Time Traveling….Manning’s Past Takes a Step Into the Future

Written by Paula Mohr, Architectural Historian, State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa

This post is part of a week-long series from the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa in honor of #Preservation50, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Main Street, Manning, Iowa, c. 1915 (Manning Historic Preservation Commission)

Iowans are justifiably proud of the state’s ethnic heritage. In the nineteenth-century immigrants from Scandinavia, England, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere came to Iowa populating the state’s farms and settling communities large and small.

Manning, Iowa, settled in part by German immigrants beginning in the 1880s, took an unusual approach to celebrating the town’s early history. In 1977, the city council passed an ordinance that mandated that all new construction and exterior remodeling within the downtown area be done in a “Bavarian style.” Intended to enhance the town’s tourist appeal and spur economic development, property owners began to install faux half-timber slipcovers and wood shingled canopies to the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century commercial buildings downtown. That “Old World” downtown stood until an initiative was begun about eight years ago to return this area to its historic appearance.

Manning downtown with some of the “Bavarian-style” slipcovers, c. 2010 (State Historic Preservation Office)

Manning’s preservation effort began in 2008 when the city formed its historic preservation commission. The National Park Service admitted Manning into the Certified Local Government Program the following year. In yet another positive development, Manning became a Main Street community in 2009. As one of its first projects, the historic preservation commission turned its attention to Manning’s downtown. With the help of a Certified Local Government (CLG) grant, the historic preservation commission and the local Main Street office, conducted an intensive architectural survey of the downtown buildings. Manning secured a second CLG grant that funded the preparation of a National Register nomination and the Manning Commercial Historic District was listed in 2015.

Manning downtown after the façade project completion (Manning Historic Preservation Commission)

At the same time, Manning was laying the groundwork for a project that would change the historic character of downtown for the better. The City of Manning established a downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to leverage revitalization efforts. In 2012, the town was awarded a $500,000 CDBG Downtown Revitalization Grant. This money, supplemented with local funding, was used to rehabilitate 17 facades in the downtown, removing the Bavarian-themed alterations and making necessary repairs to the historic fabric underneath.

Deb’s Corner Café prior to the façade project (Manning Historic Preservation Commission)

One building in particular was dramatically transformed through this rehabilitation and in hindsight, this building was in greater need of preservation help than originally thought. Known today as Deb’s Corner Café, this building played an important part in Manning’s commercial history. Operated as a saloon beginning c. 1891, the proprietor benefited from the Moon Law, a state law passed in 1909 that restricted the number of saloons to one for every 1,000 inhabitants. This building became known as the Horseshoe Bar and as historian Leah Rogers notes was the town’s only lawful drinking establishment until the state legislature passed a prohibition law in 1916. Later, this building was remodeled according to the 1977 ordinance with the large store windows filled in with half-timbered panels.

Fortunately, the current owner was committed to its preservation. While planning the rehabilitation, the architect discovered the building had severe structural issues. According to City Administrator Dawn Rohe, new steel had to be installed to support the front wall and the wood lintels were also replaced with steel. The “Bavarian-style” window inserts were removed and the original window openings were restored. The upper façade was rebuilt using new brick behind and historic brick on the face. This building, which Preservation Iowa listed on its Most Endangered List in 2012, today continues life as a popular restaurant.

Deb’s Corner Café after rehabilitation (Manning Historic Preservation Commission)

Manning’s downtown façade project has led to other rehabilitation downtown. Preservation architect Pete Franks, AIA who worked on the façade project has remarked, “Manning has been bit by the preservation bug.” Building owners have embarked on interior rehabilitations totaling about $400,000 worth of work. Other building owners are starting their own façade projects. Happily, Manning has few empty storefronts today and it seems that downtown is once again a place that those original German settlers would truly recognize.

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