Last tenants vacate Hawkeye Drive Apartments
Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries.

The month of August brings inevitable change to a college town. Moving day—or weekend—happens thousands of times. Iowa City’s annual garage sale—indeed, it’s held in a city-owned parking garage downtown—yields bargains for cost-conscious shoppers. For those who think that their used furniture is a bit, um, well-used, there are the curbside mountains that city sanitation workers dub “Colorados.” Old Gold recalls rolling an empty utility spool to his Madison, Wisconsin, apartment one August day in 1977 or ’78, a “Colorado” discovery that served as a completely impractical coffee table until his next move two years later. Hey, it was free!

This year brings an added air of wistfulness. On Aug. 7, the last tenants of Hawkeye Drive Apartments on Iowa City’s west side moved out, vacating a complex that was built nearly 60 years ago to accommodate growing numbers of married students. The apartments, considered inadequate by today’s standards, will be razed soon.

It happens that Old Gold took a final drive through the complex that morning after picking up several boxes of historical records from the complex office, which will close on Aug. 15. The trove includes photographs, newsletters dating back to the 1950s, and documents that trace the origins of this particular complex, beginning with bids for its construction received in 1958.

Married student housing was not a new concept at the State University of Iowa when Hawkeye Drive Apartments opened in 1959. By that time, there were an estimated 2,700 married students enrolled, a population that grew dramatically following the close of World War II. University officials were keenly aware of the stresses placed on existing units closer to campus, many of which were intended only for temporary use. Construction of the westside complex signaled a new phase in meeting the needs of this segment of the student population. Not only were the 192 units built as permanent structures, they were situated remotely, about one mile from campus. Even West High School, across Melrose Avenue to the south, would not open for another dozen years.

Linked to campus by shuttle bus or the tenants’ cars, Hawkeye Drive Apartments were an immediate success. The apartments were also popular with international students. As similar units were built at other sites in the following years, the temporary units were removed, the last demolished in 1974.

That same year, Helen Baker joined the University of Iowa workforce, and after 43 years of service—26 of them as area coordinator of University Apartments—she announced her retirement this summer. In the 2016–17 calendar issued by University Housing and Dining, Baker noted that working with international students and their families brought special joy to her job.

“Whether it has been going to the apple orchard, ice skating, or growing a vegetable garden, it has been fun seeing their reactions to their new environment,” she said. “The potluck was a great social event where everyone could share their comfort food with each other and talk about the recipe. I love seeing the residents so excited to share their home country with all of us.”

The departure of Helen, who made transfer of the records to the archives possible and who touched so many lives, and the closing of Hawkeye Drive Apartments both signal the end of an era. For Old Gold, August in Iowa City is a bittersweet month of endings and beginnings.