The columns on the front will receive some embellishments.


“The building looks stocky and short, so that will be something to give it height,” Steinmetz said of the column embellishments.


Other exterior elements that will receive attention include the back of the building, as the stucco will be re-done and painted. In some areas, the roof has pulled and slid away from the wall, causing leaks, so it will be repaired. The chimney will be cleaned, vented and capped, while clay tile stones at the top of the building will also be repaired or reconstructed.


Steinmetz said the building only has a couple places that will need structural repairs, including parts of the third floor near the roof and the basement.


“The east half of the basement is a forest of props, debris and dirt,” Steinmetz said, explaining that the dirt floor will be sealed, electrical issues addressed and posts and beams installed.


The first floor, which currently houses the art center retail space and gallery, will remain largely the same. However, the floor will be reframed to sidewalk level, making the building handicap accessible to an elevator.


On the second floor, Steinmetz said the original circulation path will be maintained, along with an existing apartment. Two other loft-style apartments will also be developed.


On the third floor, the historic circulation paths will remain on each side of the building. In one half of the floor, there will be sound proof practice rooms and an assembly room with a performance space. The other half is slated to include an art classroom and another apartment that would likely be associated with the art center, so possibly a space for an artist-in-residence.


Steinmetz also addressed plans for the backyard, which includes creating an amphitheater with terraced lawn areas. There would be a slightly elevated performance platform located to the back of the building.


The rehabilitation will be attacked in phases, beginning with the exterior, followed by the second floor, third floor and then the yard. To do everything he has outlined, Steinmetz said the project will cost $3.3 million.

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