When I was in my teens I was given a small book by my parents who understood my passion for nineteenth century buildings. Published around 1900 or so by the Red Oak Commercial Club (which I’m guessing was something akin to the Chamber of Commerce) the book, simply titled Red Oak, touts the community’s numerous fine assets. Lofty written praise is supplemented with photographic images of fine houses, retail establishments, churches and other institutions. Many communities published similar books, and I have examples of others. But the one about Red Oak was my favorite because it contained so many interesting houses and buildings. Located in the southwestern part of Iowa, Red Oak today has a population of around 5,500.
At some point my parents took me to Red Oak (not too far away as we lived in Omaha, Nebraska, at the time) to see if we could find any of the buildings depicted. Yes, I was that kind of a kid… I’d much rather be hunting old houses, rooting around in a second-hand store or going to the library than doing anything remotely resembling sports activities. I’m still that kind of a kid, just a lot older! Happily, we found many buildings extant. And many more which weren’t depicted in the book! However, in the subsequent decades, it appears that there have been some losses as is typical of Every Town, USA. Many towns have suffered far greater losses; Red Oak seems to retain a lot of its Victorian-era building stock – possibly because the town’s population has hovered between 5,500 and 7,000 since the 1920’s. It never experienced the rapid growth and accompanying demolition which has plagued so many larger communities.
Recently Kelly of Old House Dreams has been posting lots of houses in Iowa, including one in Red Oak. It jogged my memory and I went to find my book. It was still as exciting as I had remembered it to be! Fortunately I was obsessed enough as a kid to make little notes on scraps of paper as to the locations of the structures we could find. With the help of Google Street View, I decided to drop into Red Oak today and see how the town and its building stock looks today. Each historic image from the book will be followed by a more recent one. I’ll start with houses, and finish up with commercial buildings. Let’s find out how Red Oak’s architecture has fared!
That hammock looks inviting, doesn’t it? The segmentally arched windows and paired brackets in the cornice suggest that this house is either transitional (Italianate to Queen Anne) or was built as an Italianate and later remodeled in the Queen Anne fashion.
Oddly, the curved porch has been squared at the corner. Other changes include replacement siding and the loss of shutters; otherwise the house is surprisingly intact. Image courtesy Google Street View.
A handsome and dignified Italianate. Note the “blind” windows adjacent to the corner.
The house has lost its original porches and is now painted white. The shutters and blind windows remain! The window over the door has been shortened… possibly to accommodate the small gable of a later replacement porch which is itself now gone (or necessitated by some interior alteration). Image courtesy Google Street View.
An exuberant Queen Anne Free Classic!
Looking great today with minimal alterations! The only ones I can readily detect involve the porch: columns, plinths, balustrade, latice and low walls flanking the steps. Also the loss of finials on the balustrade of the second floor bay window. The roof finials seem slightly altered. Image courtesy Google Street View.
The only thing that could improve this stunning Italianate would be a cupola on the roof!
Sadly, that’s not what happened. Lots of alterations here have taken this house from classy to clunky. Image courtesy Google Street View.
Another view for good measure. Image courtesy Google Street View.
When photographed c. 1900, this Italianate style house had already received a makeover in the form of a Classically-inspired porch and porte-cochère (in addition to a roof gable over the bay window).
Virtually unchanged today! Image courtesy Google Street View.
Seriously, who doesn’t love a tower-like appendage on a roof? The scrap of paper (it appears to me to be from a paper bag) records the intersection (6th and Valley) where the house is located. Like similar scraps, it’s been in the book for about 40 years!
Apparently, some don’t love a tower-like appendage on a roof! Someone went to lengths long ago to remove one from this house. The carpenter did an excellent job of hiding the surgery! Additionally, the front porch got smaller, the back porch got bigger, and a new porch appears in-between them! Image courtesy Google Street View.
An another view of the front. Image courtesy Google Street View.
I would like to go back in time and shop at both of these stores. Nice parapet wall elaboration!
Stripped of much of its finery, the building is just sort of ho-hum today. Image courtesy Google Street View.
I’m really fascinated by the way the front gable asserts itself beyond tower on the right… I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen this exact treatment before. This is another house which strikes me as being either transitional or remodeled; not sure which…
Very little (except for the paint scheme) has changed in well over a century! Image courtesy Google Street View.
Many small town jails built in the Midwest in the late 19th century were designed to resemble residential structures not only to help them blend into their surroundings, but also because the jailer typically lived on-site. This is a nice example of the trend and, according to Wikipedia, was designed by the Omaha architectural firm of Fisher and Lawrie. It was built by Newman and Johnson, also from Omaha.
The building survived until 2008 when, also according to Wikipedia, “It was determined in the Fall of 2008 that the 1899 jail was inadequate. The decision was made to build a new facility rather than remodel the old jail. The Red Oak City Council agreed to pay $423,370 for the police department’s section of the building. A $5.6 million referendum was passed on August 3, 2010 to build the new Joint Law Enforcement Center” and “The historic jail, built in 1899, was adjacent to the present building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and torn down after the new facility was built.” That’s the utterly forgettable and non-descript new facility next to the vacant lot. Image courtesy Google Street View.
A very narrow example of Richardsonian Romanesque! Look closely and you’ll see that this was a remodeling of an older structure… the windows on the side of the building are Italianate in style!
Today, all traces of the Italianate side wall are gone… the scars are hidden beneath a layer of stucco. The stone remains intact, but the brickwork and additional stucco alterations above it are painted. Image courtesy Google Street View.
I find this highly eclectic building to be strangely appealing…
Unfortunately it does not appear to have survived long as an early 20th-century building, of Italian Renaissance Revival inspiration, has taken its place. Image courtesy Google Street View.
The ground floor of this building had already been altered when photographed around 1900.
Looks like the late 1960’s happened here! A metal facade screen attempted to “update” the building. The quirky canopy over the entry is not without charm, however. 2014 Image courtesy Google Street View.
Fortunately it looks like something more sane will be replacing the metal facade. I hope the canopy was salvaged! 2015 Image courtesy Google Street View.
The 1890’s were certainly not timid… lots of stylistic influences are found here! Note the base of the turret…
At some point the building lost most of its second story and all of its character. The conical roof pays tragic tribute to the former turret – the base of which survives. Image courtesy Google Street View.