Story and views of the 'Iowa' Building(s); Germania

Jackson Park home. Jackson Park History. Jackson Park Timeline.
Columbian Exposition
Views of the First 'Iowa' building, before, during and after the Fair.
Hyde Park History stories of the buildings on-line

SEE A PRESENTATION ABOUT PROJECTS FOR PUBLIC ART NEAR THE IOWA BUILDING at the June 8, 2015 JPAC meeting and learn about re-imagining projects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago- find in JPAC News and Bulletins "News bits" section.
See also other news and description of proposal for installed 10,000 Ripples meditative "Peace" heads in
2015 Newsletters- July, August, September.

Aug. 17 2015 Thank You for taking part in our fact finding walk through of the historic Iowa Building and the Midway Plaisance.
First the State budget cuts have severely hurt the CPD and their assistance to Community parks
Iowa Building. CPD Historic Lake Front Picnic Shelter proposed garden walk through with LIz CPD Com. Gardens Director,Fran, Louise, Ken, Roger H
- CPD is fixing the faucet and hose access
- money or Green Corp staff for building raised bed and dirt for raised bed is not available through CPD
- Liz suggested a wire border
- Fran suggested asking [The Resource Center's help in getting dirt and raised beds.
-UNUM and Home Depot will donate bulbs.


By Gary Ossewaarde

The Comfort Station in the NE Corner of Jackson Park known as the ‘Iowa Building’

The limestone building across 56th Street from Jackson Towers and Montgomery Place in the northeast corner of Jackson Park has been mistakenly called the Iowa Building since built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression in 1936 and opened the next year to serve as a place for rest, concessions, and washrooms. It replaced a similar nearby comfort station but had indeed served as part of the Iowa Pavilion during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, hence the confusion. The earlier building was a bit north and where 56th St. meets modern South Lake Shore Drive and was removed for expansion of the Drive, originally named Columbus in one direction and Leif Erickson the other.

The old building. Actually, an even earlier open park shelter (date unknown) predated the comfort station that became the Iowa building. Made of wood and wrought iron with a sloped roof and cupola, it was located a little south of that which would become the Iowa building and e just west of a sloped granite paver beach started in 1883-84 and eventually extended along most of the park’s shoreline. This first station would be removed for construction of the German Pavilion (1893-1925) of the Columbian Exposition. The second, sturdier comfort station was built in 1888. For the Columbian Exposition, several state pavilions were erected including in the northeast part of the park. The comfort station had an addition added onto the west site to create the Iowa Pavilion, known as the Corn Palace.

After the fair, the newer part was removed and the original served again as a comfort station, until 1936. In the 1920's the land to the north and east was extended outward to create Promontory Point, in accord with Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago, revised, and a landscape plan of famed landscape architect Alfred Caldwell. From 1919 until the Great Depression, several luxury high rise hotels were built north of 56th and 55th St. In 1936, WPA widened the Lake Shore Drive, requiring demolition of the old shelter and construction of a new one, our 'Iowa' Building to the west and south.

The new building was designed along with the Promontory Point fieldhouse (often called “The Castle”), by architect E. V. Buchsbaum and shared WPA funding and labor and, doubtless, materials—and shared the disdain of Alfred Caldwell. There were originally plans to place a sculpture in the pool of the ‘Iowa’ building, but the sculpture went to a north side park. The current structure is oriented north-south and most of it is open to the elements, so it both echoes and contrasts with the Point fieldhouse (whose center was also open, until the 1980s). Caldwell is believed to have designed the landscaping around the ‘Iowa’ building.
This attractive building is made of lannon (Wisconsin) dolomite (perhaps better called “dolostone” and the surrounding flagstone terraces of relatively fragile bluestone tiles. It has a courtyard, fountain pool with green tiles, washrooms and concessions. The building has had a checkered history. It underwent some renovations during the tenure of Jackson Park supervisor Olga Farr--restoration of the pool and its green tiles and installation of an electric pump-fountain, done gratis in the 1980s by park employees as a gift in her honor. It is now unserviceable. Around 2000, installation of new lights on the outside was overseen by former JPAC member Cedric Chernick. Since much of the rationale for re-use of the building for concessions, washroom, etc. was undermined by the replacement 57th Street Beachhouse kitty corner across the Drive reached subsequently by a set of underpasses (replacing an ancient pedestrian bridge) nearby, reuse will have to depend on demand and invention.

