Mysteries in History

The title of the post is “Mysteries in History,” and before I chose it, I realized it had a familiar ring to it. It’s from Men in Black II. It’s an imaginary, cheesy, very low budget TV series narrated by Peter Graves in the movie. And it’s actually the perfect title for what my wife and I think about the Mason City, Iowa YWCA not being on the National Register for Historic Places. It’s a mystery in history which is anything but cheesy. I mentioned it in my previous post about the Mason City Ys.

I asked the State Historical Society of Iowa about it. It turns out it has been deemed eligible twice for nomination to the National Register, in 1991 and again in 2003, which was a year after the YMCA was added to the list.

The Mason City YWCA has never been nominated. Why it has never been nominated is the mystery in history.

It’s not a simple matter to get a building on the National Register. The process is outlined on the State Historical Society of Iowa web site. Unless you’re a professional historian, it’s a tough project and can take at least a year to accomplish.  

I found a 36-page form on the web which documented the approval of the Mason City YMCA as a historic site fit for the National Register. It’s minutely detailed and I imagine it took a year just to complete the form itself, not to mention all the other hurdles you have to negotiate. The photos bring back memories of when I lived there as a young man. You could actually live in small, single occupancy dormitory rooms. You could do that at the YWCA as well, once upon a time.

There are 2 Artists who bought the YWCA building last year. It’s 100 years old and the place needs a lot of work. There’s a Trulia entry on the web which says it has housed a health spa, an intermediate care facility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities called One Vision, a Women’s shelter and the list apparently doesn’t stop there.

A couple of articles say that one of the two new owners, Elisha Marin, filmed his music video, “Shining Out,” in an abandoned YWCA. They don’t say which one, but I wonder if it’s the Mason City YWCA. It would fit the long and winding story.

The Mason City Public Library (my favorite place when I was a kid) has a web page with a historical timeline indicating that the YWCA was built in 1918. The YMCA was dedicated in 1927 and placed on the National Register in 2002. I think a lot of the historical documents which helped get the YMCA listed might also prove the YWCA should be listed too.

I found another place called Five College Compass Digital Collections, which also has a ton of documents on microfilm about the Mason City YWCA. It was difficult to navigate and some of the pages were rotated, making them hard to read unless you can bend your head 90 degrees. You can click a button which apparently flips the pages upright, but transforms the text into something that looks like a foreign language.

You can get technical assistance in getting a property listed. The assistant would be available for 24 hours total. You can apply for grants, which can help with some of the expenses. It looks exhausting, though. Hey, I’m the kind of guy who flunked history.

It would sure be nice to solve this mystery in history. Maybe the 2 Artists will consider it. I wish them luck.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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