The Historic Hotel Maytag Once Again Is an Economic Contributor in a Small Community

The year is 1926. The place: Newton, Iowa. In the northeast quadrant of the city’s town square, a luxurious 5-story building is officially opening its doors. Designed by Chicago architect Henry Raeder and constructed by Frederick Louis Maytag, owner of Maytag Corp., the Hotel Maytag boasts finished brick, terra-cotta panels, and classical columns and motifs. At once elegant and understated, Hotel Maytag is the perfect addition to Newton’s small-town culture, offering Newtonites a place where they can live, gather, celebrate and be entertained. This magnificent structure houses 100 hotel guestrooms, apartments on the fifth floor, a grand ballroom and banquet hall, as well as a coffee shop. Some say it is the first air-conditioned hotel west of the Mississippi. The Capitol Theater, which opens inside the building one year later in 1927, shows silent pictures accompanied by a live orchestra.

Designed by Chicago architect Henry Raeder and constructed by Frederick Louis Maytag, owner of Maytag Corp., the Hotel Maytag boasts finished brick, terra-cotta panels, and classical columns and motifs.

During the next 40 years, the Hotel Maytag would serve as Newton’s primary event hub, hosting everything from weddings and dances to graduation ceremonies and musical performances. Judy Garland and Gary Cooper performed at the Capitol Theater, scrawling their signatures into the wall in the basement dressing room. In the mid-1960s, however, the main ballroom closed, and the hotel’s interior spaces were chopped up to create apartments, offices and commercial spaces.

The 81,979-square-foot structure endured multiple ownership changes during the next several decades and began to decline. Walking into the building at the depth of its decline, one could be forgiven for thinking it was beyond repair. The once grand ballroom had been divided into more than 20 different offices and enclosed by a drop ceiling that concealed the skylight and intricate plaster relief above. Rooms and apartments throughout the building had deteriorated nearly beyond recognition. Pipes were bursting or rotting and leaking into the movie theater. In short, the Hotel Maytag was in serious disrepair.

Over the years, difficult market conditions and economic challenges, including the closure of the last remaining Maytag factory—one of the city’s largest employers—led to the building’s continual decline. It remained this way until the city of Newton determinedly sought partners to rehabilitate the structure, not just to its original grandeur, but to its status as an economic contributor and boon to Newton. As the city’s largest building, local leaders knew they had to do all they could to rehabilitate the Hotel Maytag and, in 2015, began considering what it would take to restore the original structure. The city officially acquired the building for $412,000 in 2016 and continued to search for the right partners and secure funding. Newton also invested in the programming and design of the building to ensure the future restoration and adaptive reuse would qualify it for historic tax credits. Then, in 2017, through a competitive selection process, the city turned the deed over to former Iowa senator Jack Hatch and his company, Hatch Development Group.

Once funding was secured—a combined $16 million that included support from the city of Newton, a $75,000 challenge grant from Main Street Iowa, historic preservation tax credits from state and federal agencies, low-income tax credits and a personal investment from Hatch himself—the design and development team devised a plan to repair, replace and restore every piece and part of the historic Hotel Maytag.

BEFORE: The once grand ballroom had been divided into more than 20 different offices and enclosed by a drop ceiling that concealed the skylight and intricate plaster relief above. PHOTO: RDG Planning & Design

Restoration and Design Efforts

Although the history of the building was significant, when the team first set foot in the building, the former Hotel Maytag was in pitiful shape. The first-floor commercial spaces were mostly vacant, and the two- screen movie theater was fighting a battle on two fronts: against the new multiplex cinema 15 minutes away and against the broken sewer pipes and failing radiators. At best, the apartments were awkwardly configured, cobbled-together habitations; at worst, they were not suitable for healthy living conditions. The dwellings were so substandard and the lack of maintenance so profound that the feeling of despair was palpable. The 3,500-square-foot second-floor ballroom had been converted into blank, windowless offices in the 1980s. In the process, the original terrazzo floor with inlaid brass strips, the decorative plaster on the walls and ceiling, the wood wainscot and the 200-square-foot skylight had all been concealed or destroyed.

As the team worked, it gradually uncovered the building’s original design logic, discovering that half of the upper floors were originally intended as office space and the other half as hotel rooms. The evidential differences were subtle—trim profiles, flooring, transom windows to the corridors, panels in the doors—but as the design team learned to read the building, team members understood it was masterfully designed and well-built. The mere fact that it had survived for so long was a testament to its pedigree.

As work began—and the challenge shifted from discovery and understanding of the building to the design of the new spaces—the ultimate design intent as both a restoration project and adaptive-reuse development was revealed. The challenge, as is always true with adaptive reuse, was to thread the needle between aspiration and reality. Architect RDG Planning & Design’s team had to protect the character-defining features of the historic building while gutting and replacing all the building systems, adding modern life-safety features and creating apartments that were not only habitable but also desirable to renters. There was also the added challenges of conforming to the requirements of the affordable housing tax credit program; ensuring low-VOC materials and healthy indoor air quality; as well as being creative with minimum square footages for apartments, accessibility and value-add amenities.

The restored ballroom, now known as the Maytag Event Complex, serves as a full-service banquet facility that can accommodate a single large event of up to 250 people or several small groups simultaneously.

Through iterative, collaborative processes, RDG began to design plans for comfortable, modern apartments on the upper four floors that could accommodate the building constraints and capitalize on the building’s historic features. Corridors were reconfigured to complete a loop of the building and allow for safe exiting from every apartment. The building’s super-sized window openings were restored by replacing the 1970s single-pane windows with high-quality historic replicas that include insulated double-pane glazing.

The apartments were intentionally laid out to maximize daylight and dramatic views of the nearby Jasper County Courthouse. RDG’s design also revitalized the structure’s original historic features, including classical plaster detailing, moldings and wood wainscoting, as well as the ballroom’s iconic terrazzo floors.

PHOTOS: Iris22 Productions unless otherwise noted

About the Author

Matt Coen, AIA
Matt Coen, AIA, is a senior partner and architect at RDG Planning & Design. He has focused his career on community revitalization and economic-development efforts.

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