Neighbors, however are apprehensive of anything that increases vehicular traffic and parking or even attracts large numbers of pedestrian and bike traffic to the 56th-South Shore Drive vicinity. There are also steady complaints about conditions, including the bluestone patio crushed by construction equipment under the IDOT reconstruction of the Drive et al, and about homeless or criminal activity in the structure. Some have suggested uses for the structure ranging from a chess pavilion and picnicking center to having a concession. So far a focused and wide-appealing concept has not been developed. A fence around it has also been suggested.

In early 2003, the Park District proposed to exhibit fragments of the World's Columbian Exposition monument to “Germania” that had been nearby but whose remains were buried north of a bridge at the harbor and found during reconstruction of Lake Shore Drive about 2002. Thought was to place the fragments around the fountain/pool. The idea was dropped.

Jackson Park Advisory Council has begun holding programs there and seeks volunteers to patrol and keep up the building and surrounding area.


Pictures by Gary Ossewaarde, March, 2003

'Iowa' Building



'Iowa' Builidng 'Iowa' Builidng
'Iowa' Building  

From the 2018 JPAC Newsletter- discussion of future use and improvements to the building.

Iowa building. McCurry noted that in our conversations members said the Iowa building should be among our top projects this year. She noted that the dying trees have been removed by the park district opening up clear lines of sight, lighting has been improved, broken pieces of patio paving and high weeds have been removed. Also, regular police patrols and presence has been established interrupting drug runs via the building. The assembly formed breakout groups by threes to come up with ideas for improvements or programming for the Iowa building. The ideas are appended.

VISIONS, IDEAS AND OBSERVATIONS FOR THE IOWA BUILDING FROM THE JULY 9 MEETING given by teams (not in priority order, "several" means idea given by several attendees). A committee will be formed to organize and seek implementation of the best ideas.

Defunct fountain in the center should be made functional or repurposed, as for a garden? (several) or for an exhibit perhaps on the WCE
Gardens, plantings inside and out
The outside patio should be taken up, preferably replaced with concrete or permeable pavers(several), alt. temporarily chip. Suggestion that the patio need not be so wide on the south- low shrubs there would be nice
Toilets - make functional (alt.: signage directing to Beachhouse)-what for winter?
Roof replacement perhaps with better, long-maintenance material. And keep trees and weeds from growing inside building (alt. creative patching)
Security should be ongoing with redundant means (thanks for what has been done)—Iowa needs to stop being a dead area that seems uncomfortable (several). Have a police roll call (being requested)
Activate it with performance (incl. dance and music), art, activities, chess and coffee tables, making the middle friendly to performance, classes, gatherings, and art (several)
Concession either in the house or via truck including coffee in winter
Opening up to the east (lakefront), coordinating with Lakefront/beach/bike trail activity (several). May require trimming back vegetation on east slope.
Bike rack, or bike concession
Picnic table(s)
Keep it clean
Pedestrian access/path to 56th St. (several) (temporary coming)
Promoting for receptions etc.
Upgrade the lighting within- ask Region to inquire about solar panels, LED and self-powering

President Louise McCurry's perspective sent to members after the July 2018 meeting.

Thank you all for coming to our Annual JPAC Iowa Building Picnic. Thank You for participating in our envisioning and planning exercise for revitalizing the Iowa Building & Lot. You saw the major improvements we have made this year and we ask you and your team to walk through the Iowa and lot and envision future improvements and events and activities. I will send out the list of the Iowa Building visions we compiled together. Now we need Positive Activity at the Iowa site to call attention to this resource and secure funding for restoring the roof and bathrooms. Please plan and write a permit for an activity at the Iowa Building this year.


On the possibility of exhibiting historic fragments or reopening concessions

From the minutes of the March, 2003 JPAC meeting:

Julia Sniderman Bachrach, Chicago Park District historian, and Ellen Sargent of the Park District Department of Planning and Development displayed pictures of fragments found during Lake Shore Drive work in February and how they might be displayed at the ‘Iowa’ building in the northeast corner of the park. Research showed that the fragments were part of the concrete Germania monument that stood near the site of the later Animal Bridge (6500-6600 S.) in the southeast corner of the park. Considered worthy of rescue and display were parts of the lady’s face and drapery and monument decorative detail. The monument stood until at least 1899.

