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A pile of rubble

Senior citizen center building history is truly unique

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY – Demolition and clean-up on the nearly 100-year old building at 20 E. State St., which formerly housed the local Senior Citizen Center, started Wednesday and will continue through this week. A Lansing Brothers Construction backhoe is pictured. The company was selected as the lowest, most responsible bidder by the city council last month. The lot and surrounding properties will make way for a housing project.

A one-time majestic building at 20 E. State Street Marshalltown is now a pile of rubble.

Beginning Wednesday, demolition on the brick and steel structure owned by the city of Marshalltown reduced years of memories to dust.

Progress beckoned, and the city sold the lot to Landover Development Corp. of Lake Barrington, Ill. earlier this year.

The less-than one acre site is being packaged with other nearby sites to build a new housing complex and help replace many downtown units lost in the July 2018 tornado.

The city will be applying $693,000 from a tornado-induced insurance settlement to pay for demolition and clearing.

A garage, the Veterans of Foreign Wars local headquarters and most recently, the Marshalltown Senior Citizen Center called 20 E. State St. home.

Before being clobbered and closed by the tornado nearly 15 months ago, one could still smell oil in the rear storage area and that should not come as a surprise because two oil pits were once visible in the once stately structure.

The landmark 99-year-old building had several owners.

The Motor Inn Garage was first.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Harry C. Harter post No. 839 purchased the building in 1946.

The June 6, 1949 “Fifty Years of Progress in Marshalltown” saluted the VFW, heralding the “newest veterans club building” in the city. In tandem, almost a full page of copy was devoted to the history of veterans organizations in Marshalltown. An accompanying picture showed large VFW letters prominently set in concrete above the building’s entrance.

However, controversy was a companion to the VFW during its 23 years of ownership. Allegations of gambling, illegal liquor service and other misdeeds caused the state VFW commander to withdraw the post’s charter on one occasion, according to T-R archives. Additionally, a lawsuit filed by the club’s former managers and other financial issues forced the VFW to find a new home.

They moved to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 1969.

But other history was embedded in its walls, with hundreds of thousands passing through its doors and up and down steps. The attic once housed Marshalltown Community College basketball players when its campus was northwest of downtown on North Second Avenue — now the site of Crestview Apartments.

A 1960 city directory listed several insurance offices, a watch and jewelry repair business, auto repair shop rear and auto body shop under its massive roof.

The building was sold to the city of Marshalltown in 1975 for $64,750.

For 43 years local and Central Iowa senior citizens made extensive use of its ground floor.

Billiards, card playing, crafts, food, companionship and shuffleboard were a staple. Visitors from Des Moines and elsewhere came to down to play on its shuffleboard courts. Upstairs on the second floor, the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging was a tenant since 1975.

A large kitchen was used extensively preparing meals for seniors, including for the popular “Meals on Wheels” program. The agency also provided a case worker to help seniors access programs and space to keep confidential records. Post-tornado, the organization found space at the local Central Christian Church.

At one time Marshalltown Parks and Recreation used a gleaming, refurbished wooden dance floor to conduct youth martial arts classes twice a week. Years ago, Lennox Manufacturing made use of it to host its annual Christmas party.

The large room was ideal to host wedding receptions and other functions — all booked through Parks and Recreation.

But before the tornado, the building’s days appeared to be numbered. The city had deferred maintenance for many years and rent from tenants was not equaling utilities, said city officials.

Opponents of the plan, led by resident Linda Clark, presented 421 signatures on a petition to take an alternative insurance company offer of $1.2 million to repair the building and find other revenue to bring it up to code. However, a 5-0 vote earlier this year – two councilors were absent by council – to accept the first offer, put that idea to rest.

The Senior Citizen Center has relocated to the Fisher Community Center, where a portable shuffleboard still attracts residents and out-of-towners among many other activities.

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or

mdonahey@timesrepublican.com