2015 Preservation at its Best, Commercial Large: Union Block Building
Built in 1861, the Union Block is a landmark structure on the Square in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Union Block is a three story, 15,000 sf, building built in the Italianate architectural style with handsome arched windows, large brackets and front facing gable roof. Its character and style alone made it historic and worth saving; however, the Union block is also significant as a Midwestern hub of social history.
Culturally, the building’s third floor Union Hall served as the platform for many significant figures of American history in the areas of abolition, women’s suffrage, temperance, and prohibition. In 1869, this was where Arabella Babb Mansfield, the first woman lawyer in the country, was sworn in. While the building was listed on the national register in 1991, it was plagued by vacancy, neglect, ownership struggles, failed attempts at rehabilitation, and a fire. In 2008 Main Street Mount Pleasant spearheaded the successful effort to get the property named on Preservation Iowa’s “Most Endangered Properties” and an eventual rehabilitation.
The scope of work was comprehensive and included substantial structural repairs to floor and roof framing, and rebuilding portions of the exterior wall. This project now houses two locally expanded businesses, a 3rd floor event space that is currently booked through 2015. The space will provide sustainable income for Main Street Mount Pleasant. Local contractors were utilized which has encouraged additional local preservation activity. Most significantly, this project inspired a large developer to do more historic preservation work in town. This project proves that historic preservation can have a substantial economic impact in our communities