Francis Apartments

Preservation at its Best 2018, Multifamily Residential: Francis Apartments (Dubuque)

The Francis Apartments is one of 4 former St. Mary’s parish buildings. These buildings include the church, rectory, convent and the school. The parish closed in May of 2010, leaving 3 of the buildings vacant. The convent, which was acquired in the early 2000s, was a transitional home for homeless women with children.   

The school originally had eight classrooms, four on each of the first two floors and a large assembly hall that comprised the entire 3rd floor. In the early 1900s, the 3rd floor was converted into 4 more classrooms.  The 18,000 square foot building is relatively plain, displaying elements of the Romanesque Revival and Greek Revival Style. It is characterized by its rounded arch windows on the top

Francis Apartments exterior, 2018 Preservation at Its Best

floor, the segmental arched windows on the remaining floors and the center classical pediments and Greek Revival-style cornice with dentils. The original design of the building remained mostly intact, except for a 2 story addition that was constructed in 1969 on the west façade.  

The project began in 2013 with the formation of a nonprofit now known as Steeple Square. The Board of Steeple Square envisioned the reuse of the entire former St. Mary’s campus as a resource for the surrounding neighborhood and community at large. Quality, affordable housing was identified as a need for the neighborhood.  

The project qualified for $1,800,000 in Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, leaving a gap of $2,200,000 to raise. Steeple Square partnered with Opening Doors to envision the old school as permanent supportive housing. In a joint community fundraising campaign, Steeple Square and Opening Doors raised enough money to rehabilitate the former St. Mary’s School into twelve, quality affordable apartments, eight of which would be available for women that Opening Doors serves.

The 1969 addition was removed. Historic wood windows and doors were restored. Missing doors and windows were replicated. The brick masonry and stone foundation were repointed. The wood eaves and historic cornice with dentils were reconstructed from historic photos. Downspouts, gutters, flashing, and roof vents were repaired.   

The interior work involved converting each of the old classrooms to apartment units. Original classroom doors and transoms were retained as well as the embossed metal ceilings. Plumbing, sprinklers, HVAC, and electrical systems were installed, along with interior partitions. The interior circulation was not altered, retaining the feel of a historic school. The apartments were completed in the summer of 2017.  The beautiful buildings of the Old St. Mary’s parish provide a supportive and humanizing setting for transforming lives. The building is now called Francis Apartments in honor of the Franciscan nuns who taught at St. Mary’s School for over 140 years. 

Preservation Iowa’s two most visible programs are Iowa’s Most Endangered and Preservation at Its Best. These two programs work well together because being listed as Most Endangered often times leads to awareness, a preservation effort, and a high-quality, award winning project.

The full list of Preservation Iowa’s 2018 Preservation at its Best award winners includes: