The Clark House, Muscatine’s hundred-unit high rise, provides affordable housing to residents who qualify based on age, assets, and income. In the late 1960s, Muscatine’s Low Rent Housing Commission conceived the project in order to lessen the community-wide housing problem. Specifically addressed was the need for affordable housing for older adults as well as individuals who had special needs. Ten percent of the Clark House apartment units were built to accommodate wheelchairs.
The process of developing project plans for the Clark House, obtaining public and funding support, and identifying and selecting the building’s first residents was complex and time consuming. In addition to these concerns, the proposed site where the 11-story structure was to be built was occupied by the historic Alexander Clark House.
Organizers in Muscatine, and from throughout Iowa, launched a campaign to save the home of Alexander Clark from the wrecking ball. In the late 1800s Clark was Iowa’s most influential African American citizen. While the Mayor of Muscatine proclaimed the first “Alexander Clark Day” on February 25, 1958, Clark’s legacy was largely ignored in Iowa and in Muscatine for decades. Then, during a 1974 survey of historic homes, the history of the home that once belonged to the United States Ambassador to Liberia resurfaced. The home on Chestnut Street was slated for demolition and to save the home, organizers rallied to raise the profile of Alexander Clark, this nearly forgotten Muscatine citizen. Eventually funds were raised to relocate the house uphill to West Third Street. The home’s status was successfully secured when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
At the center of the opening of the Clark House apartments was Robert “Bob” Campagna. Hired in 1972 at the age of 23, Campagna served as the Director of the Low Rent Housing Commission for five years until September 1977. In addition to screening and selecting the first residents of the Clark House, Bob was instrumental in establishing a sense of community among the residents and staff members and improving the quality of life for Muscatine’s older adults. One of Bob’s special projects was to create a pictorial directory of the first Clark House residents. He photographed each individual, couple, or family group. This project bolstered Bob’s interest in photography and played a role in his eventual career change to photographer. As a farewell gift, the Clark House residents gifted Bob with a photograph enlarger and darkroom kit.
Reflecting on his experiences from 45 years ago, Bob fondly remembers those first Clark House residents. He also recalls the daunting task of reviewing over 300 applications and interviewing 160 people in their homes. Seeing these applicants’ home situations reinforced the importance of the Clark House project. In a deeply personal way, Bob understood how improved housing would be transformative for the residents. He also experienced the frustration and disappointment expressed by those whose housing applications were not immediately approved.