Historic building preserves more than 156 years of Iowa City


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Built just 17 years after Iowa City became incorporated, the Bowery Street Grocery building may be small, but the amount of history contained within is quite large.

“So many people come into the store and ask about its history,” said Julia Parisi, the owner of Zaza’s Pastas, whose business resides in the building. “People will come into the store tell me they grew up around here and how there used to be so many little stores just like this.”

Just last year, the Bowery Grocery, 518 Bowery St., was selected by the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a local landmark for Iowa City.

Preservation Iowa, a statewide organization that supports preservation of historic structures, also awarded the grocery one of nine “Preservation at Its Best Award” in the commercial category during its annual summit in June.

Constructed in approximately 1856, when Iowa City had slightly more than 2,500 residents, the building spent its first eight decades as a grocery store.

“The building is a representative survivor of a small retail store with a false front once common in Iowa’s towns and cities,” Friends of Historic Preservation board member Joshua Moe said.

The building was chosen for the award, he said, “because it is an example of preservation that is not fancy but rather representative of how everyday Iowans lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

According to the building’s National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, the building was purchased by William Havard in 1895, and its first historically significant date was in 1897, when the building can be found on a city registry as “Groceries and Meat Market.”

“Havard owned the building and rented out the building for 23 years,” Iowa City Historic Preservation Specialist Jessica Bristow said. “He then took over himself and operated the grocery store until 1921.”

From this point on, the building passed through eight different owners and entered its final stage of being a grocery store as the New Pioneer Co-Op’s first home from 1971-1975.

After New Pioneer left, but before the building was bought by its current owners, the building operated in many different forms, Moe said, and at one point, it may have been converted illegally into student apartments.

In 2013, the current owners of the building began to restore it to meet current housing standards.

This included new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, making the downstairs bathroom ADA accessible, and putting in new windows.

Mark Hartstack, the project manager and current property manager of the Bowery Grocery, worked on the restoration project.

“When we were putting in the new pipes, it was a point in time when we didn’t have water and didn’t have heat,” he said. “So I joked to the electrician that we could just build an outhouse, and it we would be like we were living in 1850.”

Harstack said the floor in the main building is mostly original, with the exception of a few renovations over the course of 100-plus years.

The grocery shelves are also from the 1870s, and one original transom window has been moved above to the back of the store.

“We really felt blessed to restore a historic building here in Iowa City,” Harstack said. “This little bit of prairie Americana; this was the place you came from the farm, the stockyard across the street, mom would come across to the grocery, and this is where people would come and meet and talk about life in the city.”

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