The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City City Council to vote on historic landmark status for Pagliai’s Pizza building

The owner of the property believes designating the building as a historic landmark would diminish the property’s marketability.
Sahithi Shankaiahgari
Pagliai’s Pizza is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

The Iowa City City Council will vote on Tuesday for its first consideration to designate the Pagliai’s Pizza building as a historic landmark, which goes against the wishes of the building owner.

Currently, the block where the building is located, 302-316 E. Bloomington St., is zoned as a central business service. With approval from the city council, it would be rezoned with a historic district overlay.

The building is located at 302 E. Bloomington Street and was built by Joseph Slezak in 1880, nearly 150 years ago. It has remained in the Slezak family ever since.

The building’s current fifth-generation owner Gary Skarda listed the property in October 2023 for $5 million. The building currently houses Pagliai’s Pizza, a laundromat, and 16 apartments. Skarda told The Daily Iowan in September 2023 that Pagliai’s Pizza and the laundromat are tenants, and will remain open if the building is sold.

According to the city’s staff report, the building has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, including a saloon, hotel, grocery store, and dance hall. The building also previously housed a carriage house and stables. By 1930, the hotel was remodeled into apartments, and by 1969, Pagliai’s Pizza moved in where the grocery store used to be.

The building is located less than a block from the Northside Historic District, which is composed of other historic businesses in Iowa City.

Skarda told the DI the decision to sell was not an easy one. He recalled living in the building for a large portion of his childhood, often playing basketball outside the building. Skarda said his age, along with the amputation of his right leg, is what prompted him to list the property.

“I was unable to do things at the property that I was able to do before. I can’t even drive right now because I need special tools in the car to be able to drive,” Skarda said. “I can’t do the things I once was able to.”

Skarda said he does not want the building to become a historic landmark because it would make it more difficult for him to sell the property. At the Historic Preservation Commission’s meeting on Feb. 8, they found the building meets the criteria to designate it as a historic landmark. This criteria includes if a property has significant history and architecture and possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, and workmanship, among other factors.

Additionally, the commission discussed the architecture of the building, which it identified as having a remarkably well-preserved Italianate architectural style. Italianate architecture originated in 16th century Italy and became popular in the U.S. in the mid-19th century, around the same time Slezak built the property.

Skarda spoke to the preservation commission at their Feb. 8 meeting and said he is an only child and came back to manage it. He pointed out the building is privately owned, and he never pursued making it a historic landmark because it would reduce the marketability of the building.

“The fact of the matter is that the building is private,” Skarda said to the commission. “I should make the ultimate decision in terms of what should happen to the property.”

Even though the building is privately owned, Jessica Bristow, the city’s historic preservation planner, previously told the DI the city can still legally go through with landmarking the property. If the building owner contests this designation, then the city council must come to a supermajority, or six affirmative votes, when deliberating on the landmark designation.

In total, nine people spoke at the preservation commission’s meeting, many voicing their appreciation of the building and the family’s efforts to preserve its history.

Iowa City resident Phil Beck spoke to the commission and voiced a concern that if the building is sold, it could be torn down. Beck said he’s lived in Iowa City since 1975 and loves the character the building brings to the neighborhood.

“It anchors that whole neighborhood on its northern side, and to tear it down, I believe, would diminish the beauty and historic character of the entire block,” Beck said.

Another Iowa City resident Louis Tassinary spoke to the commission and said he wants the city to help Skarda find a buyer who would appreciate the property as much as Skarda’s family has and would properly compensate Skarda.

“I don’t see just a historic structure, I see an incredible amount of embodied energy,” Tassinary said.

The preservation commission unanimously voted their recommendation to make the building a historic landmark despite Skarda disagreeing.

RELATED: Pagliai’s Pizza fifth generation building owner to sell property

Along with the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation, the Planning and Zoning Commission also voted to recommend that the city council rezone this area at its Feb. 21 meeting.

The public has been particularly vocal in the rezoning process. The staff report indicated the city has received 43 letters from the public advocating that the building be made a historic landmark to continue its preservation. The letters share fond memories of the building and people’s appreciation of the architecture.

While the building has never been a historic landmark, the report from the Historic Preservation Commission states it has been cared for as a preservationist would recommend repairing the building instead of replacing elements of the building.

Once the city council votes on Tuesday, it will go through two more considerations at subsequent meetings before coming to a final vote to decide the outcome of the building.

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About the Contributor
Jack Moore
Jack Moore, News Editor
Jack Moore is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from Cedar Rapids Iowa. Along with working at The Daily Iowan, Jack works for the University of Iowa's UI-REACH program as a Resident Assistant. UI-REACH is a program for students with learning, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities intended to provide support to these students throughout their college experience. Additionally, Jack is involved in Iowa City's live music scene as he plays bass for local Iowa City band "Two Canes."