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Painted devils, the death clown and an excellent view of the Ped Mall: The hidden world of the Swisher building’s top floor

Posted by Paul Brennan | Aug 1, 2017 | Community/News, Features

Graffiti in the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Rumors said the top floor of the three-story Iowa City Ped Mall building that houses the Revival clothing store and Union Bar has walls covered with strange and fantastic graffiti. The rumors were right.

On Monday, Little Village was granted access to the long-vacant third floor of the Swisher building. The building is scheduled to be auctioned on Thursday. It will be the first time it has been sold since 1923.

“The building is a 50-year investment. It’s an iconic property,” said Nate Larson of the Steffes Group. Larson is handling the auction of the building for its current owners, the Ruth V. Swisher Revocable Trust. “The auction is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

After Thursday, the new owners will have to decide what to do with the third floor’s painted devils and death clown.

Graffiti in the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

The building’s first and second floors are divided between 117 E College St (Union Bar) and 119 E College St (Revival and its sister shop, Revival 119), but the third floor spans both addresses. It’s not included in the leases of the first floor businesses, and hasn’t been occupied since the mid-1990s, according to Larson.

The space itself is impressive, even though everything from the creaking floorboards to the decaying ceilings is in need of extensive repair. The third floor has 2,800 square feet divided between two ballrooms that have been partitioned to create four large rooms. The ceilings are high, and the front windows offer excellent views of the Ped Mall. All four rooms are filled with graffiti.

Graffiti in the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

The uninvited artists were accessing the third floor through an unsecured stairway between Revival and Union Bar. (The stairway is now secured.) Some may have also come across the adjoining roof, climbing in through the third floor’s smashed windows. (The windows are now boarded up.) It’s not clear when the graffiti was done, but the colors of most of the paint are still vivid, and someone left behind a 2014 telephone directory.

A notice posted near the stairs to the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Devils and other grotesque figures are featured heavily throughout the graffiti. Some of the graffiti seems to be condemning materialism, but other apparent attempts at social criticism are less clear. The phrase “Animal Machine” is spray-painted in several places. It could be a reference to a fundamental concept in Cartesian philosophy, or it could be referring to the title of a 2004 song by the Vines. Since graffiti on other walls references the band Black Flag and name-checks Jerry Garcia (“Death before Jerry Garcia”), it’s probably the Vines.

Graffiti in the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

“It’s Hallow Fuckin Ween,” is scrawled above an image of a demon being crucified. Between the decay brought on by years of neglect and the nightmare fuel offered by the graffiti, it seems like a fitting description of the Swisher’s third floor.

The entire building, from the respectable first floor to the remarkable third floor, will go on the auction block at 1 p.m. on Thursday. The auction is being held at the Hotel Vetro in Iowa City.

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Blog Comments

You missed the oppurtunity to explain that this used to be a venue in Iowa City’s punkier days. Lots of big names played here, it didnt just become a “creepy” graffiti spot.

Hi Patrick, Yes, We are trying to piece together the history. We have heard from a friend who used to keep a studio up there, and if you have additional information that we can help document and preserve, please let us know via editor@littlevillagemag.com. Thanks.

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