A building collapse in Davenport, Iowa, leaves residents looking for answers

Structural Failure

A building collapse in Davenport, Iowa, leaves residents looking for answers

The front of the building in 2018. (Farragutful/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The partial collapse of an apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, has caused local outrage and left questions over the city’s enforcement of building code violations. The former Davenport Hotel at 324 Main Street, designed by Temple & Burrows opened in 1907, marking the introduction of taller buildings to downtown Davenport. The Renaissance Revival style brick- and steel-structured building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was converted into apartments with ground floor retail in the 1980s. Upon its opening, a local newspaper declared it a “monument to the enterprise, growth and development” of Davenport.

Late in the afternoon on May 28, a portion of the back of the building, facing a parking lot, gave out. A section of the scarlet-painted brick wall could be seen collapsed, leaving a gaping hole into the interior of the building. The following morning, the fire department moved to a recovery operation rather than an active search operation, at which time the Davenport Development and Neighborhood Services Department took oversight of the building. It was also then that the city announced that the remainder of the structure would be demolished the following day, May 30. Search and rescue teams swept the site, declaring that no signs of life were present. 

Family members of Lisa Brooks, who was visiting a family member that resided in the building, had told firefighters and police officers that she was still in the structure when it collapsed and had not been accounted for. More than a day after the collapse and after the initial search in which rescue teams declared no signs of life, Brooks was rescued from the fourth floor of the building. Protestors gathered around the building when Brooks was rescued, urging first responders to continue the search as it had become clear that initial search efforts were deficient and failed to locate everyone alive. Among those protesting, were family members of two people believed to be in the rubble. 

On May 30—the original suggested demolition date now rebuked by city officials—the fire marshall admitted that five people were left unaccounted for, including two thought to still be in the building. A structural engineer hired by the city said that the rubble is structurally supporting the building, and that moving it could jeopardize the integrity of the entire structure. The engineering firm is now doing a 3D scan of the structure with a drone while families of the two residents wait for answers.

Residents of the building’s 84 units had previously complained about the condition of the apartments, saying that repair work was insufficient if it even happened. The Quad City Times had reported bricks falling off of the building’s facade as early as August 2020, which had led the city to hire a structural engineer to evaluate the building and a temporary closure of the sidewalk around it. Google maps images from July 2019 show extensive signs of structural dampness on the wall that collapsed, which had worsened since July 2011, while images from July 2021 show the wall painted in its now scarlet color. The collapsed wall is the only wall that was painted, and while the brick was clearly damaged prior to this painting, many types of paint that are not breathable can trap moisture in brick. 

After the collapse, the City of Davenport fined landlord Andrew Wold $300 plus court costs for failure to safely maintain the building. Wold had previously been fined for failing to properly dispose of waste at the site, and released a statement that offered no clarity. Workers had received permits to repair the masonry and brace the walls, and were actively doing so when the building collapsed. There had been reports of brick falling from the facade days prior, which the city said was part of the same scope of work. There are also allegations that the city had intentionally changed a “pass” grade for interior CMU repairs and the to-be-completed bracing and masonry work to a “fail” grade after the building collapsed, which the city said was due to a computer glitch. Local news station KWQC-TV6 filed a FOIA request to see the original documents which the city denied.

AN will continue to provide updates as residents wait for answers regarding the city’s response and word surfaces on the two residents believed to be in the rubble.

Update: Following the publication of this article, the City of Davenport published reports from the engineering firm that structurally analyzed the building prior to its collapse. Those documents can be accessed here.