Mason City, Iowa is home to many impressive architectural sites including designs from the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Stockman House is a primary example of Wright’s Prairie School style. The Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center (AIC) is the starting place for the Stockman House tours and provides access and information about Mason City’s unique architectural history.
Stockman House History
Every good story starts with a friendship. The Stockman House is no different. The Hillside Home School in Spring Green, WI was run by two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts and attended by the daughters of Mason City attorney, James E.E. Markley. In 1902, Wright had completed the school’s second building and developed a friendship with Markley.
Markley and James E. Blythe, another prominent Mason City attorney, sat on the Board of Directors of the City National Bank. When the bank decided to construct a new building, Markley recommended his friend, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1907-1908, Wright traveled to Mason City several times as discussions continued for the proposed bank building, which now included a hotel and offices for the Blythe, Markely, Rule and Smith law firm.
One of Markley’s neighbors, Dr. George C. Stockman, met with Wright who agreed to design a home for Stockman and his wife, Eleanor, in Mason City.
The Stockman House is the third iteration of Wright’s Fireproof House, a plan published in the April 1907 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal. It features cantilevered roofs and a projecting entrance, broad veranda and a 2nd story balcony. The functionally efficient home has a revolutionary L-shaped open floor plan consisting of living spaces without walls. The house is stucco over frame construction, unlike the original Fireproof House which was to be constructed with reinforced concrete.
For 80 years, the Stockman House was located at 311 1st Street SE, until 1989 when the Methodist Church wanted to expand its parking lot. The house was sold and moved to its current location of 530 1st Street NE, just north of the Rock Glen Historic District. To read the New York Times article about the move, click here. A DVD titled, “The Moving and Restoration of the Stockman House” is available for purchase in the gift shop.
The River City Society for Historic Preservation purchased and restored the home. Upon its relocation, the house was rotated so that its former north elevation now faces west.
The Stockman House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and is now open to the public for guided tours.
Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center
The Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center (AIC) is the starting place for the Stockman House tours and provides access and information about Mason City’s unique architectural history. An exhibit space showcases architectural models along with historic photos of the community’s architectural gems. The AIC also features Prairie School exhibits and a gift shop.
The River City Society for Historic Preservation (RCSHP)
The River City Society for Historic Preservation (RCSHP) was organized in 1987. At the time, the Mason City community was very concerned about the deferred maintenance and safety of an ornate, Victorian vaudeville/movie theater located across from Central Park. The theater was an important piece of history for the RCSHP. “River City” was chosen to be part of the RCSHP’s name to tie its efforts of preservation and rehabilitation to the legacy of Meredith Willson, who got his musical start in that theater. Unfortunately, the building deteriorated before the RCSHP could gather sufficient resources to prevent its subsequent demolition.
Community concern was growing over the neglect of the Civil War monument in Central Park. Located on city of Mason City property, the RCSHP spearheaded an effort to convince city leaders to finance its ultimate restoration. As a by-product of this effort, annual Civil War re-enactments have been held in Mason City since.
By the summer of 1987, the status of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Stockman House had become an issue. Faced with either its imminent demolition or relocation to another site to make room for a parking lot, the RCSHP developed a relationship with the city of Mason City, who had obtained the structure from the property owner.
Ultimately, the city gave the Stockman house to the RCSHP on the condition that it be moved to another site and converted into a house museum reflective of the Prairie School/Arts and Crafts style of its origins. Thanks to community volunteers, generous financial benefactors, a Historic Resources Development grant from the state of Iowa, support from the national architectural community, and the leadership of the RCSHP, the restoration of the Stockman House was completed by June 1992. It then opened to the public for tours and has remained a top tourist destination ever since.
While the Stockman House was undergoing restoration, RCSHP leaders recognized the need for an architectural interpretive center to tell the story of Mason City’s architectural wonders. In 2009, RCSHP purchased the property to the north of the Stockman House thanks to generous grants and bequests along with financial support from the state of Iowa. The Mason City Architectural Interpretive Center serves as the entry point for many visitors who appreciate the architectural and historic character of Mason City.
Since its inception the success of the RCSHP has been, guided by its goals and mission to restore, preserve, protect, and own/operate historic and/or architecturally significant buildings and sites in Mason City, educate the public about historic architecture, and encourage others to do the same.
