Gem uncovered in downtown rehabilitation

Those who are watching progress of the CDBG-funded façade rehabilitation project in downtown Jefferson got a surprise earlier this week when the mansard front of 110 E. State St was removed.

Beneath the 1970s “Swiss chalet” update is white glazed brick with ornate glazed terra cotta inlays over the second story windows and at the top.

Pete Franks of The Franks Design Group, architect for the project, said he wasn’t surprised by the find, as he had crawled into the concealed space behind the mansard frame and had seen parts of the old façade up close. Still, he said he was “certainly pleased to see brilliant concealed historic building fabric ‘see the light of day.'”

Although the building was most likely built in the 1880s, Franks said the glazed brick and terra cotta inlays were likely put on in the 1920s. It’s possible the building was re-faced then, or it may have been a new building on a previously built parcel.

Sculpted terra cotta with great organic detail and relief was “mildly popular” in the 1910s and 1920s, according to Franks. He said that some sculpted elements were custom-made for a building and others were standard catalog pieces. He doesn’t know which would be the case for this particular one.

“It is quite rare to have something this well preserved, little damaged, and visually stunning as this be able to re-emerge,” Franks said. “In a larger historical context, it says a lot about how ‘old buildings’ were viewed 40-50 years ago.”

The “Swiss chalet” look was put on the front in the early 1970s.

The building is now used by MacDonald Insurance and Jefferson Iowa Realty. It shares a rear stairway with 108 E. State St, which is home to Brooker & Company. If it is the original building, it pre-dates 1883 and was first used as a general merchandise store and then as a dry goods store, with a Knights of Pythias hall upstairs in 1888. The building was a clothing store from 1893 to 1915.

Going forward from 1915, the side-by-side buildings were home to Bower’s Bookstore (1915), Shoppe Café (1951), Oppenheimer’s Clothing (1955), Durlam Clothing (1960) and then Brooker & Company in 2006.

Franks said the design strategy was to expose the upper story of the east portion of the building early in the project so he and the construction contractors could see how to address most appropriately the technical issues involved.

“This building is a challenge, and was a little bit of a roll of the proverbial dice, but we are very excited to have so much architectural character come back out into view,” Franks said.

Jefferson Matters: Main Street director Peg Raney reminds those who are watching the project that the purpose is not to restore buildings to their original look, but to rehabilitate them for current uses with consideration given to historic features.

The downtown façade rehabilitation is a joint project of the city of Jefferson and Jefferson Matters: Main Street. It is funded through a $500,000 community development block grant, $250,000 in city funds, and another $250,000 coming from building owners.

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