Everyone knows business blogs can be a drag. Who has time to read promotional pieces that only rehash the same tired advice as every other company? I know you don’t really want to hear me talk about comma rules, SEO tips, and marketing strategy.

Quaker Truss bridge
Rail truss at the Quaker Oats Plant in Cedar Rapids, IA (personal photo)

Architectural Gems is my little side project – an unapologetically geeky exploration of the buildings that catch my eye. This is where I will share my appreciation for everything from historic mansions to modern structures that influence a community’s personality.

Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by the way buildings look. Exteriors, interiors, bridges, water towers, park shelters … all are objects of curiosity. It’s this wonderful mélange of history, art, science, and engineering. There is a distinct sense of time and place that architecture conveys if you only use your eyes.

I grew up in Clear Lake, IA, which has an eclectic spectrum of architectural styles. Drive around the lake and you’ll find everything from stately Victorians and quaint summer cottages to nautical-themed bungalows and luxury lakefront homes. The town is also peppered with the iconic Surf Ballroom, a well-preserved Main Street downtown, a plethora of historic churches, and a Public Works-era bandshell.

Downtown Clear Lake, Iowa (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Next door in Mason City, you’ll find Rock Glen (a historic district that has the largest concentration of Prairie Style homes in the U.S.), Macnider Art Museum (which started as a home straight out of a fairy tale book), and not one but two Frank Lloyd Wright structures: the Park Inn Hotel and the Stockman House.

People have a lot of misconceptions about the Midwest, one of which is that we don’t know jack about design. That couldn’t be further from the truth – all you have to do is look at our highly ornate capitol building to know otherwise. Because Iowa earned statehood in the 1840s, we have well-preserved examples of architectural wonders from the 19th and early 20th century. In every city, you can spot fine examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, and Gothic Revival structures, an unwavering love for Victorian mansions, and a strong preference for the Craftsman style.

This is not to say that our tastes are stuck in the past. Come to Eastern Iowa and you’ll see that Cedar Rapids and Iowa City aren’t shy about adapting industrial warehouses and manufacturing plants into trendy lofts, businesses, and restaurants. New construction is all about that sleek combination of brick, glass, and exposed metal. I’m proud to live in an area that is thriving because we know how to honor the past while embracing the future.

black hawk hotel
The Black Hawk Hotel in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which has a Second Empire exterior from the late 1870s (personal photo).
CR Walk
Downtown Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy of Mike Wood (@fotomatpix)

If you get excited about architecture, are proud to be a history buff, love watching home renovation shows, or are just a design nerd like myself, I hope Architectural Gems will be an amusing way to spend a few minutes of your time. Thanks for visiting!

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