Barcelona, Spain. Istanbul, Turkey. Tel Aviv, Israel. Florence, Italy. Miami, Florida. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Marrakech, Morocco. Seattle, Washington. Oxford, England. Portland, Oregon. Chandigarh, India. Mason City, Iowa. What do these cities have in common? According to Conde’Nast Traveler, these are the World’s Best Cities for Architecture Lovers.
Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s greatest architect
Although not a native North Iowan, famed architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark during an early 1900s stay in Mason City. Local attorneys and businessmen James Markley and James Blythe commissioned Wright to design a new hotel and bank building that incorporated their law offices. Markley’s neighbor, Dr. G.C. Stockman, persuaded Wright to design a residence for his family.
The Historic Park Inn Hotel
The Park Inn Hotel is the world’s only remaining hotel designed by Wright. The ambitious renovation was completed in Fall 2011 when it opened as a 27-room boutique hotel and conference center. The hotel includes an upscale restaurant and lounge, conference rooms and a ballroom. Many of the hotel’s original features remain. Guided tours are provided daily by trained docents.
The Stockman House Museum
The Stockman House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1908 for Dr. George and Eleanor Stockman as their family home, is now a museum. Restored to its 1908 presentation, the house is furnished with period pieces, reproductions of Wright furnishings and original possessions from the Stockman family.
Rock Crest/Rock Glen Historic District
This development was completed in the early 1900s by colleagues from Wright’s Oak Park Studio who worked on The Park Inn/City National Bank project. The young architects eagerly accepted commissions for projects in the booming community, because Wright, who was notorious for mismanaging his finances, was frequently late in making payroll. The Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood is the largest collection of Prairie School architecture in the world that is unified by a common setting.
Architectural Walking Tour
Visitors can purchase a guidebook at the Historic Architecture Interpretive Center and embark on a self-guided tour of Mason City’s unique architecture. The Interpretive Center houses a gift shop and informative exhibits.
Mason City Public Library
The historic public library, made famous in the library scene of “The Music Man,” was extensively renovated in 2010. The library was originally designed by the renowned architects Holabird & Root, and the Chicago firm also oversaw the renovation and addition. In addition to its breathtaking setting, the library features a rare and distinctive literary autograph collection and the most beautiful reading rooms in the world. The library provides the perfect atmosphere to Down Shift – a Blue Zones Power 9 behavior.
A love for music is deeply entrenched in our region’s heritage. Composer Meredith Willson gave Mason City the nick-name of “River City” in his Broadway musical “The Music Man,” which he wrote as a valentine to his hometown.
North Iowa’s signature celebration is the annual Band Festival, held Memorial Day weekend in Mason City. It serves as a tribute to the community’s rich musical heritage and talented young musicians who carry on this tradition.
The Music Man Square
A sculpture of famous composer and musician Meredith Willson greets visitors to The Music Man Square, where the sounds of his music fill the air. At the heart of the square are the Meredith Willson Museum and the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home, which display artifacts from his life.
Tunes for the Town
To showcase Mason City’s rich musical heritage, the Mason City Area Chamber of Commerce’s YIELD (Youth Investing Energy in Leadership Development) students completed a community impact project installing refurbished pianos for the public to play, entitled “Tunes for the Town.” Five public pianos are located throughout the city, both indoors and outdoors. This project aligns with the Blue Zones Project philosophy of community engagement.
Rock ‘n’ roll legends
“The Day the Music Died” is remembered each February during the “50s in February” celebration, held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. This annual tribute honors the memory of the original Winter Dance Party at the venue where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson performed their final concert. The three singers perished in a plane crash just outside of Clear Lake in 1959.
The Surf books many high-profile entertainers each year who are eager to play concerts in this historic venue.
Mason City sings! The Mason City High School Vocal Music Department has been recognized by the Grammy Foundation for its outstanding program. Its choirs are routinely invited to perform at national competitions and world class venues such as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center.
The River City Barbershop Chorus is a men's chorus of volunteer musicians who perform across the region. It originated in 1922 as the Chamber of Commerce Glee Club, and transitioned to the Barbershop Chorus in 1952. The organization allows men of all ages and walks of life to enjoy camaraderie and amplify their love of music, while touching the hearts of loyal fans.
The Una Vocis Choral Ensemble is open to adult singers through audition. In 2013, they were invited to perform at Carnegie Hall with choral composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.A hometown boy who made it big, Meredith Willson was born in Mason City on May 18, 1902. At the tender age of 17, he left Mason City to study music at The Julliard School in New York City. He soon earned a place with the legendary John Phillip Sousa band and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. By age 27, he was an accomplished composer and lyricist.
The North Iowa Band Festival provides a weekend of wholesome family entertainment and celebrates the rich musical heritage that began with the accomplishments of Meredith Willson. The annual festival, which is celebrated each year on Memorial Day weekend, showcases the talents of young musicians and accomplished professionals who are a part of North Iowa’s musical legacy.
Charles H. MacNider Art Museum
One of the first stops on any cultural tour should be the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, home to an impressive permanent collection of American art that includes work by Grant Wood (a common visitor to the region) and Thomas Hart Benton. The museum also hosts an extensive collection of puppets – including the marionettes used in the movie “The Sound of Music” – made and collected by world-renowned puppeteer Bil Baird (a graduate of Mason City High School). Temporary exhibits, films, concerts, art classes, an art library, and a sales/rental gallery make the museum the cornerstone of the local arts community. The site is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is wheelchair accessible.
River City Sculptures on Parade
This outdoor sculpture walk winds along a 1.7 mile loop through Downtown Mason City and leads participants to the Cultural Crescent. More than 50 works of well-regarded sculptors from around the world are included in the exhibit. The sculptures are available for sale or lease. The exhibit is changed annually.
Bob White Fused Glass Creations
Artist Bob White developed and perfected the fused glass technique. Fused glass captures and traps light and colors inside permitting a detail of design not possible with stained glass. Several Mason City buildings feature Bob White fused glass creations including the First Presbyterian Church, Greek Orthodox Church, First Congregational UCOC, and the MacNider Art Museum.
Mason City Community Theatre
Members of the troupe provide an array of performances throughout the year. But get your tickets early, with only 146 seats in the theater, performances frequently sellout.
Stebens Children’s Theatre
From September to May, this freestanding, award-winning children’s theater displays the talents of area youth in productions tailored to the younger crowd. The 120 seats of this theater provide the audience with an intimate setting in which to enjoy incredible young talent. Classes are offered year-round.
North Iowa Performing Arts & Leadership Series
The stage of the 1200-seat North Iowa Community Auditorium brims with talent that spans the world. Talented entertainers and musicians, Broadway shows, ballet companies, bestselling authors, and captains of industry grace the stage each year.
The Historic Surf Ballroom
The Surf Ballroom is best remembered as the site for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper’s final performance in 1959, but the ballroom continues to host a variety of musical talent. It has been restored to its original splendor and boasts a 6,300-square-foot dance floor. The Surf Ballroom’s walls bear the autographs and photographs of past performers, and it is the perfect place for a great concert or for a free self-guided tour.