Bob McCoy – Giant of Wright in Mason City, with Addendum

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Dr. Robert McCoy, Bob to all of us in the World of Wright, died Sunday in Mason City, Iowa, his adopted hometown. He was 93. If you have visited the Frank Lloyd Wright – designed Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank building in Mason City, Bob is one of the people to thank for it not having been demolished. If you have visited Wright’s Stockman House in Mason City, Bob is one of the people to thank for it not having been demolished. If… well, now you get an idea of why the architectural interpretive center near the Stockman House and the historic Rock Glen neighborhood was named in his honor.

Park Inn McCoy 08 002.jpgMay 16, 2008, Park Inn Hotel

Bob came to Mason City to join an orthopedic practice after school at Northwestern University in the 1950s. I do not recall what spurred his interest in architecture, but in 1968 he published a landmark history of Wright and Walter Burley Griffin’s work in Mason city in The Prairie School Review. Jonathan Lipman, an architect, Wright scholar, and a past board member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, emailed me, “He was a wonderful man, Utterly humble, very smart, and dedicated.” And of the Prairie School Review manuscript, “It was a work of enormous research from primary sources, including an interview with Barry Byrne and others who were still living. Thorough, readable, and full of surprises. The book simply could not have been written as completely had it been written years later. And at the time that he wrote it, the subject was not of interest to the world. Wholly a work of one man’s passion.” Pat Mahoney, an architect, Wright scholar from Buffalo, and Building Conservancy board member, wrote this about the article, on the Building Conservancy’s “Wright Chat” site overnight: “I have found Bob’s 1968 article to still be one of the most informative pieces written about Mason City architecture.”

The Stockman House (1908) faced demolition in 1987 when the First United Methodist Church wanted the land it was built on for a parking lot. The River City Society for Historic Preservation was formed, and was able to purchase and move the house to its present location near Rock Glen. The New York Times ran a full picture page of the house move across town. It was restored and is now a house museum:

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Stockman House 2010 017.jpgBob at the Stockman House, September 11, 2010.

https://www.stockmanhouse.org/robert-e-mccoy

I met Bob in 2004 at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference in Madison, his camera in hand, as usual.

Conservancy Madison004.jpgBob, left, October 13, 2004, at the Gilmore House, Madison

A year later Bob kindly extended an invitation to me to speak in Mason City after my first book, “Wright in Racine,” was published. The derelict City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel buildings were ripe for demolition. How ripe for demolition? The city of Mason City had put them up for sale on eBay a few years earlier. Bob was part of the against-all-odds civic effort to led to their being saved and rehabilitated. He took me through the hotel and bank buildings, at the beginning of their rehabilitation:

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Park Inn 2005 022.jpgBob chats with passersby outside the hotel, May 5, 2005.

My “digs” for my overnight stay? Bob and Bonnie McCoy’s home, the historic James Blythe House (Walter Burley Griffin, 1913) in Rock Glen. Blythe was one of the two men who commissioned Wright to design the hotel and bank buildings in 1908. One of the skylights from the hotel was in the house…unknown until Jonathan Lipman noticed it while staying in the house as a guest of the McCoys. The McCoys made sure it was returned to the hotel.

Rock Glen 013.jpgJames Blythe House, June 3, 2013.

Bob extended another invitation to me to speak in Mason city in 2008. This time we were joined on our tour of the hotel and bank building by Ann MacGregor, another important citizen in the grass roots effort to save the buildings. She was later the director of Wright on the Park, the organization which oversees the buildings:

MacGregor McCoy 08 004.jpgAnn and Bob in the lobby of the hotel, May 16, 2008.

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No detail escaped Bob’s camera:

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Ann and Bob were honored with prestigious Wright Spirit Awards by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy at its annual conference, in Mason City, October 13, 2012:

Wright Spirit Awards 013.jpg

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Bob, and Ann, thank you to your gifts to the World of Wright and to Mason City:

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Bob’s beloved wife, Bonnie, died in 2016:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/tag/mason-city/

Since this piece was published I have gotten more information about Bob:

His obituary in the Mason City Globe Gazette is at this link:

https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/globegazette/name/robert-mccoy-obituary?id=31119672

And, Wright on the Park, sent this:

Shortly after Mason City hosted the 1993 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference, Dr. Robert McCoy, who had chaired that event to highlight the restoration of the Stockman House, was appointed to their Board of Directors. Their mission is to “facilitate the preservation and stewardship of the remaining built works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright through advocacy, education and technical services”. Bob was assigned the task to save the City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel from being demolished. Their hope was that the structure would be restored. Once assigned this task, Bob was diligent in working on solutions to save this structure. He was one of the founding Directors of Wright on the Park. It wasn’t until the Vision Iowa opportunity was presented that the combined resources from our community, state and federal levels made this dream became a reality. Bob would be the first to say he did not do this alone but certainly he was the leader of the effort to restore the Historic Park Inn Hotel. Written by Peggy Bang (Founding Board Member of Wright on the Park, past WOTP Board President, and current Board Member of WOTP) 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Bob McCoy – Giant of Wright in Mason City, with Addendum

  1. Thanks for letting me know about Bob McCoy. I never knew him personally but it’s always a lose when one of Mr Wright’s big supporters leaves us.

    Best, M

    >

  2. Thank you for writing this wonderful tribute to my Dad. He loved and appreciated working with all of the people who shared his passion for Prairie School Architecture.

    Andy McCoy

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