History of the District
Early Movement of Moline’s Business District
In the last half of the 19th century, Moline’s main downtown commercial business district was located near factories that lined the Mississippi, in the area between the railroad tracks and the river. It had developed primarily along 3rd Avenue between 15th Street and 18th Street with brick Italianate two and three-story commercial buildings, taverns, theatres, and hotels lining the avenue. However, the railroad tracks that carried 75 trains per day by 1895 separated most residents from that commercial district.
Axis of a New Downtown
So, by the turn of the century, many businesses began relocating south of the tracks. At first they lined up along 15th Street, which carried the trolley line extending up the hill to the rapidly growing residential districts. Then, during the 1910s, several large commercial buildings were built along 5th Avenue, establishing that street as the primary axis of a new downtown. In the process, dozens of stately homes that graced those avenues were replaced by commercial buildings
A Quintessential 20th Century American Downtown
About two thirds of the buildings that contribute to the historic character of the district were built between 1900 and 1930. By the 1920s, the area clearly had been established as a quintessential American central business district, with the main axis along 5th avenue and a secondary axis along 6th Avenue. It included office and bank buildings, whose upper floors housed offices for a great variety of professional services. It also had department stores, scores of first-floor specialty shops, theatres, hotels, bars, and restaurants. Several institutional structures joined the mix, including the 1904 Carnegie Library, the 1914 City Hall, the 1924 Elks Club, and the 1928 Unitarian Church.
1950s & 1960s
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the historic district continued to be the business and social center of the city. Parades, always drawing big crowds, had celebrated the end of World Wars I and II, along with Homecoming, Fourth of July, and Labor Day parades. Five major department stores now served the area, including Block & Kuhl Company, New York Store (demolished in 1990), J. C. Penny, Sears, Roebuck & Company, and Montgomery Ward & Company.
Modifications / Modernizations
By the 1940s, auto dealerships had appeared on the periphery of downtown as did several gas stations. Storefronts were modified during the 50’s and 60’s as attempts to modernize took hold. It was not until the late 1970’s and 1980’s that the major department stores made their move away from the downtown out to South Park Mall, forever changing the usage of many of the buildings.
The most common historic building style is the one, two, or three-story brick commercial building. Two eight-story anchor block buildings are located near the center of the district - the 5th Avenue Building and today’s Chase Bank. Anchoring the eastern end of the district is the 1922 LeClaire Hotel, which is listed as an individual building on the National Register of Historic Places. At the western end of the district, acting as a visual counterpoise to the 15-story hotel, is the tall steeple of the First Lutheran Church, which was built in 1876.
Today, Moline’s Downtown Commercial Historic District retains a feeling of a historic downtown. Approaching the district from any direction, one can easily identify it from the surrounding area with residential boundaries to the east at 18th Street and west at 12th Street. The railroad tracks form the boundary to the north, and 7th Avenue forms the southern boundary near the base of the city’s rolling bluffs. Although some demolitions have occurred within the district, its historic appearance and its association with Moline’s commercial history remain strong. The overall condition of the district’s commercial buildings is good, with many continuing to display a high level of architectural integrity.