The Beginning of a Statewide Preservation Movement
During a November 1989 historic preservation conference organized by Iowa State University and the Iowa Chapter of the Victorian Society, discussions kept returning to the theme that the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) wasn’t doing enough for preservation efforts in Iowa. The SHPO director responded to comments by explaining the political and financial constraints under which his office had to operate. He suggested that Iowa needed its own private, nonprofit preservation group to help take care of these concerns. (Iowa was one of four states that did not have its own preservation advocacy group at the time.) Several members of the assembled audience volunteered both money and time to get such an organization started. Preservation Iowa had its start.
The Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance
Volunteer staff wrote and filed articles of incorporation and bylaws for a statewide nonprofit preservation organization. A newsletter, begun in 1990, was sent to prospective members and a promotional brochure was developed to drum up interest. On June 1, 1991, the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance was born through its official incorporation.
Several board members wrote a successful grant and put on the well-received Railroad Conference in 1992, attended by railroad and depot restoration enthusiasts. During the 1990s, we worked as a planning partner with the State Historical Society of Iowa in putting on a statewide history conference (COHO, and then EXPO).
In 1995, an Iowa Community Cultural Grant (ICCG) assisted in paying for part-time staff. Between 2001 and 2007, a series of executive directors served the organization. With paid staff, we were able to begin several new programs, as well as expand the content and frequency of the newsletter, The Iowa preservationists.
With our growth and a strengthening of the organization’s relationship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance agreed in 1996 to a contract with the Community Organization and Effectiveness Program. The process included community, board, and membership evaluation, as well as a series of strategic planning sessions. The results were a new mission statement and a three-year business plan. Although we qualified for a challenge grant and acceptance into the Statewide Initiatives Program sponsored by the National Trust, we couldn’t meet the matching financial goals of the grant.
Despite this setback, our fundraising goals over the years have been ambitious, and many program goals have been met and indeed exceeded. We have sponsored or hosted several statewide preservation and educational conferences, including The Changing Face of Religion: Its Impact on Church Buildings, Neighborhoods and Communities (1997), Preserving the Past: Providing for the Future (2000), and Restore-O-Rama (2005). We played a part in the Iowa legislature’s decision to unanimously pass a state rehabilitation tax credit in 2000. And, after the board elected to use the 501(h) option for nonprofit lobbying, we were instrumental in raising the yearly cap of the credit to $50 million in 2009.
With all of the new energy, activities, and initiatives the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance undertook in 2008 and 2009, the board decided it was time to finally jump into the 21st century and update its name, logo, and identity. In January 2010, the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance officially began doing business as Preservation Iowa. The new brand identity was brainstormed, formulated, and refined through the leadership of the Board of Directors in partnership with many entities, including Grandview University’s Graphic Arts and Communication Department and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as input from other statewide nonprofit organizations, professional branding firms, and IHPA membership. Reflecting our evolution throughout our history, the Preservation Iowa name and logo carry us, as an organization, into the next generation of historic preservation in Iowa.
Preservation Iowa continues to sponsor our two highest profile programs: Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties and Preservation at its Best Awards. Each has continued to expand and mature over the years. In addition, in 2010 we launched our Main Street Development Loan Program, a national pilot project designed to support small business entrepreneurs that locate and grow within selected historic commercial districts by working with local lenders.
Preservation Iowa also continues to promote several important preservation initiatives: barns, country schools, and movie theaters. The barn initiative is working to preserve Iowa’s agricultural heritage by inventorying barns in every county. The country school initiative encourages preservation of country schools in all corners of the state and holds a statewide country school conference each year. The movie theatre initiative began in 2008 through our partnership with the State Historical Society of Iowa’s SHPO on a statewide survey of Iowa’s movie heritage. As Preservation Iowa, we have expanded our initiatives to include disaster recovery and sacred places.
Caleb Giesel is the Executive Director. His responsibilities include implementing the programs and policies of Preservation Iowa.