Overview

06

Owner

Bertha (Christen) Mott Department Store

Address

101 W. Water St Decorah IA 52101

Year Built

1925

Architectural Style

Colonial Revival Collegiate Gothic

NRHP 2017

The SW corner of Water and Washington Streets is historically important as the site of the first Decorah store, the 1852 “Pioneer Store” (with the “Newell Hall” on the second story). That store burnt in 1871, but was replaced in the same year with a new building. In 1909 that building became associated with Bertha Mott, an important local figure celebrated by the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission in the 2019 National Trust “Where Women Made History” website <https://contest.savingplaces.org/dsf8rc5z>.

Left a young widow with small children in 1886, Bertha (Christen) Mott began clerking at a Decorah store to provide for her family, resuming the life in business she had interrupted during her brief marriage. For seven years she prospered, earning a reputation as an astute businesswoman. A traveling salesman proposed they establish a partnership in dry goods stores to be located in Decorah and in nearby Cresco. Selling her farm to secure capital for the venture, she and her partner opened Mott and Company in February 1901. When her business thrived, she moved the Decorah store in 1909 to a larger building on a location that had been the site of a dry goods store since 1860. By 1920, after her partnership dissolved, she was managing the business alone, and then later with the help of two of her children. At some point she also took over the building at 103 W. Water St. (the O. P. Thompson building).

In 1925, Mott hired local architect Charles Altfillisch to design a new, expansive building on this same double-store-front site, once again staging a gala opening to attract customers. Mott continued to be active in the business until 1932, famed for being the first woman executive of a large retail center in Decorah. In 1947 Mott’s daughter sold the store to E.R. Wimmer, when it became Wimmer’s Department Store, to be succeeded in 1952 by the J. C. Penney Company.

Altfillisch’s design replaced the two elaborate, multi-windowed Victorian building facades with a uniform contemporary commercial red brick and stone facade. The tapestry brick front wall is partly laid in English bond, a relatively unusual alternating pattern of one header row to one stretcher row (Jan Olive Full). Construction was by the A. R. Coffeen Company.

Because both Wimmer’s and J. C. Penney’s placed a large sign band around the front and, later, the side of the building, the distinctive character of the front facade was for many years not visible. Under the leadership of the building owner Stan Fullerton (who in 2020 received the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission Annual Preservation Award largely for this work), the stone parapet and cornice were restored and–through removal of the large banner sign and a reconfiguration of the entryway–the main Tudor-Gothic entryway arch was once again made visible. The interior, including a largely-intact tin ceiling, was at the same time also completely rehabilitated. In 2019, the building became the home of Impact Coffee.

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