The Coolness Factor of Iowa City

Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City

Coolness factor of Iowa:  6-7/10

Coolness factor of Iowa City:  9/10

On a typical day my coolness factor is low. My cool thing is bicycling instead of driving.

My coolness goes way up when we visit Iowa City, my hometown.  As we drive up Dubuque Street, past City Park, past Tudor frat houses, past shabby old houses with cupolas and porches, my heart lightens. My husband says,  “You seem happier and more confident.”

It’s probably because we can walk everywhere.

The coolness factor of Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, is high.  It is a lovely university town, with tree-lined streets and a pedestrian downtown. The slightly tacky UNESCO effect is the installation of plaques with writers’ quotes on the sidewalk, which I try to ignore.  (The writers attended or taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.) The town used to be cooler a few decades ago when there were actually more bookstores.  The few surviving stores have smaller collections than they used to.

What we actually like to do is walk around town. We walked to Oakland Cemetery and looked at the Black Angel.  There was a legend about the Black Angel:  it turned black because of some eerie love story gone amok, or something else we made up as girls.  Actually, the statue turned black because of an outdoor oxidizing effect on bronze.

The Black Angel at Oakland Cemetery on a dark November day.

We discovered the grave of Mauricio Lasansky, an Argentine printmaker who came to teach at the University of Iowa and established the printmaking department in 1945. He was best known for the Nazi Drawings.  I love the sculpture on his gravestone.

Mauricio Lasansky’s grave.

Then we did our personal house tour of lodging houses, because both of us lived in rented rooms our senior year of college.  On the way to the graveyard, we passed the house where I lived in a minuscule room.  The house is even more run-down than it used to be, if that’s possible. They’ve put siding over the picture window, so the new lodger must  live in almost total darkness.  But I was happy there, and I liked the attic kitchen, where I ate ramen noodles with the rest of the lodgers.

I lived happily in this run-down house!

Across the street from the rooming house is an elegant private drive where we  walked to escape student life.

We used to do our laundry late at night at the apartment house (see pic below) across the street so as to avoid the laundromat.

The laundry…!

And then my husband and I walked on to the Iowa City Public Library, which is really a bustling community space these days. Although I preferred the old Carnegie library, this accommodates many more readers. And we enjoyed looking at this mural on loan.  It was originally commissioned for the Jefferson Hotel in the ’30s.

Another lovely day in Iowa City!  And we were very cool for a day.

The mural shows the building of the railroad.

12 thoughts on “The Coolness Factor of Iowa City

  1. I completely misunderstood your title at first and was going to tell you that the coolness factor here this morning is 0C and in my book that isn’t cool, it’s cold. However, I love your pictures of Iowa City and I too think that living where you can walk everywhere is absolutely ideal.


  2. Your post reminded me of my own college days in Ann Arbor. It was larger and noisier and more bustling than Iowa City, but the heart of the town had a certain charm. Who painted the mural in the Iowa City library?


    • Oh, Ann Arbor must be great! I’ve read about it in Marge Piercy’s novel Braided Lives. The painter was Mildred Pelzer, and is one of eight she was commissioned to do. Alas, the library only had one (on loan).


  3. Iowa City does look charming. Having grown up in a lovely town in Indiana, now thousands of miles away, I envy your ability to revisit your hometown when you wish.


  4. That is fine mural. I like that idea of walking about a city and looking at and therefore comparing lodging houses. I doubt one could do this in Alexandria: I suspect most have closed because of the high cost of real estate. All there are are personally-owned home and very expensive apartment houses or hotels. I wonder how much of the latter remain empty — empty flats are said to be growing in many larger cities. Made for the super-rich when there are only 1 to say10% of such people in any population.


    • Yes, i love the mural. I do wish I could have seen the others. This one is on loan to the public library, because somehow now they belong to a school which is undergoing renovation. But I think it is unusual that a woman got this “assignment” in the ’30s.


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