Bachrach said she wants to display the fragments in Jackson Park and that the ‘Iowa’ building came to mind as accessible and having its own historic resonance. Indeed, JPAC and the Framework Plan had proposed restoration of the building. There had been an open shelter [1888] in that approximate location before the Fair. During the Fair it was converted and enclosed for the state of Iowa pavilion, known as the Corn Palace. When Lake Shore Drive was expanded in 1936, the pavilion was torn down and the WPA constructed near it the park shelter today called the ‘Iowa Building’. The building had washrooms and a concession and underwent various fix ups, including to its lovely concrete and stone fountain, and new lighting. Fountain work was gratis by park district workers to honor former park supervisor Olga Farr.

The concept presented displayed the fragments on a pedestal in the fountain, with lighting, and included a historical explanatory plaque about the sculptures and the Fair. Funding and authorization have been received [sic] to do the work this summer, so council support was being sought now. Some fixing up will be done at the building.

Members said they want this to be the first step in restoring the building, with operational washrooms and a concession. The location is ideal since it is at the juncture of the underpasses under construction between 57th beach, south end of Promontory Point, Museum, and traffic from the neighborhood. Members also said they would like to see renderings of other options for display, near rather than in the fountain.

Upon due motion and after discussion, JPAC resolved that Jackson Park Advisory Council supports the concept of displaying the recovered Columbian Exposition fragments in the ‘Iowa’ Building with appropriate lighting, historical signage, et al and asks to be shown options. JPAC also asks the park district to study the feasibility of restoring the ‘Iowa’ Building, including facilities and a concession. Bachrach agreed to raise the possibility of a concession with the proper person at the Park District.

Since, funding has not been found and some in the Park District apparently have reservations about the priority for the exhibit. Council members have expressed reservations as to whether the exhibit would fare well in the 'Iowa' building and whether the matter of the exhibit and improvement/restoration of the building belong together. Naturally, if such an exhibit is delayed, the council would be concerned with suitable storage. The question is raised whether the park's "cultural inventory" needs to be re-examined and developed into a management plan.



Germania statue fragments slated for Iowa building

Hyde Park Herald, April 16, 2003, by Maurice Lee

The Chicago Park District announced last week that the recently rediscovered pieces of the statue "Germania" will be permanently installed in Jackson Park's Iowa Building, located at 56th Street and South Shore Drive.

The park district, working in conjunction with the Jackson Park Advisory Council, hopes to utilize the remnants of...the only remaining Columbia[n] Exposition statue, which was toppled and buried near the site of the Animal Bridge near the turn of the century and recently unearthed by crews working on the South Lake Shore Drive Reconstruction Project.

While no dates have been set for community meetings, park district spokesman Angelynne Amores said the park district would construct Styrofoam mock-ups of the pieces and bring them to the community to explore different possibilities for placement of the piece within the Iowa Building.

JPAC has been lobbying the park district to develop uses for the Iowa Building because the pavilion will soon sit at the focus of two new underpasses that are expected [to] vastly increase pedestrian traffic in the area.

According to Amores, the park district is hoping to use the pieces to call attention to the Iowa Building.

"The park district and the community are on the same page and have the same goal in this, said Amores. "We want to reinvigorate the Iowa Building and we believe like the community that [the installation of the statue] will do just that."

JPAC secretary Gary Ossewaarde says the council is pleased by the park district's efforts and hopes that is the first step in a process to improve the WPA structure.

"We're all pleased that this recognition is being given to this park and to the Columbian Exposition" said JPAC spokesman Gary Ossewaarde."We hope they will not only restore this area, but that it will become a concession and comfort area because there will be lot of traffic with those new underpasses."


Turn-of-the-century statue unearthed by SLSD crew

Hyde Park Herald, April 2, 2002. By Maurice Lee

Crews working on the South Lake Shore Drive Reconstruction Project got a big surprise recently as they unearthed pieces of a statue dating back to the Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park.

During the initial excavations at Jackson Park's Animal Bridge, located on Coast Guard Drive at Marquette Drive, workers discovered pieces of the statue Germania, which have lain hidden since the turn of the century.

After pulling the pieces out of the ground, the construction crew immediately sent word to SLSD Project Manager Chris Wuellner that they had found something significant.

