Architect of the Month: Guido Beck, October 2016

Architect of the Month: Guido Beck, October 2016

Guido Beck (1853 – 1936), was a Dubuque architect who specialized in the architecture of churches and schools. Beck was born on January 25, 1853, in Hohenzollern, Germany where he received his early education and later studied architecture at Stuttgart and the University of Heidelberg. As a young architect, he was awarded the position of superintendent and was given one of his first building commissions by the German government to construct an asylum at Schussenried, Germany.  Beck completed the asylum in 1882, and then, against the wishes and advice of all his friends, left his native country and immigrated to the United States. He thought his chances for success were infinitely greater and the field for work much broader in the U.S.

G. Beck

Portrait of Guido Beck

Upon his arrival to the United States, Beck traveled to Rock Island, Illinois and worked as a stone-cutter in the government arsenal. There he familiarized himself with the language and customs, thoroughly mastering the American style of architecture.   With the knowledge he already possessed, Beck quickly became one of the foremost architects in the State of Iowa. In 1885 he came to Dubuque and partnered first with fellow German émigré architect Fridolin Heer.  After a few years, he left the partnership to develop his own architecture practice.  With the booming Catholic population, Beck specialized in church architecture.  He designed over 100 church buildings throughout the region, one as far away as Bozeman, Montana.  Beck-designed churches are found throughout the State of Iowa.  His preferred architectural style was the Gothic Revival style, with its pointed arches and soaring steeples.

Among the notable Dubuque buildings, Beck designed St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, St. Columbkille Catholic Church, St. Joseph Chapel at Loras College, Holy Ghost Church, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the mortuary chapel at St. Raphael Cathedral. Beck also designed many parochial schools and residences including the St. Raphael School on Bluff Street, recently converted into apartments. Beck also designed the following churches in the surrounding area: St. Clement Church in Bankston, St. Joseph Church in Bellevue, St. Martin Church (now St. Matthias Church) in Cascade, and St. Joseph Church in Rickardsville.

Architect of the Month: Willoughby Edbrooke, September 2016

Architect of the Month: Willoughby Edbrooke, September 2016

Willoughby Edbrooke (1843 – 1896), was born on September 3, 1843, in Deerfield, Illinois. Edbrooke’s father was an English-born contractor and builder and raised Willoughby in the architectural profession until he reached an age to study under the most advanced masters in Chicago. He studied for several years under the best architects in the city and was recognized for a thorough mastery of his profession. He was Commissioner of Buildings in Chicago and subsequently served as Supervising Architect for Chicago. He supervised and designed the U.S. Government Buildings erected at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Edbrooke’s other notable designs include:  The Milwaukee Federal Building; the Old Post Office Building in Washington DC; the Federal Courthouse and Post Office in St. Paul, Minnesota; several buildings on the University of Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend, IN, including the iconic gold-domed Main Administrative Building; and the State Capitol Building in Atlanta, GA.

Edbrooke’s design of the Grand Opera House is a very early example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style in Dubuque. The Grand Opera House was built between 1889 and 1890 and is located at the corner of 8th and Iowa Streets in Dubuque. The Grand Opera House is architecturally important as an early Richardsonian Romanesque building and perhaps one of the best designs of Edbrooke’s work.


Interior of the Grand Opera House (Kinseth Hospitality Companies)


Portrait of Willoughby Edbrooke (Hickey Family History, Schlereth, Portrait of Its History, p. 59)









The Grand’s distinctive heavy rounded arches at its base and its red sandstone and brick for construction are hallmarks of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  According to the National Register nomination, the façade overlays the classical base, column and capital in its fenestration pattern, all applied to a broad, shallow gabled pavilion basic form. Twin armory towers with steeply pitched pyramid roofs and finials define the sides of the pavilion. The brickwork and stone foundation are purposely unified by means of a smooth finish and blended narrow mortar joints. The features of the façade are not carried over to either side walls. The building stands five stories in height and measures 70×128. The opera house interior has been repeatedly remodeled over time, including the removal of the second balcony.   However much of the original theater interior survives. The lobby stairways retain their Queen Anne trim work and remain in their original locations.  The exterior was modified over the years as well, including covering the façade in the mid-1950s with enameled metal siding.


Drawing of the Grand Opera House (Grand Opera House Website)

At the time of its construction, the Grand Opera House was the largest theater to be built in Dubuque. The theatre had a 1,100 seat auditorium including two balconies, eight boxes and stalls and a proscenium large enough to host major theatrical productions.  A July 23, 1890 Herald article noted that the new theatre, “is by far the finest and largest edifice of its character ever erected in the city, and it is not excelled in the state.” The Grand had a long time direct association with the “legitimate theater” in Dubuque between 1890 and 1928.  The theater allowed for the staging of exceptionally large scale and high quality shows. Dubuque was in a fortunate position to establish and offer the legitimate theater and was the only city of its size to be so favored, with the best traveling companies visiting Dubuque as a Midwest railroad hub.  The Grand Opera House is the only surviving example of Edbrooke’s theatre designs.

