The Southwest District is home to a number of public institutions that serve the community. These institutions are markers of the district’s individuality. Not only do they serve the citizens of the Southwest District, but they also bring people from other areas of the city to the district.
The University of Iowa has a significant presence in the northeast part of the district, including the Boyd Law Building overlooking the Iowa River, several parking lots, and scattered properties along Melrose Avenue used as rental property and child daycare. In addition, the University influences development in the Southwest District because it owns much of the property directly north of the District, including the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Nursing, the university's athletic facilities, and several dormitories.
The Iowa City Community School District has a number of schools in southwest Iowa City. Both Roosevelt and Horn elementary schools are located along Benton Street. West High School has a large campus along Melrose Avenue and Weber Elementary School is located in the western part of the district along Rohret Road. These schools serve both educational and community purposes and are often a gathering place for people in the surrounding neighborhoods.
One of the Southwest District’s largest undeveloped properties is owned by Johnson County and was formerly the site of an important public institution. Located on Melrose Avenue near Slothower Road, the Johnson County Poor Farm provided care to those who were unable to care for themselves, including both the indigent and the mentally disabled, from the 1850s until the 1960s. The intent was for the farm to be partially self-supporting. From its earliest days, farming was an important part of its operations. Residents of the poor farm were expected to do what farm chores they could manage in order to compensate the county for their care. In 1964, a newer facility was built on the site. Chatham Oaks, a privately run institution for persons with mental illness, is currently housed in this building. Johnson County continues to own and maintain the property and leases the remaining farmland to a local farmer. In 1977, the remaining wing of the original 1859 asylum building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This structure was restored by the County and opened to the public in 1990. In addition to the historic asylum building, a number of early farm buildings and the Poor Farm cemetery are notable features of the site.