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

IC City Council passes first consideration on Pagliai’s Pizza building’s historic landmark status

Two councilors said they approved the vote to allow for further discussion on making the building a historic landmark.
Sahithi Shankaiahgari
Pagliai’s Pizza is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

Iowa City City Council unanimously approved first considerations on Tuesday to make the Pagliai’s Pizza building a historic landmark. 

The building’s owner has contested the decision because he said the distinction would make it harder to sell the property. Gary Skarda, who is the owner, listed the property at $5 million, however, the property is valued at $1,530,570 on the Iowa City Assessor’s website

Two subsequent votes will follow before the final decision will be made to make the building Pagliai’s Pizza a historic landmark. Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro-Tem Mazahir Salih said they had questions they still wanted answers on and voted yes to allow for further discussion.

The initial vote on first considerations for the building was scheduled for the council’s April 2 meeting, however, that vote was deferred to convene with the Planning and Zoning Commission on the topic.

Teague said the challenge for him was whether all the different sections of the building warrant the historic overlay the city is proposing. If approved the city would rezone the entire block which encompasses 302-316 E. Bloomington St. However, each building on the plot of land is physically connected. 

“I really do believe that there’s something that is a jewel for the city of Iowa City. But it for me is not the totality of all of those buildings. And that is the challenge that I had last week. That is the challenge that I continue to sit with today,” Teague said.

The Pagliai’s Pizza building has existed in Iowa City since 1880. Gary Skarda, who is the current owner of the building, wants to sell the property to a developer because he can’t afford to maintain the building anymore financially or physically due to his declining health. 

If the property is made a historic landmark, a developer would not be able to demolish the property and any exterior repairs would have to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. Skarda said at the city council meeting on April 2 that he believes a historic landmark designation will reduce the marketability of the property.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan in October, Skarda said the decision to sell the building was a hard one due to its history with his family. Skarda listed the property in September 2023.

The building has been in Skarda’s family for five generations. The building was built by Joseph Slezak and has taken on several roles since it was completed in 1880. According to a staff report by the city, which lists the entire history of the building, the property functions as a hotel, ballroom, grocery store, stable and more. 

The building also has roots with the Czech community who immigrated to the area during this time.

Pagliai’s Pizza, which came into the space in 1969, is located in the building. It also has a laundromat and 16 apartments. According to the staff report, the building was created in an Italianate style which is a style that originated in 16th century Italy before becoming popular in the U.S. in the late 19th century.

Both the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission voted a recommendation to city council in February that the property be rezoned with a historic district overlay.

The decision has evoked several members of the community to voice their opinion that the property be made a historic landmark due to its history and value to the community. Others have argued that the decision on the building’s future should be left to the owner.

Jordan Sellergren, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said losing this building would hurt business in the area.

“The best cities preserve their histories. We have very few buildings like this in Iowa City and I believe that this is a valuable part of our community,” Sellergren said.

Sellergren said to the council this is not the first time the issue of making the building a historic landmark has been considered by the city.

One attempt was made in the early 1980s and another in the 1990s that both failed, Sellergren said. 

The most recent attempt happened in 2015 where the Historic Preservation Commission drafted a letter to the owner but that it was never sent. 

Victoria Skarda, who is Gary Skarda’s daughter, said her father should be able to make the final decision on what happens to the property because they can’t fund maintenance of the building and Gary Skarda is struggling to afford health care costs.

“It’s really upsetting that no matter how hard my father objects, the historic preservation won’t respect his wishes. I feel as if we’re sitting here on trial fighting for our family’s rights,” Victoria Skarda said.

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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."