In 1998, The Grand launched a campaign to renovate and restore the building to the look and style of the 1890s original design.  All of the 1950s metal siding was removed, exposing the impressive, monumental original façade.  The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The building has a high level of historic integrity and was restored to host live stage entertainment once again.

The Truth About the National Register of Historic Places

The Truth About the National Register of Historic Places

One of the most misunderstood areas of historic preservation is the National Register of Historic Places (the “National Register”). People do not know what the National Register is, they do not know how or why a building or site gets listed on the National Register and they certainly do not know the ramifications of a listing on the National Register. In far too many instances, misconceptions about the National Register needlessly impede or delay the rehabilitation of historic buildings.


The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 authorized the National Register. The National Register is a listing of districts, sites, buildings, structures or objects that are deemed historic (locally, statewide or nationally) either because they: 1.) Are associated with significant events in history; 2.) Are closely associated with an important persons in history; 3.) Exemplify a type, period or method of construction or are the work of a master; or, 4.) Yield, or are likely to yield, important information about history or prehistory. Additionally, a property listed on the National Register must generally be at least 50 years old and should have sufficient “integrity” (meaning that its original materials, design, workmanship, etc are largely intact).



In order to be listed on the National Register, a property must be nominated and successfully complete the nomination process.  A property can be nominated either individually or as a contributing building within a district.  A district is a grouping of properties within a defined geographic area linked together by history, aesthetics and/or physical development.

A consultant who has training and expertise in the areas of history, architectural history or historic preservation typically prepares the nomination.  It is first filed with the State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) who will review for preliminary approval.  Once approved by SHPO it is sent to the National Park Service (“NPS”) for final approval.  The process typically takes about a year to complete.

langworthy house

Dubuque’s Langworthy House, built in 1856, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.



There are many potential benefits to a property owner of a property’s listing on the National Register, while the potential negatives are few. Many times, listing on the National Register is a precondition to qualifying for preservation grants and financial incentives. In today’s challenging economic environment, preservation grants and incentives are a valuable bridge to private financing for the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Investors, developers and lenders who specialize in rehabilitation of historic properties will be attracted to properties already listed on the National Register because of the certainty of the established National Register listing and the time and expense saved by not having to go through the National Register nomination process.

Some of the benefits to the property owner include:

  • Formal recognition of a property’s historical or architectural significance based on national standards.
  • Qualification of the property for potential preservation incentives such as:
    • Federal preservation grants for planning and rehabilitation.
    • Federal historic rehabilitation tax credits for commercial properties.
    • State historic rehabilitation tax credits (depending on the state). The State of Iowa has a 25% income tax credit all types of historic buildings.
    • Income tax deduction for granting preservation easements to qualified nonprofits.
    • State and local preservation grants and tax incentives (where applicable).
    • Special exemptions or alternatives contained in local historic building codes.
    • Involvement and potential assistance of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation when the actions of a federal agency potentially affect the historic property (Section 106 Review).
    • Access to technical assistance from the NPS and SHPOs related to the rehabilitation of the historic property.



Over the years, mythological negatives of a property’s listing on the National Register have become an urban legend. These urban legends have the potential of distracting otherwise reasonable people from the factually documented benefits of listing on the National Register.

redstone inn

Dubuque’s Redstone Inn, built in 1888, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.


MYTH NUMBER 1: If my property is listed on the National Register, the government will have oversight over any alterations I make to the property.

This is FALSE. A listing on the National Register does not confer on any governmental agency (federal, state or local) the power to oversee anything a property owner does to a National Register listed property. In fact, a listing on the National Register does not even prevent a property owner from demolishing a historic property. However, in the instance where a property owner seeks federal financial incentives (federal tax credits, federal grants, federal loans, etc.) to rehabilitate a historic property, then the rehabilitation must be done according to certain standards as a condition of obtaining the federal financial incentive. In that case, the SHPO, and ultimately the NPS will have the power of oversight to make sure the property owner follows those standards.


MYTH NUMBER 2: National Register listing automatically imposes upon the property local historic district zoning or local landmark designation.

This is FALSE. The National Register is not coordinated with local landmark designations. Many localities do not have historic landmark ordinances. Each city with historic landmark ordinances has different procedures and different criteria for designation of local landmarks. A listing on the National Register is not a guarantee that the property will also be listed as a local landmark. If a property is only listed on the National Register, it is not subject to local landmark ordinances or zoning.  If a property owner wants the property to be listed as a local landmark, he or she must work with the locality to prepare the necessary paperwork for listing as a local landmark.


MYTH NUMBER 3: If my property is listed on the National Register, I will have to allow the public access to my property.

This is FALSE. A listing on the National Register does not confer on the public any right to access the historic property. Properties on the National Register that are private property remain private property. The owner can own and operate the property for any lawful use he or she so desires.


MYTH NUMBER 4: Religious properties are not eligible for listing on the National Register because of Constitutional limitations.

This is FALSE. The First Amendment to the US Constitution does not prohibit a religious property from being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A religious property can be listed on the National Register just like any other property so long as it meets the criteria and derives primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance.