Few know today how Muscatine’s tallest building came to be known as Clark House.
Local writer Marilyn “Lyn” Jackson in The Iowan magazine, Spring 1975: “Clark’s memory was revived in 1958 when, through the efforts of the AME Church, the mayor of Muscatine proclaimed February 25 Alexander Day Clark This date is regularly noted by a few blacks in Muscatine, but even in his home town his name was little known until a survey of historic homes in the fall of 1974 revealed that two houses that had belonged to a famous American consular were to be demolished to make way for a new high-rise apartment building for low-income seniors.
Muscatine Journal (September 18, 1974): “The high-rise project has darkened further.” Complications for “the city’s seniors project, again and again…beset with financial difficulties for more than nine months”. New Roadblock: “Recent attempts by a local women’s group to preserve the home of the first US Ambassador to Liberia, located on the planned housing project site. »
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“The Preservation of the House…is the initial project of the newly organized Historic Homes Study Group of the AAUW” (American Association of University Women).
“Robert Campagna, the city’s public housing administrator, said today that he received a call from a HUD official saying that support for the federally funded project would be dropped if he was to retarded again.”
In a guest column on Oct. 9, Campagna fumed: “Supposedly, by preserving the alleged residence of Alexander Clark, the memory of a black man’s success in white society could be recalled and, quite nobly, the 22 million black Americans could have ‘something to admire, something to inspire them. “
Campagna imagined that Clark would rather “help the ‘present problems’ of blacks and whites, and not preserve the bricks of a long-forgotten but conveniently resurrected memory”.
October 17, 1974: Thomas M. Kelly, Jr., president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said no black organization was financially able to support the removal and restoration effort. He urged “that the new structure be named after Alexander Clark” and incorporate appropriate interpretive screens.
Des Moines Sunday Register (November 7, 1974): “Moving expenses may doom historic Iowa home.”
February 1975: Burtine Washington Motley of Cedar Rapids announces the creation of the Alexander Clark Fund in a Muscatine bank. Donations have started to arrive.
April 1975: City Council authorizes the sale for $1 to the Alexander G. Clark Historical Society, subject to plans and promises to move the 1878 double brick house about 200 feet down the street.
Failure was never far away. From 1974 to 1979, the drama of the Clark legacy is punctuated by missed deadlines and threats of demolition. Eventually, the 11-story, 100-unit skyscraper would be named for the forgotten leader, but that was far from a sure thing.
The Journal devoted a large section to the inauguration of the Clark House tower on June 1, 1977, ending with this: “Rev. Sammy Hooks, pastor of Muscatine AME Church, gave the blessing just before the singing of “God Bless America”…and the cutting of the ribbon by Mayor Schauland and Senator Clark.
Lyn Jackson was one of the speakers, later quoted by the newspaper’s editor, Gil Dietz: “I don’t know where Senator Dick Clark got the impression that Clark was the ‘first black ambassador’ of the country, but this seems to be a common misconception in Muscatine. I would like to see this misconception corrected, just for the record.
November 1978: “Mrs. Motley and a few others have been trying for four years to save the crumbling two-story brick duplex which was moved from its original location in 1975 to make way for a public housing project.
Mayor Evelyn Schauland praised the preservation efforts, but later said, “The people of Muscatine are tired of looking at it. We receive complaints every day.
April 6, 1979: The city council learns that “a defender of history”, Kent Sissel, has agreed to buy the house. On a motion by Larry Kemp, they agree “to file the pending demolition order on the house for another 30 days instead of abolishing it completely”.
In 2003, the city honored Elizabeth “Bette” Veerhusen for preparing the successful nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for the Alexander Clark House. She had been a member of the AAUW for 50 years. Sissel inherited his research material after his death in 2004.
Bob Campagna, now a professional photographer, “is working on the digital restoration of all the images I took during this time”, including “every first resident of the Clark house in 1977”. These portraits will be presented in an exhibition at the Muscatine Art Center scheduled for February 2023.