WATERLOO — The vacant Central Battery Building has been declared one of the state’s “most endangered” historic properties.
Preservation Iowa included the downtown Waterloo building at 217-221 West Fifth St. among seven properties on its 2019 list of historic sites at risk of being lost due to deterioration and neglect.
Compiled based on nominations from local preservation groups, the “most endangered” list previously highlighted Waterloo’s Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church at East Fifth and Walnut streets and the former St. Mary’s Church and School property at East Fourth and Parker streets.
“Hopefully this nomination brings to light the status of this building as well as those selected for this same list the last two years,” said Ed Ottesen, chairman of the Waterloo Historic Preservation Commission. “As long as there are buildings in this type of situation, the commission will continue to nominate one for this state list.”
The Central Battery Building, adjacent to the Russell-Lamson Hotel, was constructed in 1912 and was noted as being eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places when a west Waterloo commercial historic district was created several years ago.
“The white and green glazed (facade) bricks make it a unique building,” Ottesen said. “There are very few examples of an arts and crafts style commercial building in Waterloo, another factor that makes it worthy of preservation.”
Ottesen said the commission has similar concerns about two other vacant downtown buildings, including the former Waterloo Courier/Mongomery Ward building at Park Avenue and Commercial Street and the old Fire Station No. 2 at 716 Commercial St.
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“Vacant buildings are a big concern as deterioration is much more rapid than in occupied ones,” he added.
City officials said there have been calls recently for the city to take possession of the Central Battery Building, named after Central Battery and Electric Co., which called it home from 1965 to 1985.
Current owner Richard Thomas, an artist and educator in New Orleans, has continued to pay property taxes and has not given up on his plans to restore the building as an art studio and community center.
Thomas bought the property in 2006 after his family moved to Waterloo after Hurricane Katrina. He was living in the building and working to turn it into his art studio, dry good store and cafe when the 2008 Cedar River flood drove his family back to New Orleans.
Thomas, who created the large mural on the parking garage over Lafayette Street between Park Avenue and East Fourth Street, said he still intends to return to Waterloo at some point to work on the building.
“I thought before I could establish something there, and that’s still the hope,” Thomas said. “I love the Waterloo people. I’m 65 now, but I still feel like I have some energy to work with the youth (in Waterloo) and develop something there.
“The biggest piece is finding the proper funding,” he added. “What I’d really like to do is partner with someone.”