According to Wuellner, knowledgeable CDOT crews made the difference between the pieces being preserved and being hauled away like garbage.

"The workers and the field people are sensitive to the historic nature of the Jackson Park," said Wuellner. "So if they do encounter something digging around they're just extra watchful to make sure that it's not something that may be part of the old history of the park."

Wuellner said he passed the find on to Chicago Park District historian Juli[a] Bachrach, who in turn passed it to city historian Tim Samuelson.

The figure Germania, which was clad in robes and carried a sword and shield, represents Germany similar to the way Uncle Sam represents America. According to Samuelson, the statue was the gift of a German cement company to the World's Fair. Like many of the spectacles at the Exposition, the statue was built as a temporary addition to advertise a product--in this case [a] special grade of cement.

But Samuelson says the statue stood in the park well after the fair's conclusion, possibly remaining until work began on the Animal Bridge in 1902.

"Finally," said Samuelson, "at some point it looks like they were regarding and reconfiguring the park and they just probably pushed the sculpture over and buried it as landfill."

So far only "a few fragments" of the statue--the statue's base and a few ornate keystones [and part of the face] --have been discovered, and Samuelson says that other fragments may remain nearby, buried in the landscape.

"The monument was not made in one casting, it was made out of many pieces. So when it was knocked over, the pieces scattered," said Samuelson. "The rest of it should be nearby."

After being buried for nearly a century, Samuelson says the recovered pieces are in surprisingly good condition. Samuelson said an on-line search turned up the possibility that a subsidiary of the original cement company may still exist. As a ad for the company, Samuelson joked the statue was a success.

"I would say their product held up fairly well," he said.

While the details remain to be worked out, the Chicago Park District has plans to display the pieces in Jackson Park.

"We do know that we want the Germania sculpture to be prominently displayed in the Iowa building," said park district spokesman Angelynne Amores. "As to how that will look, we are still working with CDOT and the community to finalize the details."

Built in 1936, the current Iowa building, 56th Street and South Shore Drive, is actually a replica of an older structure that was built in 1893 by the state of Iowa for the Exposition.

The Jackson Park Advisory Council is enthusiastic about using the Iowa building to showcase the historic pieces. In light of the ongoing construction of two new pedestrian underpasses near the intersection of 57th and Lake Shore Drives-- as well as the numbers of people the underpasses will bring into the park--JPAC members see this as the first step in returning the Iowa Building to public use.

"Save for working out the details, we are very much in favor of this display," said JPAC member Ross Petersen. "[The Iowa Building] will be an exciting attribute to the community."


Story of the Iowa buildings

Old views

The following is largely based on the article by Steven A. Treffman, Hyde Park Historical Society Archivist, in Hyde Park History, Vol. 25 Issues 3-4, members newsletter of the HPHS. The article is on-line in and is titled "Holding the Lake at Bay in Jackson Park: The Stories of the Paved Beach and the Iowa Building."

The original 'Iowa' building had nothing to do with either Iowa or the present structure of that name, which is very different, smaller, and stands at a fair distance from the original. The original was a shelter building constructed in 1888 where 56th would cross the Drive now, at the northern edge of the new, attractive seawall and granite-paved beach, whose popularity was bearing out hopes of creating there a second, shore-oriented recreational focus in addition to that in then in the northerly reaches of the lagoons. The new paved (and sometimes sand-c0vered) beach was intended to stop shore erosion. The beach stood at what is now the eastern edge of modern Lake Shore Drive. (There was no Promontory Point, Drive, or structures east of Everett in the blocks north of 56th.) The seawall was built and granite beach started in 1884 with expectation of a shelter in short order.

The one-story, 80' x 120' east-west, was designed by no less than Daniel Burnham, whose interest in the area spanned over the next near quarter of a century, and it opened in 1888.

It was much more than a shelter, or even visually what we now call an anchor. It was a destination for large -scale dancing and music performance, lined with maple floor to ceiling.

During construction of the Columbian Exposition, planners found that Iowa's site was unavailable. In a classic Chicago deal, the Iowa people got to use an arresting existing building (the shelter) at the shore and put up an addition, provided they removed the addition afterwards. Design and construction were by Iowa firms.

