Models of model homes on display at the Mason City Architectural Interpretive Center

No Trouble Here

According to the classic song from The Music Man, they’ve got trouble, right there in River City. But you can’t say the same for Mason City, River City’s real-life counterpart. The Iowa hometown of Music Man composer Meredith Willson—and the model for the River City setting of his enduring hit about a traveling salesman/con artist—opens a new architectural museum this week. Here, three ideas for a trouble-free getaway in the town beloved by Broadway.

  1. (Scale) model homes
    Years in the works, the Mason City Architectural Interpretive Center (520 1st St. NE; 641-423-1923, celebrates its grand opening with a ribbon cutting on Saturday, May 14th, at noon. And if you think an Iowa burg of less than 30,000 people couldn’t possibly have enough significant architecture to warrant a museum, think again: Mason City is home to the largest collection of Prairie School homes in the country to share a unified landscape, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stockman House (530 1st St. NE; 641-423-1923, and the only surviving Wright-designed hotel in the world, the Historic Park Inn and City National Bank (5 W. State St.; 641-423-0689, The Historic Park Inn is undergoing extensive renovations (expected to be completed in September); in the meantime, the Interpretive Center offers scale models of many of the homes designed by Wright and his contemporaries. After Saturday’s ribbon cutting, the Center will host an open house until 5 p.m.
  2. Street walking
    Visitors intrigued by the Interpretive Center’s dollhouse-size versions of Mason City’s architectural gems can explore the real stuff via two self-guided walking tours. The 14-block Prairie School tour covers the Prairie School architecture of the Rock Crest/Rock Glen district. The 13-block Historical tour swings by Music Man Square (which features a 1912 streetscape based on the set design for the 1962 movie version of the musical), to Willson’s boyhood home, and the footbridge where Willson set a key romantic scene in the musical’s second act. Maps and additional information on both tours are available at Music Man Square (308 S. Pennsylvania, 641-424-2852, and at the Visitors’ Information Center (25 W. State St., 800-423-5724,
  3. Horsing around
    On Saturday, May 14th, and Sunday, May 15th, the North Iowa Fair Arena (3700 4th St., SW; 641-423-3811, hosts a competition as members of the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association don traditional costumes and shoot .45-caliber, single-action revolvers at targets without breaking their steed’s strides. More information on the two-day event and 21st-century cowboy culture is available at

GO Mason City, Iowa. Visitors’ Center; 25 W. State St., 800-423-5724,

Where to stay:The Decker House (119 2nd St., SE; 888-363-4700, has six rooms (including a handicapped accessible room) the combine Victorian-era décor (plush settees, claw-foot bathtubs) and 21st century creature comforts (Jacuzzis, WiFi); rates range from $85 to $175 a night. Three miles outside of town, the Cupola Inn (20664 Claybanks Dr., Nora Springs; 641-420-9227, doesn’t have WiFi but offers complimentary canoe rides down the nearby Winnebago River and room décor that features the work of local artists; rates start at $79 a night.

Where to eat: For fresh seafood, try the locally owned Quarry (10 S. Federal Ave.; 641-421-0075, on Fridays when sea bass, swordfish, and sushi-grade tuna are flown in from Hawaii. The Suzie Q Café (14 2nd St. NW; 641- 423-5021) is a teeny-tiny diner that’ll make a big impression on your taste buds with its no-nonsense hamburgers, Philly cheese-steak sandwiches, and chili; cash only.