IOWA CITY — The days appear to be numbered for The Mill, an iconic music venue and restaurant in downtown Iowa City.
Related: Preservationists pore through the past to save The Mill
A demolition permit has been posted for the site, at 120 E. Burlington St. A representative of the demolition company, who declined to give his name, said the goal is to begin demolition within two to three weeks, depending on when permits can be obtained.
He did not know what was planned for the location. Developer Marc Moen, who owns the building, could not be reached for comment.
Owners of The Mill, the site of live music performances, political events and socializing for decades, announced its closure in June 2020.
Advocates had hoped to find a way to keep the venue open, including one group that pursued a local historic landmark designation, which would have spared it from demolition, and another group that hoped to re-found The Mill as a worker-owned, community-oriented entertainment venue and restaurant cooperative.
Neither effort came to fruition.
Keith Dempster opened The Mill in 1962 as a coffee house, restaurant and folk music venue, moving to its “new” Burlington Street location 10 years later. The Mill closed briefly in June 2003, but reopened under new owners Marty Christensen and Dan Ouverson just one month later.
Among the many celebrated local musicians who have performed inside the acoustically friendly setting of The Mill were Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Joe Price, David Zollo and Pieta Brown.
Writers, presidential hopefuls and other luminaries also passed through its doors during The Mill’s storied history.
Alicia Trimble, owner of Three Cottages Historic Preservation Consulting and Rehabilitation, found the building started as an automobile dealership, Nall Chevrolet, in 1928, before becoming Chief Motor Sales in 1934. It went through a series of other car-related businesses before being used as the Montgomery Ward Farm Store from 1941 to 1962, and later finding new life as The Mill.
Trimble had written most of the application, but would have needed a super-majority of the City Council to vote for the local landmark, as Moen likely would have objected. He didn’t speak to either group advocating to save the building, she added.
Maeve Clark, president of Friends of Historic Preservation, noted that the building likely was not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places after being remodeled a number of times, though Trimble and others also were examining its eligibility based on factors such as its association with the lives of significant people and with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of the city’s history.
“Although it is sad to see The Mill demolished, the property itself is isolated from other historic buildings due to the amount of redevelopment that has already occurred on Burlington Street,” Clark said. “Fortunately the city, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Downtown District have worked to get the core of the downtown, which retains many historically significant buildings, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Fans expressed their sorrow of the pending demolition on social media.
“So many memories of music, activism and political events are flooding in,” former Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig posted on Twitter.
Others described meeting their significant others at the site, while another person simply tweeted “Heartbreaking.”
The famous pinball machine, Gorgar!, is in my dad’s basement, (and it’s currently under renovation). It was at The Mill, during the late 70’s/early 80’s, and I clearly remember using it as a hiding place for hide and seek with other children of my dad’s colleagues. They were all members of the UI Dow’s Institute of dental research, and gathered every Fri. to circulate new ideas, but mostly for good pizza, and excessive beer. As a child I thought the Mill was fantastic. My favorite on the menu was always the mushroom and egg sandwich. I will be just devastated if they pull this building down. Too many have been torn away already
Here’s to GOR-GAR!
Continued demolition of properties that make Iowa City unique leaves it developed into a look alike city. Urban development throughout this country is leaving our cities all looking the same. Nothing that distinguishes from any other town. Looks like a strip mall and not a thriving business area.
It was the one place that reminded me of North Beach in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s. You could get great spaghetti and garlic bread. Great folk and protest music. Some great people played there, headin thru! John Hartford was one in particular. Just leave town and go to San Francisco, break bread with flower people. After all, on the road is where to be.
This is very sad to hear that this is going to happen. I wish there was some way to stop it from being demmolished.
Alicia Trimble has her years wrong as to what company’s were in the building. I worked at Nall Motors on that site in 1969. Her research is incorrect.
The article doesn’t say what was at that site from 1962 until The Mill opened there about a decade later, so it’s inaccurate to say her research is incorrect.
More high rise buildings Iowa City doesn’t need.
Why is this still happening? If there is nothing structurally wrong with these historic buildings then they should be protected! We will never get the history back…I thought Iowa City would do better than this. Very sad.
Follow the money !
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