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Parker Building construction

A July 1922 photograph of construction of the M.L. Parker department store in downtown Davenport.

It may not have been evident from its long darkened storefront at Brady and 2nd streets, but the towering M.L. Parker Co. building began life as a thriving department store. 

Built in 1922 at a cost of $400,000 by the Putnam Estate, the new Parker Department store mirrored the earlier-built Putnam Building on the other end of the block.

Both Parker and Putnam buildings were designed by the D.H. Burnham Co. The firm and Daniel H. Burnham were known for the famed "Chicago School" of architecture that gave the world the skyscraper at the turn of the century.

The Parker Co. was a major non-franchise company that competed with department store Petersen Harned  Von Maur, which lives on today as the Davenport-based Von Maur department store chain.

Shoppers at Parker's store could find everything from clothing to furniture, rugs, housewares and at Christmas, a toyland in the basement.

"It was a classic department store, every floor was part of the store with obviously, some storage. It was like a Macy's, Bergdoff or Marshall Field's," said Dana Waterman, the long-time trustee of the W.C. Putnam Estate Trust and the Putnam Memorial Fund. "It operated many years in that fashion."

That entire half block of downtown Davenport belonged to the Putnam Trust, established by William C. Putnam and his mother, Mary Louisa Duncan Putnam. Built after the younger Putnam's death in 1907, the buildings in the block served to benefit the Putnam Memorial Fund, the nonprofit charitable support arm for the Davenport Academy of Sciences and its successors, including the Putnam Museum.

"The operations in that half block paid for the construction of the Putnam (Museum), the former Davenport Art Museum as well as paid for development of that block," he said.

The trust was dissolved early this year after nearly 110 years when the last property owned by the estate — a parking lot on Main Street — was sold to Restoration St. Louis.

The M.L. Parker Co. was sold in 1970 to Petersen Harned Von Maur, which renovated the store and operated a budget outlet for the Von Maur department store until 1974. There have been no permanent tenants in the first floor space since then.

The upper floors of the building have housed many office tenants over the years, including in the late 1980s the firm of McGladrey & Pullen, which became RSM McGladrey. A Verizon call center was among one of the last tenants.

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