When we think of the changing face of downtown Council Bluffs, the dramatic urban renewal project of the early 1970s comes to mind. In actuality, the downtown landscape has continually changed over the years as buildings aged and needs varied.
By 1961, the James Block — the three buildings on West Broadway at South Main — had been standing so long no one alive could remember a time they weren’t there. They certainly predated the local written records.
The buildings could be seen in a photograph from 1854, so they dated back before the civil war. Indeed, the basement had been once used as a mess hall in 1861 for Civil War volunteers who mustered here for the Iowa 4th regiment. The third floor housed the Masonic Lodge in the 1860’s.
The years had extracted a heavy toll and a city inspector was shocked to find in June 1961 a wall in an upper section had shifted outward four inches. Occupants were ordered to vacate the buildings and barricades were placed to close the adjacent sidewalks for fear of collapse.
Though early photos clearly show 417, 419 and 421 W. Broadway to be three separate buildings by 1961, a facade had been placed over all three of them and the city inspector took it to be a single building that happened to have three separate owners.
The owner of 417, Dr. Isacc Sternhill, appealed the condemnation, saying the buildings were in fact separate and the damage was confined to the other two addresses. The city agreed and modified their finding of “advanced state of structural deterioration” to apply to 419 and 421 only and they were razed the next month.
The painstaking work of an unknown artist was lost in the demolition. Oil paintings decorated the ceilings and walls of the third floor of the corner building depicting rosy pink cherubs, ribbons, flowers and intricate scrolls. The artist is unknown but it is thought the paintings might have been commissioned by Al Clark who used the rooms as his apartment; he operated a loan office on the second floor.
The vacant lot was purchased by Sam Katelman, who built a single story building to house Herman’s Clothes, operated by Stanley Katelman. This building and the adjacent structure at 417 W. Broadway that escaped condemnation a few years earlier were replaced by First Federal Savings and Loan in 1968. This building remains today as home for US Bank.
— The Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County can be reached at information@TheHistoricalSociety.org.