Saving Tate

July 11, 2014

The Tate Arms house at 914 South  Dubuque Street has been receiving a lot of attention lately: in June, the Press-Citizen  published four opinion articles (including one written by the Press-Citizen Editorial Board) calling for the house’s preservation and designation as a Local Landmark. As Jan Olive Full put it, “To lose this highly significant and visible physical reminder of our shared, if checkered, past is nothing short of tragic.”

The house doesn’t draw significance from its architecture: it’s a vernacular, two-story building with a hipped roof and white stucco walls. Rather, its significance comes from its association with important events in Iowa City’s history.


Owned by Bettye and Bud Tate, the house served as a boarding house between 1939 to 1963 for African-American students before they were allowed to live on campus. It was one of five boarding houses in Iowa City for black students. The University of Iowa did not desegregate its dormitories until 1946, but even then, housing discrimination off campus remained a major issue into the 1960s.


The house clearly qualifies for Local Landmark status given its connection to civil rights history, its association with important people in the community (Bettye Tate was a strong leader in Iowa City, and Tate High School is named after her), and because of its potential to yield even more historical and cultural information (the house, built in 1880, likely served as lodging for African-Americans passing through Iowa City even before it was owned by the Tates).


Though Iowa City’s Downtown and Riverfront Crossings District Master Plan states that granting a density bonus and parking waiver may persuade developers to preserve the Tate Arms, only a Local Landmark designation would protect the house in perpetuity from demolition.


So, in June, Friends of Historic Preservation submitted an application to designate the Tate Arms a Local Landmark.


The application is a long process and must be approved by three separate bodies: first, the Historic Preservation Commission; second, the Planning and Zoning Commission; and third, the City Council. If the property owners object to the landmark designation, a supermajority (or 6 out of 7 votes) is required for the application to pass.


Please show your support to make the Tate Arms an Iowa City Local Landmark by attending these upcoming public meetings. Tell our public officers that this place deserves to be saved.


Mark your calendars! The first round of the application process will occur on Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 at City Hall. Hope to see you there!



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