Additional preservation organizations have been established to restore other important Mason City buildings and sites and numerous efforts have been made by private parties to preserve worthy structures. Thanks to the RCSHP and other preservation organizations, much has been accomplished since 1987; however, other worthy buildings and sites await action.
by Dave Christiansen, Founder of RCSHP amd Board of Directors, Emeritus
Board of Directors
RCSHP has a constitution, bylaws, and is incorporated under the state laws of Iowa and operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit museum under IRS requirements. The River City Society for Historic Preservation (RCSHP) is led by a dedicated group of volunteers. We thank them for their dedication and service. The board meets the last Thursday of the month at 5 p.m.
Robert S. Kinsey III
Building and Grounds Committee Chair
Operations Committee Chair
Education Committee Chair
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) left home at 18 to work and study at the University of Wisconsin. Impatient with school, he left the university after two semesters and moved to Chicago to work with the pioneering moderns, architects who were in the midst of creating a new architectural vocabulary. He was ultimately hired by the prestigious firm of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under his mentor, Louis Sullivan, for six years before opening his own offices in 1893.
Wright and several progressive architects shared studio space in Chicago’s Steinway Hall. Ideas were exchanged freely by the young architects as they moved up and down halls depending on who needed draftsmen. What these architects created came to be known as the Prairie Style.
Several members of this group, William Drummond, Marion Mahony, Walter Burley Griffin and Francis Barry Byrne, would find themselves working on projects in Mason City during the course of their careers.
Robert E. McCoy
Robert E. McCoy (7/22/1929-10/17/2021) was inspired by architecture and motivated by historic preservation for decades. A retired orthopedic surgeon, Dr. McCoy was actively involved in the restoration of the Stockman House and Historic Park Inn Hotel, and the development of the Architectural Interpretive Center. McCoy was a founding member of Wright on the Park and led the organization’s Preservation Committee.
As a dedicated, historical preservationist, his efforts helped to restore and preserve Mason City’s true architectural gems. In 1962, he and his wife, Bonnie, purchased the Blythe House in Mason City, designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin. In 1967, McCoy authored an article for the “Prairie School Review” about Mason City’s Rock Crest/Rock Glen area and the Frank Lloyd Wright and Griffin designed homes and buildings.
McCoy played a critical role in the moving of the Stockman House to its current location and oversaw the creation of the Stockman House Museum. Throughout the years, he volunteered his talents as an engaged board member and dedicated his energy to everything from organizational oversight to landscaping and beautification of the Stockman House site.
In 2014, the River City Society for Historic Preservation’s (RCSHP) Board of Directors voted to name the Architectural Interpretive Center after McCoy. To recognize his years of service and efforts, today we welcome visitors to the Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center. Even though McCoy’s talents stretched far beyond the RCSHP, we are honored to have had his support and guidance as we work to ensure that architecturally important buildings are preserved for generations to come.
From the Board:
We were saddened by the passing of Robert E. McCoy on October 17, 2021. Bob was a tremendous supporter and resource for the Stockman House restoration as well as our ongoing business of running a house museum. Bob served many years on the Board of Directors, retiring as a Board Member Emeritus.
He was honored to have his name added to the Architectural Interpretive Center several years ago. Bob left an indelible mark on the Stockman House and Interpretive Center volunteers, donors, and Board members. His love of Prairie School architecture will live on as we welcome visitors from all corners of the world. Thank you for your support and dedication, Bob. You are missed.
Mason City Architecture
Mason City is ranked among “The World’s 20 Best Cities for Architecture Lovers” by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. In addition to the Stockman House, other locations such as Rock Crest/Rock Glen and the Historic Park Inn Hotel can be added to your list while exploring our community’s impressive architecture.
Historic Park Inn
The Historic Park Inn Hotel is an operating hotel waiting to be experienced by guests and visitors alike. Guided tours of the restored hotel will help deepen the experience of your visit as you learn more about the design and impact of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and its significance today.
Rock Crest/Rock Glen
Mason City offers an incredible look into the development of Prairie School Architecture. Just a block from the Stockman House, the historic Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood comprises the largest collection of Prairie School homes to share a natural setting in the United States. Walking tours are available seasonally of the homes designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Barry Byrne, Marion Mahony Griffin, and Einar Broaten.
530 1st Street NE, Mason City, IA 50401
The Robert E. McCoy
Architectural Interpretive Center
520 1st Street NE, Mason City, IA 50401