See progress on renovation of historic Jefferson Street buildings
Building owner Brandon Bentz talks about what’s ahead for the pair of historic buildings he and his wife purchased along Jefferson Street.
Michaele Niehaus, The Hawk Eye
The walls and ceilings in the second story of Jefferson Street’s historic Scotten building have been stripped bare, revealing wood rafters, tin tiles and well-preserved murals advertising businesses long past.
The Scotten and neighboring Gabeline buildings have housed a number of businesses and services over their more than 100-year histories, and remnants of their past uses are being uncovered as a West Burlington couple progresses on long hoped-for development along the 700 block of Jefferson Street.
“Every time you take something down, you discover something new,” Brandon Bentz said on a recent morning, his voice nearly drowned out by the sounds of power tools and sledgehammers being used by contractors downstairs.
Bentz and his wife, Kathy, purchased the Scotten and Gabeline buildings in Burlington in November, with plans to renovate the combined 30,000-square-foot space into a market, brewery and restaurant with updated retail space.
The couple are now more than six months into the project, which they expect to be completed by next May, and the work being done there has turned up some unexpected finds.
The removal of the east drywall on the second story of the Scotten building revealed murals painted onto the exterior wall of the Gabeline building advertising buggies once sold by Gabeline’s New Implement and Buggy House.
In the basement of the Scotten building is a bank vault, likely first used by Farmers and Merchants Bank and Trust.
The old boiler that serviced the building in the 1900s still remains, as do the coal chutes that ran beneath city sidewalks.
There have also been less-than-desirable discoveries, such as six layers of roof stacked one on top of the other.
“So they re-roofed this thing six times,” Bentz said. “When we pulled it, this support right here collapsed and six inches dropped when they pulled the layers out, because that was all that was holding this roof together. There was water damage and everything else throughout this.”
And then there was the odd discovery of something that likely pre-dates Iowa’s statehood.
While digging an elevator shaft in May in the basement of the Scotten building, workers found about a dozen shank and jaw bones.
Bentz said that, judging by the teeth, they came from bison.
Iowa was once home to bison, but by the late 1800s, they were nearly extinct.
Bentz said the bones will be put in a display case somewhere within the building once work is complete, along with information about the buildings’ history.
“This has been a pharmacy. There was a bank downstairs. The ambulance service was here,” Bentz said. “It’s been everything.”
Business directory listings indicate frequent storefront vacancies, quick turnover in years past
The Gabeline building was constructed in 1912 by Burlington native and Chicago businessman Samuel Scotten for Jacob Gabeline’s implement/farm business. That remained there through the 1930s, according to State Historical Society of Iowa records.
In 1915, the three-story Gabeline building was joined on its west side by the two-story Scotten building, also constructed by Scotten. The two buildings marked the development of the west section of Jefferson Street, which previously had been occupied by smaller buildings. The east section of Jefferson was home to businesses and offices aplenty.
The second floor of the Scotten building, complete with a ballroom, was used as the Knights of Columbus Hall through the 1930s.
The building also included four storefronts along the first floor. They would be occupied by a number of businesses and professionals over the years — including druggist Charles Froid, Farmers and Merchants Bank and Trust, a branch of Sutter Drug Co., a tavern, and auto accessory, liquor and drug stores — but it was seldom that each of the retail spaces were used at once.
Directories referenced by the State Historical Society of Iowa indicate there was frequent turnover and it was not uncommon for one or two of the spaces to be vacant.
The Gabeline building, meanwhile, continued to house a farm implement business — first Gabeline’s, then Burlington Farm Machinery Co. and International Harvester, then McCormick Deering Store and International Harvest — until 1940, when it was listed as vacant.
In 1942, it saw use by the National Youth Administration, then the Northrup Hatchery in 1945.
Occupancy at the buildings stabilized from the 1940s through the 1960s with the arrival of the Sears Roebuck and Co. Farm Store, which opened across multiple storefronts of both buildings and remained there through the 1960s.
That business would be joined by Culligan Soft Water Service, Checker Cab, Yellow Cab, Budget Rent-A-Car, Superior Ambulance Service, and Electric Design and Manufacturing Corp.
By the late 1960s, the Knights of Columbus had left the second-story space and its ballroom, and it went on to sit vacant.
Sears eventually moved out, and, in 1967, the Gabeline building was occupied for a time by a janitorial, pool and spa supply company called Six Flags. That, too, would leave.
