Preservation at its Best 2018, Community Effort: Bricker-Price Block (Erlham)
Preservation, at its core, is a community-minded endeavor because its purpose is to protect a community’s identity and reinforce its sense of place. Sometimes a preservation project requires an extraordinary community effort.
Cephas D. Bricker and Walter J. Price began construction on what would become known as the Bricker-Price Block in 1900. Though each half was owned separately, contractor J.E. Walton built the structure with a unified façade, matching cast-iron storefronts, and a shared central staircase.
The Bricker-Price Block is one of the oldest remaining examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the Earlham commercial district. When it opened in 1900, the interior featured wood floors, plaster walls, and decorative pressed-tin ceilings—materials that remain. Early on, the building housed general stores at the street level and offices on the second floor.
By the early 2000s, the upstairs had been converted into five modern apartments. The retail level included commercial spaces with layers that covered original walls, floors, and ceilings. In the spring of 2015 a strong storm lifted the roof and caused catastrophic water damage, leaving the building largely unoccupied and falling into disrepair. While cleaning out the damaged building materials, the historic plaster, wood floors, and decorative pressed metal ceilings were exposed—providing an impetus for considering a historic tax credit project to save the building.
This project won the Community Effort Award because the rehabilitation of this spaces was orchestrated by the people of Earlham. Through their efforts, the nonprofit Bricker-Price Block Restoration Corporation has overseen saving this property, getting it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, revitalizing it, and converting what had been a vacant eyesore into a community asset. The classes, workshops, cultural events, restaurant space, and teen center all help to foster community involvement and add vibrancy to the Earlham downtown. The organization has worked to involve a broad coalition of community members. The project is helping attract new businesses, new visitors, and additional rehabilitation to Earlham.
The project brought together a variety of funding sources, including state and federal historic tax credits, local government support, grants, donations from community members, gifts of grain from local farmers’ harvests, and proceeds from various fund-raisers. Fund-raising included selling “gear” (T shirts, coasters, koozies and tea towels), selling bricks, offering inclusion on a photo wall for donors, and hosting the Unlock the Block open house event with a portion of proceeds from local food trucks and local brews supporting the Bricker-Price Block restoration.
Masonry repairs included removal of paint from the main block’s red brick with solvent and soft bristle brush, the mortar was analyzed so that appropriate mortar mix could be used for repointing. Stone sills were cleaned and repaired and severely damaged stone was replaced with cast stone matching in color texture and shape. Cast iron was clean, and repainted and windows were restored to historic appearance. An ADA accessible ramp and door was added and a new wood egress stair with railing at rear of building was added for egress.The interior spaces were restored, retaining the dual storefronts with division between front retail space and rear work areas. The central shared staircase was retained. On second floor, the stair landing and shared party wall remained, and minimal new openings were added. Existing plaster was Retained and repaired/patched
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: