Originally constructed in 1917, the Hughes-Irons building has strong roots in the Council Bluffs business community. This Mission style, two part commercial block has witnessed the local community grow from Midwestern railroad center into a large and vibrant metropolitan area. Some dealerships in the early twentieth century would use flamboyant and distinct architectural styles such as the Mission style to “distinguish their business, hoping to create a sense of grandeur and luxury that would correlate to the product.” Today its character and historic fabric have been revived to continue to play an active role in local commerce.

Click here to see the timeline of the Hughes-Irons Building

The History

The Hughes-Irons building once housed two automotive branch sales and service businesses; one in the original six-bay building constructed in 1917 and a second in the four-bay addition constructed in 1923. In 1944, the latter expanded into the adjacent building at 161 W Broadway. Shortly thereafter the entire building was refaced and the first floor level was modified requiring significant alterations for its new use.

The Dealership

The Hughes-Irons Company was one of the rare sales and service business models to last beyond its first year. This may have been due in part to the fact that in addition to Ford cars, they sold Fordson tractors, thus appealing to a wider consumer group. Floyd Hughes and George Irons remained partners for three years before Irons left the company and was replaced by Parmer. This company too, lasted more than a year, but in 1923 it split into the Parmer Motor Company and the Hughes Motor Company. Just before their separation, the company constructed a matching addition to the building. Each new business continued to follow the sales and service branch company business model, which was reflected in their individual portions of the building with separate show rooms and repair areas. The Hughes Motor Company took possession of the new addition, selling Chevrolets, while the Parmer Motor Company continued to operate in the original building and continued to sell Ford cars and tractors while adding Lincolns to its line.

In 1930, the Parmer Motor Company was replaced by the Atlantic Auto Company, which specialized in automobile repair and the sale of replacement parts and accessories. It became the first in an ever-changing line of automobile repair shops and dealerships occupying the original portion of the building. Also in 1930, the Hughes Motor Company became the only company left in Council Bluffs which advertised as both a sales and service center. The Hughes Motor Company continued to occupy the addition as a sales and service center until 1979.

The Buying Experience

Automobile commerce in Council Bluffs followed much the same pattern as the rest of the country. Early dealerships were just as likely to be local mechanics assembling cars themselves as sales agents buying cars from other manufacturers. It was one of many automobile-related businesses to take advantage of its location along the Lincoln Highway. In fact, for a short time, advertised one bay of this building was advertised as a “Tourist Garage” for repairing automobiles of tourists on the Lincoln Highway.

Over the late nineteen-teens and nineteen-twenties, the Branch Sales and Service Center developed certain distinct features. Since the sale of vehicles was the ultimate objective, the show room was considered the most important part of the building. Customers chose their automobile and they drove off in their new vehicle where our newly renovated flats are today. Delivery was a production of its own as well. Customers watched their new car appear before them as it descended the ramp from the second floor.

It was also important to have a separate access to the repair area so that customers did not have to go through the sales room. This repair area is still very evident today and includes two original garage doors hanging in the flats. On the interior, the rear repair area of the first floor and the repair area on the second floor are close to their original condition, with exposed brick exterior walls, a concrete floor on level 1 and a wooden floor on level 2. On the ground floor of the primary facade of both the original 1917 building and the 1923 addition are the distinctive wide, low-silled windows that are large enough to see the length of a car.

National Register of Historic Places

The building was first reviewed in 2000 as part of the potential 100 West Broadway Historic District but was considered non-contributing due to a rain screen and storefront alterations.

After removal of the rain screen from the Hughes-Irons building and exploration of the storefront in January 2008, it was determined that the building had sufficient integrity to be considered eligible for the National Register. A further review of the other buildings along the south side of West Broadway determined that large gaps between buildings, lack of integrity and lack of interest by the majority of the owners would make this building the only potential addition to the District on the south side of the street. Although the building fits the period and areas of significance of the district nomination, it was concluded that it would be inappropriate to alter the boundaries of the district for a single building, resulting in this stand-alone nomination.

    • The Lincoln Highway in Council Bluffs
    The Hughes-Irons building is located in an area of Council Bluffs that was initially significant for its role as an outfitting station and stop along the trail for migrants headed across the Western Frontier.
    During the early days of automobile commerce in Council Bluffs, sales and service buildings were equally likely to be located along any of the three major streets through town: West Broadway, South Main or 4th Street. When the Lincoln Highway was developed in 1913 however, it followed U.S. 30 to the village of Missouri Valley, where it turned south to Council Bluffs. It crossed the Missouri River to Omaha, Nebraska via Broadway and the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge. As the highway grew in popularity during the late nineteen-teens, sites along West Broadway became more popular.

    Because of its integrity, the Hughes-Irons building still conveys its original association with the development of automobile commerce. A historical contemporary would be able to recognize the building as an automobile branch sales and service building.

    The Architecture

    Examples of architect J. Chris Jensen who designed a wide variety of buildings are concentrated throughout Council Bluffs, Iowa. Typical of his known work, the Hughes-Irons building was completed in a style that was a common trend for automobile buildings in that period. It was also thoughtfully laid out with the owner’s needs in mind and took advantage of its location and surrounding topography. Finally, given his work as a contractor, it appears that he may have designed the structural system himself as they have the appearance of a custom approach.

The Hughes-Irons Building Today…

The showroom is now the home of the Chamber of Commerce. It has become the gallery of business and Council Bluffs’ first visitor center in the historic center of the city. As a mixed-used space, it rejuvenates life in the heart of Council Bluffs.

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