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“The World's Smallest Grotto”

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1946–1976, John Korbes. 520 S. Governor St.
  • "The World's Smallest Grotto" (David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim)

Iowa City's contribution to America's folk follies was constructed over a period of some 30 years by a retired motel-keeper, John Korbes. The builder/designer started off with a tiny chapel, to which he later added a small-scale windmill, a “museum,” a wishing well, a cross, and a podium upon which cement animals are corralled. He introduced electric lighting, often in unexpected locations, and fountains here and there. The surfaces of all of these concrete constructions were enriched with an unbelievable array of colorful objects, ranging from pieces of broken pottery to seashells and plastic objects of the 1950s and 1960s. As is so frequently the case with folk follies, “The World's Smallest Grotto” seems to be designed for the moment, not as an object meant to last decades or more. Korbes's grotto is slowly disintegrating, but this ruinlike quality only adds to its melancholy charm.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim


What's Nearby


David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim, "“The World's Smallest Grotto”", [Iowa City, Iowa], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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