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John Hiller building, historic Davenport apartments, await restoration

John Hiller building, historic Davenport apartments, await restoration

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Maybe this time, it'll get done.

Over the past 10 years, several would-be developers have looked at the vacant stone-fronted building near the foot of Davenport Gaines Street and considered trying to turn it back into 10 new apartments.

None have done it, but Jamey Licandro, of Davenport, has gotten farther than any of them so far.

Licandro bought the historic building — portions built before the Civil War — in June and has hired Marion Meginnis, 3rd Ward alderman and self-employed consultant, to write a request for an emergency Historic Resource Development Program grant of $15,000 from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The money would be used for the building's most immediate need: stabilization of the south wall that is bowing, cracked and losing stones.

Licandro also expects to install steel cabling to tie the walls to the floor joists.

Despite these needs, Meginnis said the building is "very, very solid" and "not in danger of collapse."

She added that she hopes to hear back on the grant in about a month. 

But either way, the project is going to get done, Licandro said on Thursday during a tour of the building at 314 Gaines St. Even if the emergency grant doesn't come through, "that doesn't kill the plan," he said.

"We'll end up saving it anyway."

The 2½-story structure is known as the John Hiller building because it was built — the first section of it, at least — in 1852 by German immigrant Hiller, as his personal residence.

In 1856, Hiller expanded it to a multi-unit dwelling and then again in 1859, "underscoring the rapid population growth of the city by the thousands during the 1850s," Meginnis said.

"In 1852, there were 1,800 people living in Davenport," Meginnis said. "By 1860, there were 11,000. I can only imagine Hiller saw an opportunity. The neighborhood was filling up with people. He could add to his home and rent them (the rooms) out. It kind of makes sense.

"This building's story is kind of the story of Davenport."

The Hiller is one of Davenport's oldest buildings and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

And in the spring, it was designated as one of nine "most endangered" properties in Iowa by the nonprofit group Preservation Iowa.

Meginnis wrote the nomination, thinking that such a designation would bring attention to the building and could boost its chances for state funding if someone requested it.

The building has been vacant since 2015, is uninhabitable and has been on the city's "repair or demolish" list since 2016, she said.

The building's stability took on new urgency in June when the city received a complaint from a resident concerned that the south wall might collapse, Rich Oswald, the city's director of neighborhood services, said.

The building was inspected by the chief building inspector and fire marshal, and Licandro was sent a letter to begin work immediately on stabilization or the city would begin demolition proceedings, Oswald said.

Lincandro submitted plans from a certified engineering firm that were approved by the city, so as long as he keeps making progress, the building will stand, Oswald said.

About Licandro

Licandro has been a bartender for 20 years, the last nine at Crust Stone Oven Pizza, Bettendorf, but in recent years has begun buying apartments as income property and "flipping" homes.

He owns two apartment buildings in Davenport's historic Gold Coast neighborhood. One is rented up while the other had been vacant and is undergoing restoration. When he's finished with that, he'll turn full attention on Gaines, he said.

The interior of the Gaines street building retains much of its original layout as well as woodwork such as the central staircase with its newel post and spindles.

Walking through, one sees a couple of birds on the top floor, a lot of peeling paint, deep window wells and the remnants of several former kitchens and bathrooms.

Restoration will require all new plumbing, electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and sprinkler systems,  windows and all-new interiors.

In addition to writing a request for the emergency grant, Meginnis expects to write a request for historic preservation tax credits as well. These credits can then be sold by a developer to help finance a project.

"It's such an important building," Meginnis said. "It's such a prominent building on this street."


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