Davenport officials hope to preserve historic home
DAVENPORT – A house that once was a showplace of Davenport’s Hamburg Historic District has fallen into such disrepair that it has been nominated for designation as one of the most endangered properties in Iowa.
The Lambrite-Iles-Petersen House, an Italian Villa-style home at 510 W. Sixth St., is in the area more commonly known as the Gold Coast.
“It’s an important house in the city’s history,” said Ryan Rushnak, a planner for the city of Davenport.
“It was home to some of Davenport’s most prominent people, and it is something that’s individually significant to the city.”
On behalf of the Davenport Historic Preservation Commission, Rushnak submitted an application to Preservation Iowa at the beginning of the year to place the house on the 2013 list of most endangered Iowa properties.
Asking that it be placed on the list, “is just another way to raise awareness and educate people about the home,” Rushnak said. “We are in danger of losing it.”
The Davenport City Council declared it a “local landmark” in July, and city officials deemed it uninhabitable in 2010.
According to information on the Davenport’s Gold Coast and Hamburg Historic District website, the house was built about 1857 by Joseph Lambrite, a lumber mill owner. It was designed by John C. Cochrane, who was the architect of the Illinois and Iowa state capitol buildings.
It was purchased by Thomas Iles, a physician who cared for Confederate prisoners being held at the Rock Island Arsenal during the Civil War.
John H. Petersen, of department store fame, owned the house after Iles.
Over the years, it has gone through a number of owners and transformations.
Recently, Gordon Muller of Davenport and Dean Christensen of Rock Island owned it together. The two took a house whose rooms had been turned into apartments and did what Alderman Bill Boom, 3rd Ward, called a “fantastic job of restoring the old home.”
Boom recalls attending Christmas parties there in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“I remember the house being in tough shape and two guys buying it and whipping into shape and making it shine like it was new,” he said. “The views from cupola are stunning.”
Muller has owned the house outright since 1981.
When he was working in real estate, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba put together the deal that got Muller and Christensen the house. Gluba said his real estate license is inactive because he is busy with his mayoral duties.
Muller, Gluba said, “is a great guy who years ago poured his heart and soul into the house.”
Gluba said he has spoken on several occasions with Muller to see if he intends to repair it, or if he would be interested in selling it.
“He has given me no indication what he is willing to do with the property,” Gluba said.
Muller could not be reached for comment by the Quad-City Times.
According to the Scott County Assessor’s Office, the building and property are worth $32,900. Gluba said that is an accurate figure from what he can see.
Until recently, the house’s windows were mostly broken out, allowing animals and the elements to get in. City attorney Tom Warner said the “city used the tools available” to secure the structure, boarding up the windows. That occurred within the past month.
While Gluba and Boom say they and the City Council are loathe to force the property out of Muller’s possession, Warner said the city is “trying to use the available tools in the state code to get the property into the hands of someone who will rehabilitate it.”
Whether that means using some type of abandoned property or eminent domain law, Gluba said he wasn’t sure.
“We’re ready to do whatever is necessary to preserve that building,” he said.
Gluba added that he has heard there are entities interested in buying and restoring the property, at a considerable cost.
“Old houses like these are money pits,” he said.
Boom said he wants to see something done to the home before it is too late.
“We’ve secured the structure, so that has given us some breathing space,” Boom said.
“It’s an historic building, and the people that lived there are the people who gave us things like the LeClaire Park bandshell. They were stalwarts of the community.
“Add to that it is a very unique home and is the iconic structure for the Hamburg District,” he said.
The question is, Boom said, whether the city is willing to preserve “its built heritage, especially when there are people willing to pay for it.”
“I think in this case, the property rights extend to the citizens of Davenport,” he said. “We’ve lost so many wonderful homes that should have been maintained.
“Our forefathers gave us these buildings. We talk about preserving the city’s built heritage. That’s what you do if you’re a good steward.”