With the 1980s came the rise of the mall. Cities including Burlington saw their downtown businesses dwindle, and the stability the Scotten and Gabeline buildings saw in the ’60s began to crumble.
Then came the rise of the internet and the fall of the department store. Malls, including the one in West Burlington, lost their anchor stores, foot traffic diminished and local business owners sought more affordable space in walkable downtown areas rich with historic architecture and character.
Jefferson Street re-energized, with more demand for downtown stores
Jefferson Street saw a resurgence, and demand for downtown storefronts has continued to grow, inching up Jefferson Street toward Central Avenue with the additions of Dave’s Not Here, Wake n Bake, Pookie’s Thai Cuisine, the Nana and Me and more.
The lower-level storefronts of the Scotten and Gabeline buildings would continue to see use, including by businesses such as Riverview Designs, which recently moved to its other location in Carman, Illinois, and Star Asylum Tattoos and Trends, which will move to a yet-to-be-decided location by November.
The upper levels remained vacant, windows broken and boarded over.
Soon, however, those windows will be replaced by dark bronze, modernized industrial-style windows. The doors leading into the building will be similar to the windows, and eight feet tall.
“The project in general is absolutely fantastic,” Burlington Mayor Jon Billups said. “That building, despite having good owners, has been needing some tender loving care. (The Bentzes) plans will not only re-energize the building, but they’ll re-energize the 700 block.
“It’s kind of amazing. When I was a kid, everything was from the 600 block down to the riverfront, and now you see this progression from the 600 block up to Central. It’s just what we always dreamed of back in the ’80s that there would be thriving businesses all the way up and down Jefferson and the side roads.”
A look at what’s coming: Fine dining with casual attire
The Scotten building will be home to The Busted Cup Brewhouse, a restaurant and brewery specializing in German foods and beer with an American twist.
Bentz, who was taken by German cuisine while visiting the country, said the menu is in the works, and a tasting panel has been established in Roseville, Illinois, home to their meat processing and equipment manufacturing business, Fusion Tech.
Bentz said Friday and Saturday night menus likely will feature smoked prime rib, with other specials being offered each night.
The kitchen and full restaurant will be on the second story, accessible by stairs and elevator, with a capacity of 300.
On the first floor will be the brewery, located at the back of the building, and a tasting room, where customers also will be able to select from a limited menu due to the location of the kitchen.
Outdoor seating will be available behind the building.
“We’ve gotten a lot of people who are pretty excited about this place being completed and having other opportunities in places to hang out,” he said, explaining the food will be high quality but the dress vibe will be more jeans and t-shirt. “It won’t be upscale by any means. We’ll have really good foods and stuff, but I’m not a suit-and-tie guy.”
Bentz said he and his wife intend to hire a chef and brewmaster.
“Whoever we hire for the chef and whoever we hire for the brewmaster, we’re going to vest them in the business, because we think it’s important that each individual who has a major responsibility for this succeeding has a stake in it,” he said.
Also on the first floor of the Scotten building will be Poppy’s Market, which will sell the products made by The Busted Cup.
The market’s name honors Kathy’s late grandfather, Russel Dakin, who left his land to the Bentzes. The sale of that land allowed them to pursue the Jefferson Street project.
Bentz said the project’s quick timeline does not allow for historical grants, so financing is left to the developers and the bank.
The Gabeline building will contain the restroom facilities, as well as three retail spaces and the first floor and two more on the second floor.
“There’s five leasables on that side,” Bentz said, pointing toward the east end of the project. “One’s taken already.”
One of the first-floor spaces will be home to a yoga studio. Bentz met with other parties interested in the remaining available spaces in June but declined to name them as no leases have been signed yet.
The project has been significant for the first-time developers, but their efforts won’t stop there.
Plans underway for public amphitheater north of the building
The couple also are in the process of acquiring the empty lots to the north of what will be the Busted Cup Brewhouse that are bordered by Washington Street.
“We’re looking at putting an amphitheater in for public use,” Bentz said.
The idea for that project took off after the Bentzes had considered purchasing that property for accessibility purposes.
“We wanted to buy part of that land to bring a sidewalk and stairs down from Washington to our back side because we’ll have a back-side entrance and outside seating for the brewery,” Bentz said.
A completion date for the amphitheater has not been set, but the Bentzes have been working with the state to apply for Community Development Block Grants.
Bentz said the amphitheater will be operated by a yet-to-be-formed nonprofit.
Once complete, it will be available for concerts, weddings and other events.
Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.