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732 Gaines Street Davenport IA 52802

QCT 150th ANNIVERSARY: Davenport's Gold Coast glitters again

By John Willard | Friday, September 16, 2005 
The Gold Coast's resurgence to its glorious past continues to pick up steam as preservation efforts restore homes and instill pride in the neighborhood. (Times file photo)

MORE than 100 residents of Davenport’s historic Gold Coast celebrated their civic pride this summer with treats they won in a national contest sponsored by Edy’s Slow Churned Ice Cream.

They held an ice cream social, featuring 12 cartons of ice cream and party paraphernalia supplied by Edy’s as part of its “Two Scoop Neighborhood Salute.”

The honor underlined what residents have felt for a long time: The Gold Coast is a cool place to live. An essay describing why they think the neighborhood is special was among the 1,500 grand prize winners in the Edy’s contest.

Once plagued by crime and blight, the neighborhood atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River just west of downtown has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. The energy and enthusiasm bringing about that change was apparent as Gold Coast residents enjoyed their ice cream served in Gold Coast Park. Located on Ripley Street between 7th and 8th streets, the urban oasis was developed on the former site of a blighted apartment complex dubbed “Frog Flats” because of its green exterior.

The park’s centerpiece is a Victorian-style gazebo that offers views of the spires and turrets of the nearby Victorian mansions, built by the city’s German-born business and professional leaders in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Bounded by 5th, 9th, Ripley and Vine streets, the Gold Coast, or Hamburg area, suffered a decline in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of social and economic change. During the last two decades, the neighborhood has staged a comeback, thanks to a new breed of urban pioneers interested in restoring the grand mansions that often command great views of the Mississippi River. The neighborhood also has its share of modest worker cottages and other houses of smaller scale.

Among the more recent signs of the neighborhood’s comeback include the rehabilitation of the old Jipp grocery store at 732 Gaines St. into an architectural salvage shop. The Civil War-era structure and an adjoining house are owned by the Gateway Development Group, a not-for-profit organization formed by neighbors to save abandoned structures in the neighborhood. The group also hopes to rescue a long-vacant house at 822 Gaines St., using funds from the city’s Housing Assistance to Protect and Preserve Established Neighborhoods, or HAPPEN, program.

Beautification continues in the neighborhood. The pedestrian steps that scale the bluff between 6th and 7th streets along the Western Avenue corridor now are framed by a distinctive gateway at the top of the hill. Fashioned from poured concrete that resembles the limestone in the retaining walls found throughout the neighborhood and crowned by an 11-foot decorative arch, the structure replaces an unsightly traffic barrier.

The new gateway complements the period-style street lights and landscaping that grace the Western Avenue steps.

Future improvements include the restoration of the century-old sidewalk steps along the Ripley Street hill. The $165,000 project includes construction of retaining walls with a limestone look and adding period-style street lights.

Other signs of the Gold Coast’s vitality include its neighborhood spirit and sense of cooperation. The Gold Coast & Hamburg Historic District Association has been a catalyst for many improvements and sponsors special events.

This year, the association is sponsoring a tour of homes decked out for the holidays. They will include the turreted Gothic-style mansion at 532 W.7th St., built in the 1880s for the grandfather of Davenport-born jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. Now a bed-and-breakfast inn, it has been owned for the last seven years by Pam and Dennis LaRoque.

They have added an energy-saving geothermal heating and cooling system and continue to make improvements, such as the recent repair of the exterior, as they attract clientele from Chicago, St. Louis, Des Moines, Minneapolis and other cities around the Midwest. They also have restored a nearby home as City Center Ministry, a fellowship hall for their church, Community of Christ.

They like the neighborhood because of its friendly, supportive residents. “We all help each other,” she said.

PJ Slobojan moved to her 1869 home on West 6th Street about 15 years ago, a time when every house on her side of the block was vacant. A house painter by trade, she has enjoyed experiencing that situation reverse itself.

The Gold Coast, she said, is special because of the bonds between neighbors.

“We all know each other and take an interest in each other’s homes,” she said.



Gateway Redevelopment Group, Davenport, Iowa