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Last-minute rescue of White Elephant building moves ahead with move planned for May
28
Apr 2016

Last-minute rescue of White Elephant building moves ahead with move planned for May

Plans call for the White Elephant building, which has been vacant since the 20008 flood, to be moved to a new site on Third Street SE.
Plans call for the White Elephant building, which has been vacant since the 20008 flood, to be moved to a new site on Third Street SE.

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS — The endangered White Elephant building may be rescued, after all.

A last-ditch effort to save the historic building, at 1010 Third St. SE, is moving ahead, pending the city issuing permits to allow the structure to be relocated.

Considered a key contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District, the White Elephant faced demolition when co-owner Jamey Stroschine, citing financial considerations, took out an application to have the 1889 building demolished.

Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, and her husband, Tom DeBoom, came forward with a plan to move the building to a site just blocks away on Third Street SE, teaming with Primus Construction.

A hold placed on the demolition by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission offered only 60 days to accomplish that goal, however; a quick turnaround for such a move.

At tonight’s meeting, the commission learned that the DeBooms had obtained a purchase agreement with the building’s owners and were preparing to have the structure moved on May 9, one day before the hold expires.

“There’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes to make this happen,” Beth DeBoom told the commission.

Architect Jason Cave of Primus previously presented plans showing the building moved to a site the DeBooms own next to 1301 Third St. SE, now an architectural salvage business and Air B&B known as the “Heart Building,” which the couple restored.

The White Elephant building has been in limbo for nearly eight years, after being flooded in June 2008.

Many of the district’s buildings were demolished after the flood and whether or not the district could be “delisted” after another key structure disappeared remains in question.

After changing hands more than once, Stroschine purchased the White Elephant building about two years ago, in the hopes of restoring the structure, but ran into conflicts with obtaining permits.

Laurie and Scott Konecny hope to operate a deli at the location and had cited delays in opening their business as part of the reason for the demolition request.

“It is a prime location in an awesome historical district,” Laurie Konecny said about their reason for wanting to be at that site. “It’s where we want to be.”

She noted that work on a new two-story building that will house Lu’s Deli, named after her middle name, will begin as soon as possible, with the hopes of opening by early fall of this year.

The Konecnys will use doors and other architectural details from the White Elephant on their new building and are still looking for tenants for other portions of the new building.

A late Victorian-Italianate structure, the White Elephant building was originally a “false front” store added on to a single-story immigrant home built in the 1870s.

According to the district’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, John Vavra built the immigrant home in the 1870s and constructed the two-story commercial portion in 1889.

Frank Suchy, a watchmaker and jeweler, operated a shop in the building before constructing the brick storefront next door in 1907, which now houses Bata’s Restaurant.

As a sign of the times, the nomination notes, in 1937, the shop space at 1010 Third St. SE went from “riches to rags” when Catherine Rouse began selling used clothing there during the Great Depression. The White Elephant continued operating from the site for decades.

The original immigrant home was demolished last year, without having to undergo review before the Historic Preservation Commission. Because the home was attached to another structure, it was considered a “partial demolition,” a loophole that the commission is attempting to fix.

John Vavra House/White Elephant Building, circa 1900. (photo/courtesy National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library)
John Vavra House/White Elephant Building, circa 1900. (photo/courtesy National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library)

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