In an earlier post, we told you about the Iowa City artist – Mildred Pelzer. In 1934, she was commissioned by The Jefferson Hotel in downtown Iowa City to create eight 4′ x 12′ murals – all surrounding the historical theme of transportation in Iowa City’s past.
The opening day for her murals was September 6, 1934 – see story here – and over the next fifteen years (1934-1949) Mildred’s artwork was proudly displayed in the lobby of the Jefferson.
In his book, Historic Scenes by Mildred Pelzer – 1934, Bob Hibbs gives us this overview of the eight murals…
(P-0304) (P-0037) (M-0143) After fifteen years of being prominently displayed in the Jefferson Hotel, a remodeling of the lobby occurred (1949), and this is where our Mildred Pelzer Mural Story gets really sad. Apparently, sometime during the remodel, the eight murals were taken down and stored haphazardly by some very (shall we say?) stupid fellow.
Based on what we know today, the eight murals remained in storage in the Jefferson Hotel for a short period of time before someone (another stupid idiot?) – in the 1950’s – decided to break up the set – moving up to six of the eight murals down Washington Street into the basement of City Hall. Now, let’s fast forward to the 1970’s…
In the early 1970’s, as the Jefferson Hotel building was being sold, George R. Dane, a loan officer with Iowa State Bank & Trust, was assigned to inspect the property. According to Iowa City historian, J. Patrick White, Dane found two of Mildred’s murals (#6 Stage Ready – 1855 and #7 Railroad Arrives – 1856) rolled up and hidden away in the hotel’s basement.
According to White, when George Dane did some more exploring, he discovered that a local auto dealer – Richard (Dick) Feddersen of Nall Motors – had rescued three or four other murals from the basement of City Hall when the building was being torn down in 1962. It’s believed that Dick was particularly interested in Mural #8 – Hold Your Horses – 1902 (the automobile theme), and once in his possession, he had some of the murals framed and then hung on the walls of Nall Motors – the corner of Burlington & Linn Streets – well into the 1970’s.
We know, for a fact, that George Dane, after he discovered the two murals – #6 Stage Ready – 1855 and #7 Railroad Arrives – 1856 – convinced Iowa State Bank to pay for their restoration. The bank then donated the pair of murals to the Iowa City Community School District – where they’ve been proudly displayed at Longfellow Elementary School since the late-1970’s. Longfellow – as you can see from the maps below – is located very near where the first Mississippi & Missouri Railroad station was first built in the 1850’s. An appropriate location for Mural #7!
As for Dick Feddersen and Nall Motors – in 1992, three murals – #3 Our First Families – 1840, #4 We Build Our Capital – 1841, and #5 At Our City Landing – 1844 – were donated to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, where, as of today, only two of the three (#4 & #5) have been partially restored.
So, today we are left with five recovered murals with three missing ones – #1 Roused Bear – 1838, #2 Locating The Capital – 1839, and #8 Hold Your Horses – 1902. Some believe that #8 – with its automobile theme – hung, unframed and unprotected, in Nall Motors for so many years that it became full of fumes and oil stains. Feddersen, before he died in 2016, never admitted to such a fate – but sadly, #8 is now gone and no pictures of it exist today! As for #1 & #2, it’s presumed that both are lost forever – discarded at some point during their time in one of the two downtown basements (1949-1962). Fortunately, two photos from the 1940’s remain (see below) – taken from the 1934 opening ceremony placemat – so we can, at least, get an idea of what these beauties might have looked like. So now – let me present…
In 2017, when Longfellow School was in the midst of a major remodel, Iowa City lawyer, J. Patrick White, took it upon himself to find a temporary home for #6 Stage Ready and #7 Railroad Arrives while the renovations at Longfellow occurred. A brilliant move indeed, because with the publicity that surrounded the temporary re-location of these two treasures – Iowa City Senior Center and Iowa City Public Library – more people had an opportunity to find out about these hidden gems and actually see them up-close and personal. Click here to watch the entire 1.5 hour presentation White gave at the Iowa City Library for the 2017 Weber Days Celebration.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
(BH-148) Historic Scenes by Mildred Pelzer – 1934, Bob Hibbs, Johnson County Historical Society, 2009
Iowa City Press-Citizen 75-page Special Edition, July 1, 1939
83-Year-Old Murals Go Downtown While Longfellow Renovates, Zach Berg, Iowa City Press Citizen, May 20, 2017
Telling Mildred Pelzer’s Story, Bob Hibbs, December 9, 2009, Iowa GenWeb Project
Railroad Arrives, Mildred Pelzer, Iowa City Public Library
Richard T. Feddersen 1919 – 2016, Iowa City Press Citizen Obituaries
Visting Nall Chevrolet 1930-1946, Daryl Scott, Throwing Wrenches, January 19, 2014
George R. Dane (1922-2018) Iowa City Press Citizen
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