Century buildings on the skyline
When Fort Dodge historian Roger Natte got off the elevator on the third floor of 705 First Ave. N. Thursday afternoon to attend an open house featuring 100-year-old buildings in downtown Fort Dodge, he looked around the now open, unused space.
He had been there before, way before the structure, built as the Johnston Hotel in 1920, became what it is today. It now houses the offices for McClure Engineering Co. and has a floor of second story apartments that were until a few years ago, probation offices.
He remembers it as a hotel.
“When I first came to Fort Dodge,” Natte said, “I stayed here. I student taught and I didn’t have a place to stay, I was here two nights.”
The gathering, called the Centennial Building Celebration 2023, was hosted by the Fort Dodge Historic Preservation Commission. Carissa Harvey, chair of the commission, said the event was held to help make people aware of Fort Dodge’s historic downtown. In addition to the nearby Oak Hill Historic District. Downtown also has two historic districts.
“Our purpose is to celebrate and preserve historic downtown Fort Dodge,” Harvey said. “We want to celebrate the buildings that have turned 100 years old.”
One of the reasons the open house was held in an unused open space in one of the century buildings was to get ideas.
“By getting people up in spaces like this we can ask what do you see in the future here?” she said.
Visitors were provided with a board to write down their ideas. One was open loft apartments.
“I could see the lofts,” she said.
Laura Crowl, of Fort Dodge, has some personal experience with 100-year-old buildings. She lives in an older home.
“I just wanted to see. I live in a 100-year-old house. I wanted to see what was around back then,” Crowl said.
Her idea for the space?
“I was talking to someone that was looking for a place for craft shows,” she said. “To have a place for people to gather, this is a unique space. I hope they leave the ceiling open.”
That ceiling is poured concrete. Several large pillars support it. The walls are open brick with large windows.
Natte thought it would be a good place to house offices for local non-profit organizations.
There’s also a bit of local lore and history in the building that goes back to its days as a hotel.
Buddy Holly stayed there before playing his second to last show at the nearby Laramar Ballroom in February 1959.
Other featured buildings
1030 Central Ave.
The Leighton Building
Named after the builders, Leighton Plumbing Supply. Built to have stories added.
“Mr. Leighton built the building with the idea that it could be turned into a hotel, department store or any other use desired.”
Currently a business.
329 Central Ave.
John Deere Implement Co. Store
“It has been noted that the second floor was used as a dance hall for several years.”
Currently retail and storage.
106 N. 10th St.
Physicians Building and Biltwell Apartments
The original two stories were offices, labs and operating rooms for nine physicians. Between 1924-1927 the four additional floors were added. giving the building 55 apartments.
716 First Ave. S.
Messenger Printing Company
The Messenger Printing building, located at 716 First Ave. S. was constructed in 1920. The building that houses The Messenger was built in 1902. Today the two structures are connected. The Messenger has been in daily publication since 1884.