Architecture and art is what you will find in my hometown: Mason City, Iowa. This town of just under 30,000 residents is located midway between Minneapolis and Des Moines. The I-35 corridor is just 7 miles from the Interstate Highway, which makes it an easy drive — and a historical hotel, sculptures, murals, and architectural designs offer art experiences that you cannot find elsewhere.
The art attractions and displays of Mason City are all within walking distance of downtown. Most of the historical buildings, sculptures, and murals are all within walking distance of each other as well. In a 24 hour time period, you can see a lot of art and architecture that you will not find anywhere else around the globe.
1. Mason City’s Historic Park Inn Hotel
When visiting Mason City, I would highly recommend spending a night at the Historic Park Inn Hotel. This is the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed-and-built hotel. There are 27 guest rooms and no two are alike. The original hotel opened in 1910 and 101 years later, in 2011, the hotel was restored. Through grants, local fundraising, tax credits, various memberships, and a major Vision Iowa grant, this restoration made preserving this special place possible.
The hotel’s original corridors were maintained, as were the original outlines of the bathrooms. The stained glass windows are stunning and offer fabulous photo opportunities. Tours are offered through the hotel, and I would suggest inquiring about them when you arrive in town.
2. Stockman House
In 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Stockman House. It was during this timeframe that Wright was designing other architectural masterpieces in Mason City, and he kept finding new projects to work on. This home is open for tours today, and it’s a favorite of many.
This particular house features a stucco-over-frame construction. The Stockman House floor plan was very popular, and many homes are inspired by its design. The Stockman House offers tours all year long; they last approximately one hour and begin at the Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center, which is located next door to the Stockman House. Note that restrooms are available in the Interpretive Center, and that taking photos is not allowed in the home.
3. Rock Crest-Rock Glen Historic District
This Mason City historic district is nationally recognized. In 1979, it landed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district is easy to get to as it’s an easy walk from downtown Mason City. The homes here are designed in the popular Prairie School style.
What makes this area so unique is the fact that this is the largest cluster of Prairie School houses in the country. Several architects contributed to these historic homes, including Walter Burley Griffin, Barry Byrne, and Einar Broaten. Frank Lloyd Wright had a design that was never actually built here. Even still, this neighborhood is one you will never forget. I would suggest incorporating Mason City’s Prairie School walking tour into your sculpture tour (more on that below).
4. Meredith Willson Footbridge
A visit to Mason City would not be complete without a stroll across the Meredith Willson Footbridge. This beautiful bridge is named in honor of the internationally renowned composer of the Broadway musical The Music Man and is included in the city’s historical walking tour.
5. River City Sculptures On Parade
Mason City is home to one of the finest sculpture tours I’ve ever partaken in. You can view these beautiful works of art all year round through self-guided tours. The tours begin downtown and loop through the cultural crescent, which includes the world famous Historic Park Inn Hotel, a fantastic art museum, a public library, and Music Man Square. Citizens and businesses have purchased some of the sculptures, which adds to the tour.
From June through September, the public is invited to vote for their favorite sculpture. The sculpture that receives the most votes is honored with the People’s Choice Award. The winning sculpture is then purchased by the city and moved to a permanent location. The best tip that I can give you is to start your tour in the early morning or late afternoon if you’re visiting Mason City in the middle of summer.
6. Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
You can find American puppet master Bill Baird’s World of Puppets on display in Mason City at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum. Baird performed all around the world with his puppets in tow. The MacNider Collection of Baird puppets is the largest worldwide. Mr. Baird is a graduate of Mason City High School and it’s fitting that these puppets, marionettes, and other artworks are on display here.
If you are a fan of the film The Sound of Music, you saw Baird’s work in “The Lonely Goatherd” marionette performance. On each piece of artwork in the museum, you will see the name of the artist and how the piece was acquired. Make time to stroll the grounds outdoors, as several pieces of art decorate the lawn areas. Note: This museum is closed on Mondays.
7. Murals In Mason City
Mason City is home to several new murals. It’s been within the last few years that this town has gotten serious about this form of art. Given his influence on the area, it’s fitting that several murals that pay homage to the aesthetic of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen. Mural artist Keely Hertzel can be found painting the town during the warmer months. With an increased interest in the arts, several other artists’ murals have popped up around town, too. It will be fun to watch more murals come to life as the arts become more popular in this Midwest town.
8. Rancho Deluxe: The Original Bicycle Garden
Art comes in all shapes and forms in Mason City. Rancho Deluxe is located at 500 2nd Street NE and is a short walk from downtown. With numerous hub caps, license plates, signs, bicycles, and almost anything you can think of that can be repurposed on sight, you will enjoy your visit. If you are a photographer, this is a fun place to test your skills.
Take a slow walk through the garden to take it all in. I personally enjoy visiting this site in the middle of winter, as snow adds character to the garden. You can visit anytime from dawn to dusk and there is no admission fee.
9. Music Man Square
Music Man Square boasts the boyhood home of Meredith Willson, who was born in Mason City, Iowa on May 18, 1902. When you step foot on the 1912 replica historic streetscape of the award-winning The Music Man film, you will be taken back to a magical place and time. The 76 trombones fly high above Madison Park as you explore this venue.
The art of music is alive in this unique town. As a matter of fact, the 1st Annual Grammy Awards were held in 1958 and the grammy that Meredith Willson won is on display in the museum at Music Man Square. He won the Grammy for the Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) for The Music Man. Before you depart the museum complex, be sure to swing into Willson’s boyhood home. Like the historic streetscape, the simple house will take you back and remind you to appreciate the simple things and a slower pace.
Your Mason City visit would not be complete without visiting the Mason City Public Library. It is next door to the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum and houses some beautiful artwork.
As you wander around town, you will find art that you simply will not find elsewhere. Have your camera ready, your walking legs on, and enjoy Mason City. The people will welcome you and you will find yourself planning a return visit, which leads me to this: I would like to personally invite you to visit my hometown. My hope is that you will fall in love with the art and architecture that is helping define this inviting rural America gem.
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