The address 302 E Bloomington St may not sound familiar to many, but almost everyone living in Iowa City, and generations of students and visitors, know Pagliai’s Pizza. The 19th century building in Iowa City’s Northside Neighborhood has been home to the iconic pizzeria since the ’70s, and its future is a topic for discussion on the agenda of the Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission’s meeting on Thursday.
Late last month, 302 E Bloomington St was listed for sale by Gary Skarda, whose great-great grandfather Joseph Slezak first owned the building, which dates back to 1875. The building, also known as Slezak Hall, has remained in the family for over 145 years.
Skarda told the Daily Iowan he decided to sell the building because of his advancing age and medical issues, including the amputation of his right leg.
“I was unable to do things at the property that I was able to do before,” he said. “I can’t even drive right now because I need special tools in the car to be able to drive because it was my right leg.”
According to the current valuation on the Iowa City Assessor’s site, the property is worth $1,530,570, but the sale price listed on Realtor.com and Zillow is $5 million. Those listings describe the building as “a true Landmark property,” but reassure any prospective buyer that it’s not a landmark in the legal sense and therefore the buyer is free to do whatever they want to the building, including tear it down and redevelop.
“OUTSTANDING opportunity to own a true Landmark property,” the listings say (emphasis in the original). “1 Family Ownership since 1878. 2 long time commercial tenants, and 16 apartments. Always fully rented. NOT listed on Historic Register. PERFECT site for future development. CB-2 zoning. Downtown location as Near North Side. PIZZA and LAUNDROMAT are Tenants and are NOT CLOSING!!!!!!!!!!”
Both Pagliai’s and the laundromat have long-term leases, and Pagliai’s manager has said there are no plans to move. Like the building, Pagliai’s is family-owned. The current owner, Anthony Fontanini, is the nephew of Armond Pagliai, who came to Iowa City to open a pizza restaurant, after owning and operating a successful pizza place in Ames called the Pizza House with his brother Sam.
During its meeting on Thursday, the Historic Preservation Commission will start a discussion on whether it should recommend the Iowa City Council give landmark status to the building at 302 E Bloomington. Making the building a landmark would prevent it from being demolished. Members of the public will be invited to comment on the issue when the commissioners discuss it near the end of the meeting. The Historic Preservation Commission meeting is scheduled to take place at City Hall at 5:30 p.m.
The commission has no authority to designate a property as a landmark, but can issue a recommendation that the Iowa City Council do so. Although landmark status is normally conferred at a property owner’s request, the city council can designate a landmark without such a request if it determines it is in the public interest to do it. Without the owner’s consent, it requires a supermajority of councilmembers — six out of seven — to confer landmark status on a property.
Editor’s note: Little Village art director Jordan Sellergren is the current chair of the Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission.