To prominent Davenport architects Clausen, Kruse and Klein, even a humble hot dog stand deserved architectural relish.
They designed the Municipal Inn, now known as the Levee Inn. Although modest in scale, it shows the same symmetry, attention to detail and use of ornamentation that graced the firm's more monumental structures and made it a top dog among architects.
The little oasis on the Davenport riverfront is among the latest additions to the Davenport Register of Historic Properties. After several years of dormancy, it is back in business, selling such treats as barbecued pork sandwiches, ice cream and Chicago-style hot dogs, one even inspired by Quad-City Times columnist Bill Wundram.
The inn's return is significant in other ways. It allows Quad-City natives and visitors alike to feast on a piece of an architectural legacy that dates back to 1871 when German immigrant Frederick G. "Fritz" Clausen opened an architectural practice in Davenport.
When the Municipal Inn was completed in 1929, his firm was one of the Quad-Cities' finest. He and his partners had designed such familiar public buildings as Davenport (Central) High School. In Davenport's McClellan Heights, they had crowned the bluffs with Tudor castles and French chateaux for the city's elite.
They also found jobs on the city's riverfront. In 1924, Clausen, Kruse and Klein designed the W.D. Petersen Music Pavilion in LeClaire Park, commonly known as the "LeClaire Park Bandshell," a commission that might have led to the Municipal Inn nearby.
Records of the Levee Improvement Commission show that R.D. Ackley was given a 10-year lease for the building on June 14, 1927. A building permit was issued Jan. 11, 1928.
The inn retains much of its original charm, with some exceptions. It originally had four pre-cast concrete urns, one at each corner of the roof, and a large sign with the words "Municipal Inn" extending the length the roof, between the twin flag poles. The urns and sign are gone.
So are the alternating blue and orange rectangle and diamond tiles that extended the length of the building above the windows. They are obscured by a canopy that was added later.
Surviving are the ornamental bands of tile that form intersecting squares and rectangles on the exterior stucco.
The Levee Inn features the clean, angular lines of the Art Modern style, a school of design that emerged from the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
Such style reflected the flair of Carrol Klein, the design conscience of Clausen, Kruse and Klein. Named a partner in 1925, he headed the firm's interior design department until he left a dozen years later to go into the furniture business.
Other partners were Rudolph J. "Rudy" Clausen, Frederick Clausen's son and the firm's champion of community causes. Partner Walter O. "Stub" Kruse, a lanky Cornell University rowing star, won prestigious commissions as he hob-nobbed with business and political stars.
The inn was not their last commission on the riverfront. In 1931, they designed Municipal Stadium, later renamed John O'Donnell Stadium in honor of John O'Donnell, a popular sports editor for a predecessor of the Quad-City Times.
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Over the years, the inn became the benchmark for measuring flooding on the Mississippi. High-water marks of floods still adorn the building, with the one marking the 1993 flood just below the eaves.
The inn has seen various operators over the years. One of the longest tenants was Archie Weindruch, the father of the "Big Archie" hot dog, who closed it in 1990. When riverboat gambli
ng came to town a year later, the President Casino re-opened it as the Iowa Pork Stop. Shonnie Holmes operated it as the Levee Inn in 1994 and 1995. Earlier this month, the President returned as the operator of the Levee Inn.
The inn's original plans survive today at Scholtz Gowey Gere Marolf Architects & Interior Designers, Davenport and Rock Island, successors to Clausen, Kruse and Klein. John Gere, a partner who has saved and cataloged the original drawings, says that while Clausen, Kruse and Klein did big projects, no job was too small. The little ones ranged from a gate for the former Shimer College in Mount Carroll, Ill., to Sunoco service stations, he said.
The Levee Inn joins Hose Station No. 1, 117 Perry St., and the George Decker French house, 1044 Pershing Ave., on the Davenport Register of Historic Properties, bringing to 30 the number of landmarks on the list.
Hose Station No. 1 was built in 1877 for Fire King Engine 2nd Hose Co., a privately owned fire department that became the basis for the city's first paid fire department in 1882. For many years, it was the club house of Battery B, First Artillery Inc., a group of National Guard veterans who served in the 1916 Mexican border campaign. It is owned today by Blandine Inc.
The George Decker French house was built in 1910 for George Decker French, a member of the family that founded wheel manufacturer French & Hecht. It combines the craftsman style with the Prairie School of architecture made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. Owner Palmer College of Chiropractic wants to sell it or find a use other than apartments, its most recent function.
Questions, comments or ideas for this weekly local history/nostalgia column? Contact John Willard, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, Iowa 52801. Telephone (319) 383-2314.