The new west section (60 x 112) had the entrance, space for officials, reception hall, and amenities including a post office, writing rooms, and a room for the governor of Iowa. The set-back second story had a 37 x 50 meeting room, press rooms, and 4 sleeping rooms for officials. The third floor was for custodial staff.

The original shelter was the exhibition hall--and the walls and pillars and ceiling were covered with colorful scenes and designed made of the seed, grains, grasses, corn shucks and kernels of Iowa! And 1200 bushels of corn and three and a half car loads of other Iowa-grown products. At the center was a scale model of the state capitol, of glass seeded with grains (by Chicago's Wells Glass Company).

After the Fair, the west section came down and the shelter put back in original state. Little is known of how it fared or level of upkeep or use during its remaining 42 years of existence. A photo from 1910 shows it pristine and attractive (at least from the outside), with a wide, single lane drive abutting it to the west, beyond which is a line of trees and lampposts and a path; all look in good shape.

In 1936 it was demolished as part of the Lake Shore Drive parkway extension and completion of Promontory Point revetment and landscaping. Thus, it fell victim to a new grand method of lakeshore protection, just as it was borne in part of an earlier idea, seawalls and paved beaches.

The designer of the smaller replacement shelter some scores of yards to the southwest was E. V. Buchsbaum, who built the Promontory Point field house at the same time and from the same materials, Wisconsin lannon limestone. This was also done with WPA funds and labor plus a $20,000 gift from the Museum of Science and Industry. New landscaping followed.

The 1937 opened 'Iowa' building runs north-south, has two red shingle one-story low roofs and is 74 x 96 (c7104 square feet), about a quarter smaller than its predecessor. The interior walkways have exposed wooden beams. The unenclosed court has gray-blue flagstones (as does the patio on the east side). Overall it has a rustic look, especially when compared to the Point fieldhouse, the beachhouse, Montgomery Place, and Museum of Science and Industry.

Its focus is the small courtyard with reflecting pool that was supposed to house a statue (diverted to the north side). The pool when filled and the fountain functioning, was used by kids to wash sand off their feet after crossing the 57th passarelle. At times one could buy hot dogs and other concessions as well as use facilities.

Gradually, the building fell to changing social conditions (as did the motel across 56th), park district neglect, and finally obsolescence as one, then the contemporary 57th beachhouse were built. At times it was used by picnickers, skateboarders, and homeless. A JPAC member spearheaded a drive to at least install security lights. Still, the building is structurally sound and beautiful.

Various plans to restore and reuse the structure are occasionally put forth; assessment and impetus will probably have to wait for the new underpasses to be in play.


Residents say, clean up and clean up the act at the 'Iowa' building.

Jackson is a member of JPAC but does not speak for the Council. She also heads a group, called Hyde Park Task Force, that walks, monitors and makes suggestions about areas's the lakefront parks.

By Sharonjoy A. Jackson, letter in Herald of November 15, 2006. (This is the latest, at time of this writing, of several letters and complaints. Jackson Park Council has entertained discussions, but member noted that a good suggested reuse and a plan would be helpful if changes are to be made. Sculpture would not not, in JPAC members' thoughts, be a good and sufficient reason. It does not offer sufficient shelter to be a focus of picnics--and tables would invite trouble. A chess venue? But that could cause the same problems even if it drew the chess players.) This website does not vouch for the accuracy of statements in this letter.

The Iowa Building was once a beautiful structure and still retains some vestiges of its former glory. It sits on park district property between 57th and 56th streets and is in close proximity to Montgomery Place. Now it is in dire need of repair and cleaning, making it a perfect stop for the homeless to live and gangs to congregate after the park closes at 11 p.m.

The Chicago Park District held a press conference is 2003 assuring neighbors the Iowa building would be properly restored, and the wonderful statue "Germania" would be installed as well. Money for this project would come from parking garage fees from Millennium Park.

O course, as of November that never happened. "A stitch in time saves nine" is certainly not a park district motto. This once impressive, and widely used building is falling into further disrepair as is its shale apron, unique lighting fixtures and so on. Efforts to turn it into a concession stand have met with significant opposition (understandably so) from the immediate community.

The Iowa Building could be used by picnickers as in times of yore, as well as community groups for get-togethers, meeting, an, if properly maintained and kept clean, special event.

The Iowa possibilities are endless as are all of the excuses used to do nothing for the Iowa Building. The immediate community wants this building restored.