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Uptown Marion, transforming old into new
by DJ Kauffman Correspondent · October 12th, 2017

Uptown Marion currently has an eclectic feel, thanks to a late 20th century modernization move, where a colorful, glass-front mini-mall and parking lot were built in place of run-down, two-story 19th century structures lining the south side of 7th Avenue.

According to Marion Historian Pat Klopfenstein, among the demolished, dilapidated buildings, was one where the famous Cherry Sisters of Marion first performed their "so bad it was good" acts. Many north-side storefronts also received new retro-looking improvements.

Even with all of the late 1900s changes, many contrasting historical icons in Marion remained, including a Civil War statue and cannon in Marion's beautiful City Square Park.

Today, Marion is again progressively moving forward, but this time by looking back to its far past for inspiration. With the implementation of Marion's Main Street Iowa project, these fixer-uppers are becoming like new, as several buildings are being transformed back to their original, historic state.

One such restoration has caught the attention of Iowa's Governor Kim Reynolds (R) and Lt. Governor Adam Gregg, who attended the 1138 7th Avenue Cobban-Hervey Building historic restoration celebration on Tuesday, October 10. The building's new owner received a $55,000 Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant incentive for the restoration.

The Cobban-Hervey Building originally had two storefronts (1138 and 1144 7th Avenue), and was built by mercantile owners G. A. Cobban and J. F. Hervey in 1872. This was not long after the first train rolled into Marion on October 13, 1864, bringing needed prosperity to Marion toward the end of the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 - May 9, 1865).

According to a 1972 C. R. Gazette photo caption, The Cobban-Hervey Building was remodeled inside and out, with Sorg Drug (owner N. F. "Fritz" Sorg) and Sherwin Williams as tenants. Parks & Schmit Orthodontics (now on Tower Terrace Road) later moved into the Sherwin Williams site next to Sorg Drug. Anderson-Bogert Engineers & Surveyors, Inc. (2nd floor) and Urban Pie Fast Fired Pizza (first floor) will now be located at this address.

Of the Cobban-Hervey Building, Marion Historian, G. Marvin Oxley wrote the following, "... a new brick building was rising on the north side of Main Street. It was a double building, financed by two merchants, G. A. Cobban and J. F. Hervey. The second floor became Marion's popular hall and theater during the '70s (1870s).

"The 'Grove City Hall' over

the Cobban-Hervey building was dedicated on Oct. 25. The 'Union Club' gave what was called their 'first Cotillion party, with Prof. Warner's full band.' Arthur Keyes and W. S. Twogood were the managers." [C.R. Gazette article; Jan. 30, 1972. Submitted by Pat Klopfenstein of the Marion Heritage Center]

According to Klopfenstein, the building was bought by A. J. McKean and T. S. Ovington in 1882. In 1903, "Carl N. Owen, opened a drugstore (moved from another location) at the 1144 7th Ave. location. Marion's Main Street was unpaved and a horseless carriage was about as rare then as a horse and buggy is today." [1953; Marion Sentinel]

Druggist Carl Norman

Owen's father was Dr. Norman Owen, and his mother was Ellen Granger Owen (sister to Earl Granger; Granger House). According to the History of Linn County, Dr. Norman Owen came to Marion in 1856 and died in 1880. He not only left his mark on the City, but throughout the world as well, with his discovery of a "Colic, Cholera, and Diarrhea Remedy."

As fate would have it, Dr. Owen's obituary says when he died, his business partner took everything and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, leaving his orphaned children penniless, except for life insurance policy money. Carl Norman Owen would use this to begin his Owen Drugstore business in Marion.

"Mr. Owen continued to operate the drugstore until a few days prior to his death in 1945, filling prescriptions and taking care of the business. ... 'There has been a lot of changes in the drug business,' Miss Beall said last week. 'We used to sell a great deal of Indian herbs and tonics. I especially remember selling them after a medicine show came to town.'" [1953; Marion Sentinel]

The town prospered after the Civil War, and so did many business owners, it seems. According to the National Register of Historic Places ( 8th Avenue near Uptown Marion, "...was (a) fashionable and wealthy neighborhood in Marion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This neighborhood was known locally as 'Pucker Street,' reportedly for the superior attitude of some of its upper class residents." Included in the list are the surnames of Hervey, Cobban, and Owen.

The Uptown Marion District has continued to thrive with not only the $55,000 Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant, but with other investments. According to the Marion Chamber of Commerce news release, "Since 2013, Uptown Marion Main Street has received a total of $205,000 in Challenge Grants and seen nearly $8 million in private investment."

The current Challenge Grant was used to restore the front facade of the Cobban-Hervey Building and restore the upper level. "Historic building renovations are an important part of our Main Street District," said Uptown Marion Director Brooke Prouty in the news release. "Investments by groups like Barker Companies help maintain our historic identity, drive economic development in Uptown and act as a catalyst for additional private investment."
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