The Gilbert-Linn Street Historic District makes up a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood at the west end of Iowa City’s traditional North Side. Some of the city’s oldest buildings are in this neighborhood. Residents and property owners in the area participate in the geographically larger Northside Neighborhood Association. The Gilbert-Linn Street Historic District has an irregularly shaped boundary that begins approximately four blocks north of the Downtown and the East Campus of the University and extends north approximately four blocks along N. Gilbert and N. Linn streets from E. Bloomington Street to Fairchild Street along the eastern edge and E. Ronalds Streets on the western edge. Mercy Hospital’s campus is at the southeast corner of the District. Boundaries along the west and east edges generally extend only one or two lots west of Linn Street and east of Gilbert Street, respectively, depending on the integrity of buildings and the presence of parking lots or vacant parcels. Properties facing the intersecting streets of E. Davenport Street, E. Fairchild Street, and E. Church Street are also included.
Since the 1960s, this area of Iowa City has been the subject of intense debate and neighborhood planning. Following the completion of surveys of the neighborhood in the 190s, unsuccessful efforts were made during the early 1980s to designate several larger North Side residential and commercial historic districts to the National Register. These efforts were closely tied to efforts to establish a local ordinance historic district as well. Following extensive debate, public hearings before the HPC and P&Z Commission, and boundary revisions, objection from owners in the southern blocks of the proposed district saw the effort tabled. Following adoption of the 1992 Historic Preservation Plan, the North Side blocks were resurveyed and new efforts were made to establish boundaries for smaller districts. The first such effort in 1994 saw the Brown Street Historic District successfully listed on the National Register and as a local district after an extensive public education campaign.
In 2003, efforts returned to designation of a historic district in the west end of the North Side. A smaller, mixed-use residential and commercial area extending along Gilbert and Linn Streets was proposed for National Register designation. Public debate focused on potential restrictions to commercial development and expansion related to Mercy Hospital in the south blocks if the same area were designated as a local ordinance district. Eventually, boundaries for the National Register area were reduced to the current district. Concurrent plans to designate the area as a local historic district failed when the City Council denied the district in 2004 by a narrow margin.